I usually don’t care about movies that explore the human condition, those searching out what it means to live, love, and be yourself, but Swiss Army Man is the MOTHERFUCKING JAM. Directed by two Daniels, and starring two other dudes with “Dan” in their names, Swiss Army Man knocked it out of the park.
Paul Dano plays Hank, a castaway who is equally good-hearted and completely fucked up. Before he has the chance to off himself, he finds Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a corpse that gives him a sounding board, offering the viewer a chance to hear inner dialogue without stupid voice-overs or the camera focusing on a handwritten letter. And, somehow, Radcliffe’s portrayal of a hallucinogenic talking corpse is perfect. As Manny comes back to life, he has to rediscover what being a person is all about.
As Hank helps Manny remember love, Jurassic Park, and masturbation, Manny helps Hank explore his inner turmoil; why doesn’t he deserve love, how are people supposed to interact, why Hank is such a goddamned creepy lurker. While the movie starts, and ends, with some pretty amazing flatulence, it’s chock-full of emotions, including several feelings I can’t quite name (I feel an unbearable sadness for Hank’s lack of love. am I being pensive? What is this feeling? IS THIS WHAT BEING EMPATHETIC IS LIKE?).
Beyond the sheer skill these two actors have in making me feel feelings, the movie is beautiful. The thick forests and wide rivers offer an additional sense of loneliness. As the half-dead duo begins to create a home out of trash (stop littering, assholes), shit gets weird. Adding to the utterly surreal visuals is the deft usage of the music of Andy Hull and Robert McDowell (of the always amazing Manchester Orchestra) throughout the film. Sometimes playing in the background, sometimes with active participation of Hank and Manny, the music is both atmospheric and sparse, relying on the stunning use of vocals to carry the soundtrack.
Oh, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and like, 6 other people are in it for like, 10 minutes. She plays a pretty good mom, going from helpful to pissed off to “What the fuck” with ease. Just like MY mom!
I’ve spent three days trying to process everything I could about the film, and am probably nowhere close. I suppose I’ll have to see it again. And again. And then buy it and watch it again.
You can watch them make Manny the Corpse below!