Swiss Army Man (2016)

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The amount I’ve heard the statement “Hollywood has run out of original ideas” is seemingly infinite – and for the most part, its true – a lot of mainstream, big-budget films are predictable and dull, and follow a popular formula. However, to say that an original film does not exist is very misguided, and whenever someone mentions this idea to me, I redirect them towards the great abundance of independent American films, which make up for their lack of budget with some truly original ideas. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on indie cinema, and even I was truly surprised at Swiss Army Man, a bizarre film that I can’t quite explain. However, unlike two recent films that have been equally as strange (The Greasy Strangler and Sausage Party), Swiss Army Man did not leave me disturbed, but actually sent me very close to tears. Quite simply, Swiss Army Man may be my favourite film of the year.

Swiss Army Man is about Hank Thompson (the ever-reliable and consistently interesting Paul Dano), who is abandoned on a deserted island. Trying to commit suicide, he encounters a corpse washed up on the beach. He names the corpse Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), and together, they embark on a journey back to civilization, and discovering that certain stimuli can bring Manny back to life, Hank finds himself forming a deep friendship with a corpse that has a tendency to ignore social graces and has a love for flatulence. Together, they learn a lot about life and love, and their journey is both literal and metaphorical – and it has a ton of fart jokes thrown in for good measure, just because it makes it even more unique.

I’m not sure what can be said about Swiss Army Man – perhaps let’s consider the fact that Paul Dano signed up for this film based only on one line, told to him by one of the film’s directors – “the first fart makes you laugh, and the last fart makes you cry” – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the very definition of a film pitch. If that sounds absurd, then you cannot even begin to imagine how this film was in execution. Swiss Army Man may just be the most absurd film I’ve seen in a long time, and considering I have always had a preference to things that are slightly more surreal and strange, I was naturally drawn to Swiss Army Man – and how often can you see a film which is centered on two men, one of them a regretful hipster, and the other a farting corpse? How often can you see a film like that which is also surprisingly poignant and moving? This was not a film designed to shock or disgust or alienate (like the two previous films I mentioned were), but rather to tell an utterly unique story.

Swiss Army Man starts off as a bizarre art piece, which tries to combine art with fart jokes, and for a long time, it was utterly strange, and the only emotions that it could possibly have produced would be bemused laughter (even if I loved it), and it was clear that this film could just be an elaborate prank – and when you consider that Paul Dano sometimes does choose bizarre projects, and Daniel Radcliffe spent the majority of his acting life in the big-budget Harry Potter films, it makes sense that they would choose to do something like this as an experiment – and I don’t blame them. If Swiss Army Man was a terrible film, at least it would have been an interesting experiment, and the directors could have just used the angle that it was a huge prank, used to lure hipsters and performance art aficionados into cinemas.

However, Swiss Army Man is not a terrible film. It is a brilliant film, and over the duration, it slowly becomes more and more profound and beautiful, and it has so many incredible moments. Two moments in particular stand out in my opinion – the incredible montage near the middle of the film, where the two leads discover that they have become important friends, and the ending, which is one of the most beautiful endings I have ever seen in a film – simple, emotional and poignant, it moved me to tears. There was a rare sense of philosophical poignancy in Swiss Army Man that rarely is shown in modern art, whether it be cinema, music or literature. It is a reminder to live our lives to the best of our abilities, and to never doubt ourselves – Swiss Army Man remains one of the funniest films I’ve seen all years, but also one of the saddest yet uplifting pieces of social commentary I’ve ever seen. It reminds us to just be ourselves.

Paul Dano is a talented actor that a lot of people seem to despise. I personally think he’s extraordinary in everything he does, and much like the late and iconic Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dano makes use of his off-beat personality and different talents and utilizes them to their full effect. In Swiss Army Man, he gives his most likable and compelling performance as Hank, a broken, yet still utterly hopeful young man who wants the life everyone else seems to have. Dano is extraordinary in the film, and in a year where I’ve seen so many compelling performances from actors, Dano gives the most undeniably moving. Dano exhibits such remarkable restraint and gives Hank a characterization that I didn’t expect from such a strange film.

Daniel Radcliffe is equally as brilliant, and shows how he is far more than just Harry Potter. If you thought that a series of fantasy films about wizards, including dragons and various mythical creatures, would be the most bizarre role Radcliffe would ever receive, I have news for you. Swiss Army Man offers him the opportunity to play perhaps the most original character he will ever play – a farting corpse. This is the entire character description, and yet Radcliffe’s performance is still unbelievably excellent. He humanizes the character, and takes it from a simple gimmick to a truly endearing performance. It really speaks to the talent behind this film when you consider that for such an absurd premise, the performances are actually restrained and very delicate. Both Dano and Radcliffe are incredible.

Swiss Army Man is just amazing. I know this film is not for everyone – and some may be put off by the fact that it is slightly juvenile near the beginning, but it does get far more meaningful, and it packs an emotional punch unlike many other films. It is a film that must be seen to be believed, and I really think this has the makings to be one of the more beloved cult films of all time. We are nearing the last few months of the year, and its been an amazing year for cinema – and I can honestly say that this year, the best film I’ve seen so far is one about a farting corpse, and I have no shame in admitting that. It will be tough for any film to beat this as the best of the year, but its possible. But I really hope not, because Swiss Army Man is just extraordinary. Unique, funny, moving and original – this is why I love cinema, and why I will always support independent films, because only through the hard work and passion of indie filmmakers can we get such extraordinary films.

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