ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
“Swiss Army Man” is a masterstroke. In filmmaking style, execution and character development, it represents pure, raw refusal to commit to any sort of rules. Paul Dano’s portrayal of Hank is sweaty, greasy, creepy and self-involved, but he is also human. He wants these very basic things: love, and to find home, and he never quite understands why he doesn’t have those things or what his role is in finding them. Thing is: this is pretty representative of all of us. Not many would admit that we’ve made the kind of mistakes that Hank has made (this is of course, regarding the picture on his phone), but many have. It’s shameful, and consequences are incurred, but it happens.
What’s brilliant about the film is how it communicates what Hank wants before it establishes why he doesn’t have it. Manny, the titular farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe is a vehicle for Hank to explain the world as he sees it. With Manny’s excitement follows the excitement of the viewer, but Hank can never truly convince himself.
Another powerful aspect of the film is its ability to communicate joy, humor and melancholy, sometimes simultaneously, but usually one after the other. It never misses a beat. It is a road movie, a buddy movie, a romance and a quirky indie comedy. It is something that many teenagers finishing up high school and heading into college will undoubtedly watch in their dorm rooms and tout as a newfound cult classic.
There is something to talk abour in Hank’s relationship with Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
It is first implied that Sarah is Manny’s girlfriend, which is later revealed to be something Hank fabricated to appease Manny. Then, of course, it is implied that Sarah might be Hank’s girlfriend or at least a jilted ex-lover. We then move to the end of the movie and it turns out she is neither of these things. She’s just a woman that Hank always saw on the bus. He secretly took a picture of her and placed it on his phone. When Sarah discovers this, she is perturbed.
Does the movie endorse this behavior? No. Even though it is not explicit about it, the singular interest in “Swiss Army Man” is exploring the negatives and positives of pure nonconformity. It leaves no implication on if Sarah will file a restraining order.
The film’s two directors, the Daniels, also avoid conformity. They include send-offs to tropes, but they seem like fun toppings added on for a laugh, rather than to meet a checklist. Does it matter how Hank and Manny get to Sarah’s house? No. Does it matter that their geological location makes no sense? No. Too much explanation like that would bog down the movie in the end. The directors know it. This was meant to be a lean project.
“Swiss Army Man” charms, and then breaks your heart. We see Hank as a lonely person, as a person who desires love and friendship. Manny plays the archetype of ET and Old Yeller, as the loveable filling to that void who inevitably must leave. Some are scared by him, because he doesn’t know how he comes off, and that can’t be helped: but he’s essentially harmless.
The movie, despite its ridiculous, and seemingly gimmicky premise, immerses you in a persona and the nature of the human condition.