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Swiss Army Man is an excellent film to watch blind. Not only are the choices the film makes bold and consistently surprising, but also a detailed plot summary would do no justice to the unexpectedly sweet and thoughtful tone that the movie manages to achieve from the most unlikely sources. We necessarily discuss the plot of the film at length in this week’s podcast and in the rest of this blog, so if it’s been on your list for a little while, we suggest you watch it first and come back to us. We’ll wait…
On paper, the plot of Swiss Army Man reads like an ill-conceived Farrelly Brothers comedy. As the opening credits roll, Paul Dano is riding Daniel Radcliffe’s gassy corpse like a fart-powered jet ski. As the film progresses, the corpse is also used as a drinking fountain, a flamethrower, a shotgun and ultimately as a love interest. The consummation of the gay necrophiliac relationship is signposted by a makeshift butt plug floating silently to the surface of a river. It’s genuinely one of the most romantic moments I’ve seen in any movie this year.
The reason the film manages to sell you on its potentially disastrous context is a complete and total commitment to the material. There’s a lot of physical comedy in the movie, but none of it is played for easy laughs. The body functions and inappropriate attractions that drive the film are deployed in service to a exploration of repression – in all senses of the word – loneliness and isolation. A lifetime of being shamed has left Paul Dano’s Hank with severe emotional scars that are gently unpicked by the corpse’s matter of fact acceptance of everything he’s been unable to fully express in the land of the living.
Writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s script is smart enough to avoid pulling too hard on the film’s fragile internal logic. We’re never particularly told why Manny the corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) apparently comes to life, how Hank ended up stranded on an uninhabited island in the first place, or how much of the film is real versus how much is happening in Hank’s head – there are a few clues at the end that all might not be exactly as it’s been portrayed, but there’s a refreshing lack of exposition. The emotional story is the heart of the film, and if a viewer can tap into that rather than getting bogged down in the flatulence, body horror and zombie erections, they’re likely to find Swiss Army Man to be one of the most uniquely humane future cult classics of the past few years.
Of course, we’re not just here to sell you on this under-seen movie – there’s also the small matter of sequel ideas. It’s extremely unlikely that this kind of story could actually sustain a second movie, so it was perhaps inevitable that we’d both end up using Daniel Radcliffe’s presence to jump about the Hogwarts express instead. Sexually fluid zombies and magical wizards – now there’s a combination that has some mileage…
Harry’s Pitch | Swiss Army Man and the Voyage of the Fancy Yacht
John’s Pitch | Swiss Army Man 2: Mannyquin
Our Swiss Army Man episode is available through iTunes, Stitcher, aCast and all your other favourite podcast hosting channels. Listen, share, subscribe, listen again and leave us a glowing recommendation on iTunes. We’ll love you forever for it. We’d also like to hear your ideas for how to make a sequel to this bizarre but beautiful film. Leave a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter. Best answers will receive a coveted shout-out on a future episode.