“Swiss Army Man” is a real gas

Sometimes there are films with premises so utterly strange, that you cannot quite believe it actually exists without clear proof. “Swiss Army Man” is one of those films. Disarmingly bizarre and delightfully otherworldly, this is a film you simply have to see to believe. This is director and writer team Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s first stab at a full-length film, previously best known for being joint directors for the music video “Turn Down for What?” “Swiss Army Man” is a delicious introduction to what they may have in store for future film projects and to even try and write this review to describe the strange and complicated emotions and visuals that this film explores does not give it justice.

The film begins on the shores of an island beach where we are introduced to the seemingly long-time stranded and desperate Hank (Paul Dano of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Love & Mercy”), who is about to end his life via noose while haphazardly teetering on a family-sized cooler. Here enters Manny (Danielle Radcliffe of “Horns” and “A Woman in Black”) a business-suited corpse who washes up face-down in the sand on the shoreline and distracts Hank from his death wish. Once turned over, Manny is found to be glassy eyed, pasty, bloated… and clearly dead. Until he farts dramatically into the shallow pool of sea water he is submerged in.

Desperately lonely and delighted to find something resembling another human being, Hank decides to become his caretaker, carrying Manny’s corpse throughout the hillsides and forest paths as he tries to find his way, both literally and metaphorically. Thus begins a sort of philosophical, buddy film journey.

Dano portrays Hank’s character through heart-wrenchingly believable desperation from his situation and his inner struggles while also expressing frustration and tenderness for his companion. Radcliffe, portraying Manny, who slowly regains his ability to form facial expressions and more comprehensive speech throughout the film, is brilliant with his ability to deliver absurd and heartfelt lines with genuine emotion and impeccable comedic timing. Almost like a child, Manny is incredibly naive, asking a multitude of innocently honest and awkward questions, while he re-learns what it is to be human and to be alive.

In reference to the film title, Manny’s floppy corpse reveals itself to have a variety of uses for survival, including producing water from his mouth like a faucet, serving as a flatulence powered jet-ski, chopping tree branches with his arm, and lighting fires, with even his erect penis being used as a compass, fueled by swimsuit magazine imagery, awkwardly twitching under his dress pants to show Manny and Hank the way.

Hank’s journey towards civilization turns into a quest to bring Manny back to life, physically and emotionally. Using a variety of strange broken props, pieces of long lost forest trash, plants, and stray tree branches, Hank crafts ornate shelters and city busses, shakily showing Manny what it means to “live” through manically joyful moments of dancing, partying, and taking the bus to work.

All these scenes are bathed in a strange, delightful glow of escapist make-believe. There is an incredibly amount of chemistry between Dano and Radcliffe, creating palpable emotions and tenderness between Manny and Hank, their banter and petty arguments, philosophical and poetic ponderings, and honest emotions feeling uncomfortably real at times.

The film’s raw human emotions dance in skillful tandem with these wildly ludicrous and unbelievable circumstances of the storyline. It somehow balances between the genres of macabre, absurdist and physical comedy, magical fantasy, a tender love story, and a buddy film. The film, no matter how strange the situations become, always presents the material with a calm and matter-a-fact demeanor, somehow never feeling like it is trying too hard. It wanders delightfully from one scene to the next, not always clear where it is going and why, leaving you laughing in disgust one minute and then feeling like you have been gut punched with sorrow the next.

The film is utterly mesmerizing visually.

The colors and use of light and slow motion visuals during memories and hallucinations throughout the film aid in the ethereal tone of the story, at times feeling like you are observing a distorted fever dream, whose spell could be broken at any second.

The cinematography is breath-taking throughout, spinning and swirling at strange angles, giving viewers gorgeous shots of the lush, almost fantasy-film-esque forests Manny and Hank wander through, as well as detailed, intimate shots of both our leads and their macro expressions and ever changing emotions.

The soundtrack is also key to the ethereal atmosphere the film nails, with a variety of melodic songs from Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Robert McDowell.

This soundtrack comfortably accompanies Hank and Manny on their odd journey of companionship and honesty, aiding in the dream-like, wandering tone of the film.

Melancholy, hilarious, confusing, poignant, utterly bizarre, and drenched in philosophical ponderings related to life, death, love, and our purpose in life, “Swiss Army Man” is unlike anything else I have ever seen before. I genuinely loved it and regularly recommend it to others by simply describing it as a film that has “Danielle Radcliffe exuberantly propelling himself across the ocean surface via flatulence” despite this being far from its main selling point. However, if this is not enough of a selling point for originality, I do not know what is.