Swiss Army Man
When I heard about Swiss Army Man, the debut feature from former music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka “The Daniels”), causing quite a stir at Sundance, I assumed actor Paul Dano had been convinced to reprise his role as Brian Wilson during his psychotic breakdown because it was leaked that in this movie Dano uses Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body as a jet ski.
Thankfully it wasn’t leaked that the corpse provides flatulent fumes ad nauseam as a resource for survival, or that Radcliffe’s boner serves as a compass. No one mentioned that the stilted dialog was about masturbation and defecation, or that a good chunk of the movie is about Radcliffe’s hairy bum! Graphic autopsy footage would be less lowbrow than this incoherent mess of a movie.
Paul Dano plays Hank, suicidal after realizing that he’s not going to rescued off a deserted island. That is, until, with his head in a noose, he notices a body has washed ashore. Resuscitating a deceased corpse that shows no sign of rigor mortis offers the first hint that it’s one of those artsy films that are weird for the sake of just being weird, in a similar vein as Donnie Darko or I Heart Huckabees.
But after seeing the movie, I overheard what is certainly the “kiss of death” for a movie of this sort, when a young film critic said, “That’s the strangest movie I’ve ever seen.” And I’ve no doubt that might be the case, and that says more about your limited film experience than it does the quality of what’s onscreen. In 2009, John Grimonprez’s use of advertising footage was combined with Hitchcock TV intros that had been subjected to a voice impersonator, and the result was the movie Double Take, a false history of Cold War espionage. That was strange. Perhaps our young critic had never seen Vincent Price in Confessions of an Opium Eater, nor was he familiar with Jodorowsky or Bunuel, much less the Quay Brothers or the groundbreaking work of female avant-gardists Maya Deren or Hollis Frampton.
There was a time in the art world and cinema when those creating “art” communicated nothing more than the skills needed to fill up space. It was the time of the Decadents who would elicit critiques that profoundly embraced the incoherent: “His art is quite good, but may be rather hard to understand.” Or my favorite, “It’ll take more than one viewing to fully appreciate his complexities.” Yeah, right! If you bite into bad food, just how many more bites are necessary before it starts to improve?
So here I sit, twisting and fuming as Manny – the corpse – sees Hank’s cell phone which features the image of a woman who rode the bus daily but since Hank lacks any basic social skills, he never spoke to her… he just took pictures of her on his phone. Creepy!? But hey, he’s cool enough to drag it up as a reasonable facsimile of this woman to arouse Manny’s penis which in turn points toward the highway! Cringe. Gasp!
The Decadents of old believed art could be unintelligible to those of sound mind, and comprehensible only amongst themselves, which is what I get out of Swiss Army Man, which is contextually evasive to say the least.
Hank is positioned as having a rational mind sometimes, which is an impossibility. He seeks attention though he is secluded from others. Is he crazy? Is this all some kind of hallucination?
None of its answers are forthcoming, leaving me to wonder if the purpose here is to exalt the perplexities of defeatism, since Hank tugs a corpse through the trash-strewn wilderness while stepping in bear shit. There were people laughing out loud at this! I never laughed, because to do so would discredit the comedic triumphs of Snub Pollard! Alas, I’m just not able to find those hidden meanings in the emptiness of shoving a cork up a dead guy’s ass, or the thirteenth joke centered around Daniel Radcliffe’s erection.
If you want goofy-kooky, watch Ernest movies.
If it’s entertainment potential, there’s loads of that in Tim Conway’s Dorf on Golf series.
“Aw, man, can’t you just enjoy it?”
“It simply mirrors the chaos of our time!”
It’s so much more disheartening than all that. This film made me angry for its ugly ambiguity. Swiss Army Man isn’t cutting edge, it’s not a ribald tale of wanderlust and isolation. It’s an insult to reason and may truly be the most unnecessary film ever made!