Trying to Be Happy – Exploring the Issue of Humanness in “Swiss Army Man”

Swiss Army Man poster
image source: aintitcool.com

Human bodies are weird and gross. They are scary, and we are often ashamed of them. Our bodies can make us feel alone. However, our bodies are beautiful.

Life is weird and gross. We are often afraid of it, and ashamed of being afraid. It can be lonely. But life is also beautiful.

Trapped in our bodies, and trapped in this thing called life, we don’t have to be alone.

This is the message I’ve taken away from a movie which opens with Paul Dano almost committing suicide on a deserted island before he spots a dead body on the beach, pulls the pants off Daniel Radcliff’s corpse, and uses his super powered farts to ride him like a jet-ski away from an island into the ocean while singing joyously. I cried a little bit.

Yeah. You heard me. Super farts made me cry.

For the majority of Swiss Army Man, there are only two characters: Hank (Paul Dano) and the dead body of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). For the first half hour of the movie, Hank carries the corpse that saved his life with him through the woods while he searches for civilization, with a dying phone.

Why does Hank carry the body with him? Perhaps it’s an act of compassion from someone lonely, perhaps anything with a face will do for company, perhaps it’s a sense of duty to the body of a human being that once saved his life.

On his journey through the wilderness, Hank slowly discovers that Manny’s body has special powers that might help him survive. He can fire projectiles from Manny’s mouth, he can light his farts on fire like a rocket. When Hank gets dehydrated, Manny vomits up clean drinking water. This is already an insane premise for a movie. But wait, there’s more.

“I need you to help me get home,” Hank says to the dead body, because he hasn’t got anyone else to talk to. “Okay buddy?”

Okay buddy,” answers Manny, and this is when everything begins to slide into place.

Swiss Army Man flits around several different genres of cinema, many of which I normally don’t enjoy, but loved here.

I don’t really enjoy survival movies, but I thought this one was magical.

I don’t like most musicals. I feel the same way about acapella as Indiana Jones does about snakes, but here I found both not only fitting, but moving. I have already downloaded the soundtrack.

I only sometimes enjoy coming of age movies, and while I would understand the label, I don’t think it fits here. This is a story about coming to life, and coming back to life.

I do love buddy/friendship movies, which this absolutely was, exploring the vulnerability of male friendships without the tiring bravado that so many Hollywood movies bring as a filter. This is instead a story about two young men exploring their feelings about themselves and each other, as well as their bodies and the world beyond them.

I would also say that parts of this movie are a romance. At one point, Manny and Hank seem to be falling for one another (represented in the music like everything else, with the line “are we falling in love?” sticking out among the lyrics). And yes, maybe what could be considered the third of a four act movie does end in a kiss (but not for the reasons you’d think), but I would argue that the movie quickly transcends that.

Manny and Hank become a kind of platonic ideal of friendship, with all the honesty and awkward grossness of being human. This is fitting, since the audience must occasionally wonder if Manny is even real, or if Hank just went mad after so much time alone.

All of this is backed by a surprisingly beautiful soundtrack, mostly featuring the voices of the two actors themselves. It is only once the two characters finally stumble back into the real world do we finally remember how alien the world that the two have been hiding away in was, free from the shame and limits of the society we have created.

Swiss Army Man isn’t for everyone: it will make some uncomfortable as it touches on the grossness of our bodies and the strangeness of what it feels like to connect with another human being. I will say that in a world where movies feel constantly over-saturated with reboots and sequels and generic nothingness, Swiss Army Man stands out as something I’ve never seen before.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

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