Since appearing at film festivals at the beginning of the year and having been released to U.S theatres over the summer, it’s been a long wait for Daniel Radcliffe’s flatulent corpse to propel itself to British shores. If you’ve been following the production of the film at all you’ll have known about the farting. If not (spoilers!) there’s farting. Continuing his post-Harry Potter reinvention, Radcliffe is a big name in what is a bizarre indie film, and it’s fair to say his involvement may have gained Swiss Army Man some attention that it deserves but might otherwise not have received.
The dark comedy follows Paul Dano as Hank, a loner castaway who is rescued from starvation by Radcliffe’s deceased Manny. The two spend the film navigating their way through a dense forest to get Hank back home, directed by Manny’s ‘compass’, all the while developing a shared obsession over ‘Sarah’ from Hank’s screensaver.
Swiss Army Man utilises its minimalist cast (almost the entire film features just Dano and Radcliffe) and outdoor settings to chronicle a journey through Hank’s loneliness and isolation and what it means to be ‘normal’. Having lost most of his memory upon his dying, Manny’s attempts learn how to not be ‘weird’ are thwarted by Hanks inherent weirdness, while Manny struggles to see the problem with being weird in the first place.
Radcliffe demonstrates his range by making even a rigid amnesiac corpse feel like a close friend by the end of the story, while Dano is in his element as the awkward and nervous Hank. What begins as a slightly dark comedy eventually branches out and includes moments of reflection on mortality, acceptance of the self and of others, and how we keep on trudging through the mire of existence day-by-day.
Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Atlanta rock band ‘Manchester Orchestra’ provide a masterful soundtrack in what is their debut score, focusing on looped vocal refrains and yelped harmonies. Interpretations of the Jurassic Park theme and ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ blend in with their original pieces which dip in and out throughout the course of the film. The layered choir of their voices provide moments of heavenly sound to compliment the sight of Radcliffe’s pallid and rotting face. Hull even gets a cameo as a TV cameraman in one of the few other characters to feature at all in the movie.
The result is a piece of cinema that seems quite outlandish at the outset but that develops into something that has moments of depth, empathy and morbidity but never forgetting to make you laugh. You may not find a weirder film than Swiss Army Man in major cinemas this year, but as Manny shows us, maybe being weird isn’t such a bad thing after all.