You have seen the first few minutes of Swiss Army Man before. A lone figure (Paul Dano) on an island in the middle of the Pacific looks out over the ocean, slowly putting his neck into a makeshift noose. He's seen the end of line. Exhausted all of his attempts to survive. He tightens the noose.
Here is where Swiss Army Man veers off in a completely unexpected direction.
A body washes up on shore. Setting eyes on the first human being in what seems like a very long time, the suicidal man, Hank, gets a new sense of purpose. His joy quickly turns to disappointment as he discovers that the man (Daniel Radcliffe) on the beach is dead. Not only dead, but extremely flatulent. However, Hank gradually discovers that this deceased man has abilities that can enable him to survive and make it back home.
Written and directed by Daniels Kwan and Scheinert, Swiss Army Man is in a world apart from most films. Despite its very dirty and earthy tone characteristic of survival stories, there are moments of quasi-religious ecstasy, and laugh-out-loud humor. There are some very innovative techniques used by cinematographer Larkin Seiple to startling effect. It seems as if every scene brings a different cinematic quality to it that always keeps the film interesting visually.
The soundtrack, which largely consists of Dano and Radcliffe humming a cappella, perfectly captures the isolation of being stranded, while maintaining an optimism that a return home is a definite possibility.
Radcliffe and Dano have perfect chemistry in the film and each have their own secrets that keeps us hooked. The script is very much filled with hidden plot points and character backstories that make a second viewing of the film necessary to fully understand it.
Swiss Army Man is a film that welcomes radically different interpretations. At times you think Dano is imagining everything, conversing with the dead man to keep his mind focused on surviving to the next day. At other points, it seems as if "Manny" is a figment of Hank's inner psyche, projecting his past life experience onto Manny as if to relive his happiest moments before his inevitable death. Then again, considering the impetus behind Hank's fascination with the dead body and the strange over-quality of the film, a dead body suddenly coming back to life isn't out of the question.
What holds Swiss Army Man back from being a true classic is its ending. In short, it's a bit of a mess considering how simple the film was in its plot leading up to it. There are about three too many revelations that occur at the end, and it is definitely overwhelming. Not to mention, some character reactions, especially during the film's final moment, make little sense. Perhaps the ending and ultimate meaning of the film becomes more clear upon multiple viewings.
Despite this one setback in its narrative, Swiss Army Man is a laudable feature debut from the "Daniels." It is no doubt a film that can never be unseen or forgotten and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the film gain cult status a few years down the road. It's a film that can do things that other films cannot, and at the very least, it is the most original film so far this year.Our Rating: Observe