The loneliness and inadequacy each and every one of us feels (perhaps more in the twenty-first century than ever before) is something most try to keep at bay. However, for Hank (Paul Dano), a morose man marooned on a desert island, the alienation is particularly palpable, and is quite possibly what led him to attempt escaping civilization in the first place–for, as they say, it’s worse to feel alone in a proverbial room full of people than by one’s self.
Jointly directed and written by “Daniels,” or rather, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Swiss Army Man is an entirely new attempt at the genre of magical realism so finely perfected by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. Opening on scenes of Hank’s various written pleas for help on juice boxes and the like–pleas that include “I’m so bored” and “I don’t want to die alone”–it’s none too shocking to see our protagonist in the process of hanging himself just as a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe–so many fucking Daniels) washes ashore and catches his attention. Momentarily putting off his suicide plans, Hank runs to the body to assess its vitals. While Manny is technically dead, yes, his farts tell a different story. But happen to come right at a moment when Hank is confessing something vulnerable, how he thought Manny might be a reason for him to go on living. As soon as the fart interrupts this sentiment, though, Hank takes Manny’s belt off and goes back to the cave to try hanging himself again. And yet, Manny lures him once more with flatulence, transporting him from the island to a mainland closer to home like a jet ski propelled by backside gas.
Once they arrive in the wooded area, Hank’s delight over Manny fades when he continues to simply slump there like a corpse, prompting Hank to call him a “sack of shit.” Turning away to leave him behind, Manny begins spewing water, the nectar that will continue to sustain Hank’s life. Amazed at the seeming Swiss army knife abilities of Manny’s body, Hank apologizes for calling him names, pleased that Manny can finally talk. From there, the intensity of their companionship escalates, with Hank intent on helping Manny to remember elements of his past by telling him a white lie: the attractive girl on the background of the phone screen they’re in possession of is Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the love of Manny’s life. With this new incentive to get back to civilization, Manny’s erections serve as a compass, guiding them through the woods ever closer to “home,” even though Manny increasingly starts to doubt the value of returning considering, “it doesn’t even seem like you’re allowed to do anything there.” This comes on the heels of Manny demanding why it isn’t okay to fart freely, and why Hank never feels comfortable doing it in front of him. Hurt by all the ways Hank has been holding back–including the fabrication about Sarah–he insists that he wants to return to being fully dead again, momentarily leaving Hank to contend with a bear.
While Hank fixates on the objective of getting back, it suddenly becomes clear to him that the literal alternate world he’s built for himself and Manny (buses, cafes, movie theaters–all crafted from found materials) is far superior to the one he’s technically supposed to be a part of. Unfortunately, the revelation over his profound bliss with and love for Manny is one that might just come too late.
Granted, the “gross-out” facets of the film will not enchant every audience, Swiss Army Man is easily the greatest modern insight we have thus far into the mind of the average man: insecurity, farting, erections and a staunch devotion to camaraderie over women.