Swiss Army Man : What did I just see?


Swiss Army Man is weird the way a dream is weird. Things happen and they are tied together but not necessarily in the traditional story-telling sense. It makes sense that since Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, credited as “The Daniels,” direct music videos the storytelling feels like a series of visual impressions that express the sound, whether the sound is music or dialog. The cinematography is really good.

Psychological angst is juxtaposed against scatological humor. Amidst the running fart joke and awkward explanations of sexual attraction and masturbation is a profound examination of despair and isolation. The theme goes beyond the average person stuck on an island. Dano’s Hank is no Chuck Noland (Castaway). Hank is marooned on an island in the Pacific having spent most of his life marooned in his own awkward loneliness.

Often in a story the protagonist in need is provided with a mentor who teaches wisdom and skills, and who provides equipment. Hank is sent Manny, a corpse who washes up on shore. Manny’s body proves useful for Hank’s survival in so many ways, including handy-dandy survival flatulence, Hank compares him to a Swiss army knife. Hank is the one who has to figure out how to use Manny, though. He also has to explain life to Manny who remembers nothing. Manny’s questions and Hank’s responses reveal Hank’s issues.

The odd friendship between Hank and Manny works not because one is a great mentor but because they are both confused and fragile yet become connected and interdependent. Manny helps Hank escape his island, physically and psychologically. The characters are well drawn and well acted. The character development is strong. The psychological and psychic healing that takes place in the story doesn’t play out as expected.

The story’s resolution is unpredictable and not left open to interpretation. In that sense Manny is no Richard Parker (Life of Pi). I felt like the movie was leading up to a more ambiguous ending, but it was kind of refreshing for a film to simply commit to something that everyone won’t necessarily like or even get and say “this is our movie and this is how it ends. Deal. Smile.”  It’s not the sort of movie everyone will like, but I was entertained and engaged watching it and that might be the thing that tips the scales it its favor.

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