on the knowledge that we're all human even when we're dead

By Scott Whitney

Ride the Dead Fart Machine!

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan directed Swiss Army Man, starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, with their eyes fully on that middle ground between comedy and drama. This is the duo’s first major release and it must have been quite a coup to get a cast of mid-range stars. Since Winstead has been John McLane’s daughter in the entire Die Hard Franchise it isn’t surprising that she wanted something new. Dano is clearly looking for challenging roles—he received a best supporting actor Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. And Radcliffe, is a wizard. Or was.

Once again Radcliffe plays the part of someone who just won’t die. I had to spend some time imaging what it would have been like when the directors first approached Radcliffe about his possible role in Swiss Army Man. Yes, hello. We’d like you to play a very important role. Radcliffe not necessarily needing the money or the exposure must have thought. Oh awesome! What do you want me to do? To which the directors replied. We want to you to lie down on the beach and fart while a man rides you like a jet ski.

The character is dead, but it's still a great role
Of course, Radcliffe couldn’t turn down such an offer and the rest is Swiss Army history. And what a history it is. Dano’s trapped on an island looking to die and death finds him, except not in the form of a noose but in the shape of a corpse washed up on shore. When Dano discovers that Radcliffe’s flatulence can propel his body through the water, Dano mounts him and escapes the island.

The story however of how Dano slowly discovers he can use dead Radcliffe like an all-purpose tool, such as pouring a seemingly endless stream of drinkable water from his mouth and using his hard dick for a compass is truly joyful. One might say that everyone poops and everybody hides their farts and if we were really inventive we might use these facts for alternative, possibly life-saving purposes. As Dano follows the course set by Radcliffe’s global penis system (GPS) we are greeted with something many movies have difficulty representing: that innocence can only be discovered by becoming isolated and truly innocent.

Radcliffe’s body begins to be able to communicate throughout the movie and Dano calls him Manny. Of course, the body remembers nothing of its past life and yet he is easier to relate to than 90% of the living characters in most movies. And that is the secret to the movie’s embrace of beauty. A man holding onto society is slowly taught by a dead man that the society they’re both exiled from isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Once accepted the ridiculousness of the situation makes society seem all the more unacceptable: the constraints we place upon each other in our disgust of bodily functions and our failure to care for each other.

Party with the dead
I went into Swiss Army Man this thinking I’d have something to say about the aesthetics or the story, but they pale in comparison to the message. Scheinhart and Kwan let the metaphor make the movie without the metaphor overpowering it—quite an achievement. The surreal nature of this plot makes it escape the confines of continuity or explanation. The only things to be explained are that they are alone and we don’t need to know why. We don’t need to know how and we don’t even need to know when. All we need to know is that they are and that they are better for it.

©Scott Whitney and the CCA Arts Review

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