Daniel Radcliffe continues to distance himself from Harry Potter — and pretty much anything else ever seen onscreen — in his role as sentient, flatulent corpse Manny in “Swiss Army Man.” Paul Dano plays Hank, a desperate man stranded on an island, about to hang himself, when hope, in the form of Manny, washes ashore. At first revolted by the dead man’s flatulence, Hank soon has the idea to harness this energy and literally rides him like a jet ski to another, more hospitable island. Yes, that’s actually what happens.
Still far from anyone else, Hank cannot bear to abandon the body and lugs Manny around, until Manny comes ever so slightly to life and begins talking to Hank. The more surreal the film becomes, the better it works. As utterly absurd as all this is, the actors do not treat their story like a joke. It is a well-made, totally insane film, and those on both sides of the camera truly commit.
Remember how Tom Hanks made friends with that volleyball in his movie about being stranded on an island? It’s kind of like that, but absolutely revolting. It’s also, ultimately, profound.
If you can bear to watch it, it’s hard to imagine a more unusual meditation on loneliness and the profound difficulty of fitting in. As Manny becomes more real and alive, he learns what it is to be a human, how complex, frustrating and extremely, horribly disgusting it is. When I say “if” you can watch it, that is a very big if.
“Swiss Army Man” is inventive in every possible way. Hank tries to bring Manny further back to life by capturing what they believe are memories of Manny’s true love (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as seen in a photo on his cell phone. In a rather glorious sequence, Hank recreates scenes from Manny’s life crafted entirely from bits of garbage and all of the refuse of the surrounding forest, and it recalls that beautiful handmade quality of Michel Gondry’s work.
The talented, clearly disturbed filmmakers, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, have expressed something difficult and essential about feelings, particularly male feelings, about their bodies, and women, about death and insecurity and loneliness, and they have done so using an actual physical man named Manny. Hank physically used Manny again and again (hence the film’s title), first riding him through the water, then pumping drinking water out of his mouth, and even firing bullets out of him.
If you can suppress your gag reflex, this film has a great deal to say, and says it in ways that are nothing short of astonishing. But they should have called it “Harry Pooter and the Deathly Flatulence.”
“Swiss Army Man” is currently available to rent.