Swiss Army Man [Film Observations]

What do you get when a directing duo known for music videos decides to work on a quirky, indie film? A lot of farting, Daniel Radcliffe, and a Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Released in 2016, Swiss Army Man is directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — collectively known as “Daniels”. The pair is known for their work on music videos (including “Turn Down For What”), short films, and commercials. Their first, full-length feature film stars Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano in an surprisingly heartfelt story standing in the fumes of a fart-filled adventure.


Needless to say, if you can’t stomach potty humor, boners, and looking at a convincing rendition of Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse, then you might be a bit squeamish during this movie. This trailer doesn’t do the movie justice.


Swiss Army Man revolves around Hank, a man who is stranded on an island for reasons unexplained. He is ready to end it all when the body of a dead man, Manny, washes up on the shore. What ensues is a wild adventure where Hank learns how to use Manny’s cadaver to complete useful tasks (like a swiss army knife) and the two become friends in the process.

I laughed until I cried at the beginning of this movie and frequently throughout. But underneath the absurdity and the crude humor, Swiss Army Man contains a story that all of us as humans living in a keeping-up-appearances society can identify with. For fans of dark comedy, the 1 hour and 37 minute run time is full of laughs, poignant moments, puzzling plot twists, and concludes with an ending that will make you smile and/or cringe.

Manny’s freedom is juxtaposed with Hank’s guarded guidance as he teaches his dead friend the finer points of being human. The dead man is childlike and unabashedly straight forward in his thoughts and commentary. He represents our most unguarded selves. The movie touches on a lot of grown-up themes despite the movie’s juvenile humor, like loneliness, a parent dying, estrangement, and the woes of being a misfit. From dreams to opportunities lost, Swiss Army Man will karate chop you in the chest.

The cinematography is gorgeous. Though Daniels uses traditional movie pans and angles, there are some truly striking montages that hone in on hand gestures or items. The soundtrack is comprised of songs with strong vocals — meaning the lyrics actually match what is happening in the film. Literally. It’s a good idea to put the subtitles on to pick up on this added layer of humor.

The beauty of this movie is the message of hope that serves as the bass line for the film. Sometimes, the things you long for aren’t impossible. You just have to take the first step to create them. Sometimes, the opportunities that bring forth the impossible seem just as improbable as a dead man farting across the open sea like a biodegradable jet ski.

Maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly. Maybe we’re just all ugly, dying sacks of shit and maybe all it’ll take is one person to just be okay with that, and then the whole world will be dancing, and singing, and farting, and everyone will feel a little bit less alone.

You can purchase Hank and Manny’s misadventures in the forest on Amazon. It’s also available on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and YouTube. If you have some spare time to fling Manny around, be sure to check out the Swiss Army Man website.