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Swiss Army Man: Embracing Decomposition

You, me, imagine we’re a grilled cheese sandwich. And society; society’s a four year old fastened to a high chair, fists pounding. Now, no matter how much insistence or deception or that’s-where-the-vitamins-are-honey you administer, no matter how hard you try to force it down their thankless little throats, no one is interested in getting anywhere near your crust. Follow me here. Those crispy, unrefined, unsavory outermost bits of your character, people’ll button their lips and dip and dart and do anything they can to avoid having anything to do with any of it. They’ll eat around it, so to speak. Folks these days are spooked and generally too covered in their own personal slime and soggy cheerios to really give a damn anyway.

This reality of today’s culture is not only explored, but full-on probed in the directorial duo DANIELS’ feature debut, Swiss Army Man; a story of personal acceptance, unconventional love, and uncontrollable flatus.

At its Sundance premier there were reports of a mass exodus of cine-goers; gobbles of people upping and leaving their seats in disgust, with noses through the ceiling. These reports are not surprising. In contrast to what I assume to be the significant level of pretension that exists at such a distinguished event as the Sundance Festival, Swiss Army Man begins its story almost unimaginably low-brow.  The narrative is on its surface one long fart joke; a cacophony of anatomical gags and physical comedy.

And as if to warn of the absurdity to come, the film quite literally opens with a botched suicide and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a supernatural corpse, harnessed with a necktie and ridden as a fart-powered jet ski through the surf. Not a joke, and again: in the first five minutes. To lead off with such a curious visual was, as a thoughtful gesture, almost an open invitation for those holier-than-thou among us to please escort yourselves out. This would not be a film for you.

But to its credit (and to the relief of many), that kind of spunk and vitality persists throughout the film but never again reaches those absurd heights. The film maintains its hallucinogenic and reality-fudging mysticism, with Hank’s (Paul Dano) sanity in constant limbo, but it turns heel for the better when the film’s quote-unquote ‘love interest’ is introduced (it’s complicated) and the real meat of the drama begins to thaw.

Premise aside, there is loads of indie charm to enjoy in this film with vibrant cinematography, fleshed out character introspection, and an atypical love story for the open-minded and slightly perverse. And even if the theme’s method of delivery is at points questioned, the film was a surprisingly thoughtful ride, effectively using its shtick to say something ultimately profound. And for that reason alone, I found it commendable. This talking corpse had something worthwhile to say after all.

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