[Caution, this post may contain spoilers. But who the hell cares, really.]
I recently had the opportunity to watch “Swiss Army Man,” a movie that was released in 2016. Although I am slightly late to the party, I would like to share this review with all of you.
The movie opens with Hank (Paul Dano) humming to himself. With a noose around his neck and staring into the abyss, Hank is ready to die. He changes his mind, however, when he sees a body by the beach. Running up to it, Hank discovers that the corpse – played by Daniel Radcliffe – is cold, motionless and dead.
This scene instantly hooked me onto the movie and what tempted me more was how humorous the scene was. The unnamed corpse farts into Hank’s face. This caught me off guard and I burst into laughter, forgetting for a moment the tragedy portrayed so early on in the movie.
There are apparently three themes that play within the plot of “Swiss Army Man.” The first is comedy, followed by a tragedy and finally, an underlying core of what is commonly known as the ”Modern Man’s Sickness.”
The brand of comedy that “Swiss Army Man” brings is the idea that silliness can go to the realm of darkness. This brand of comedy trails the plot to the end and it was something I had never watched before. With the movie, dark humor is utilized to look at the human body as it is. Bodies are funny – it farts, it can be ugly and it is fragile, but these are not reason to be sorry or sad by it. There is an innocence in Hank’s attempts at reviving a cold corpse and laughing when the gas-filled body emits flatulence incessantly.
At the same time, the movie is also packed with emotions. Hank’s kind-hearted gesture of carrying the corpse back to his house so that it wouldn’t be eaten by seaweed is a touching moment. The movie is filled with scenes that layer emotions that might seem contradictory for an audience to feel at the same time, however; you will burst into tears – both due to laughter and heartwarming moments – at the mind-numbing crazy scenarios Hank and his corpse, Manny find themselves in throughout the film.
In a sense, I believe “Swiss Army Man” pushes a core narrative of loneliness. Hank, stranded on an island and washed away in the seas, gets to land and befriends a corpse. This is a big canvas with ‘loneliness’ boldly written on it.
Hank was not always alone on this island. He once had a father who sends him an auto-generated email congratulating him on his birthday every year. He had also once liked a girl so much that he took a picture of her but never mustered the courage to talk to or even approach. Throughout the movie, the audience learns that Hank is, in fact, the embodiment of loneliness.
These subtle clues tell us about the psychology of Hank as a young man living through a difficult and demanding life. Hank has expectations that will never be met and there is nothing in this world that he can look forward to. We can deduce that a reason he was ready to commit suicide in the opening of the movie was the loneliness he has felt in his life.
This is why Hank befriends the corpse of another possibly lonely man and builds a character around him, which Hank names Manny. Communicating and connecting with the corpse is simple and straightforward. Manny likes what Hank likes, he has the same thoughts as Hank and they both love the same girl. Plus he has a bunch of abilities that helps Hank survive his ordeal of being stranded on an island. In essence, Manny is Hank’s perfect friend with whom the latter could relate with, talk to and even develop his character from.
Hank sounds like his father because that was the only friend he had growing up. However, it seems as though his father might have felt differently about him, which is why Hank runs away and tries to hang himself. The island resembles Hank’s detachment from society but it turns into a land in which he finds hope through Manny.
The Modern Man’s Sickness
To put it in simple terms, the Modern Man’s Sickness is a form of problems that the Modern Man finds himself concerned or even preoccupied with. The core of these problems is the desire to achieve meaning through contact with another human being. It also plays heavily on the ever-present dilemma of pursuing happiness. In “Swiss Army Man,” these problems were highlighted in small montages plastered across the plot as Hank talks to Manny about his past.
Hank once found a girl whom he liked but he never tried talking to her. This makes him sad as he tells Manny that the only option left in that situation was to go home and eat a lot of pizza. This is The Modern Man’s attempt to cling to every bit of a chance at achieving happiness, which in Hank’s context is finding true love.
Through Manny, Hank constantly reminds himself that he is trash. Love deserted him, his family ignores him and all he can remember was a song sang by his mother to calm him down when he was little. He doesn’t even remember the lyrics!
I guess we can all relate to Hank in one way or another. Yes, he is a crazy person who got lost in life but deep inside, we are all Hank. We crave for a touch by another human being and to be loved for eternity.
I have fallen in love with “Swiss Army Man” due to the subtle messages that are streamlined within this movie, which makes it perfect to me. Art will never cease to create wonders in the eye of mankind. I do hope that one day, Malaysian moviemakers will join the ranks in writing such movies and fill us all with awe and wonder.
Kudos Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe for this well-acted and touching movie!
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