S. Morehead

S. Morehead

Shane Morehead, Entertainment Writer

The first time I saw “Swiss Army Man” was in late 2016. My parents and I had rented it from a Redbox, recognizing Daniel Radcliffe from the “Harry Potter” series and deciding it’d be a good choice. I distinctly remember them hating it, so much that my Dad actually spent a good portion of the runtime away from the TV. I felt the opposite way: I kept my eyes on the screen, afraid to blink, more engaged in a film’s story than I’d ever been. That story was so easy to focus on because of its originality.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, “Swiss Army Man” begins with a young man named Hank(Paul Dano) stranded on a deserted island, devoid of resources and hope, on the brink of death. In what he thinks are his final moments, he spots a body(Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on shore with some assorted debris and trash. The body is pale, in tattered clothes, almost completely inactive with the exception of some muted facial expressions and grunted words. Hank and the body, who is later named as Manny, become the best of friends, very slowly learning about each other and themselves. Throughout the course of the film, Hank discovers utilities of Manny’s body, such as chopping wood, or starting fires, hence the title. Manny also learns lessons on life and humanity along the way.

No part of “Swiss Army Man” ever explains Manny’s half-alive state or his abilities. Most people assume that Hank is hallucinating from starvation; some take it a step further and say he died in the beginning and the events of the film are his journey through the afterlife. Maybe Manny is just supposed to be taken literally as a miracle, nobody knows. That element is the real beauty of the plot, that it’s uncertain. Everyone sees the same movie, but everyone can get a different story through interpretation. There are no right or wrong answers. That interpretation is similar to maybe a novel, and the pondering that followed was comparable to when I read “The Scarlet Letter” or Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” The bizarre nature of the plot isn’t for everyone, but I personally welcome any story out there that doesn’t repeat the same elements from the past over and over again. Films don’t need any more of the typical damsels in distress or reliance on action sequences, they need originality.

Not only does “Swiss Army Man” excel as a story, but it also just stands as a good movie. The cinematography is simple at times, but there’s a consistent amount of captivating shots. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are both veteran actors at this point, and each shines in their own way. Dano can really show misery and what almost seems like genuine human emotion in a variety of situations. Radcliffe tackles the role of a dead man coming alive with precision, and though his expressions and actions are limited, he’s able to convey thoughts and emotion better than 90% of actors playing living characters. The soundtrack was done by Andy Hull(who also plays a news station cameraman in some of the final scenes) and Robert McDowell, with a lot of singing from the two main characters. That soundtrack could stand on its own, and that’s best shown through the song “Montage.” Thought it relates exactly to an actual montage scene, the light, happy tone and simple lyrics bring a smile to my face, and I find myself listening to it often.

I can’t ever see myself getting sick of the film, as I’ve seen it over ten times, with two different girlfriends, multiple friends, and I always feel something new. I rewatched it last night for this review and found another way to watch it, as a wonky sort of love story. Sometimes I dread the sadness involved, the low moments for the duo, but I always remember the happy ones, how that sadness is worth the final scene, when Manny’s smiling corpse shoots off into the horizon, pushing through the waves as Hank smiles back.