Deciding whether or not you like Swiss Army Man is like trying to decide whether to keep your arm or your leg. You’re going to be somewhat dissatisfied either way, but grateful that you at least have something to appreciate. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, two writers and directors known mostly for creating eccentric music videos, push the weirdness over the edge in their first feature film. There are times where what’s happening makes sense only to the characters, leaving the audience lost. But in the moments when we’re able to catch up, the film’s true beauty can be seen.
Paul Dano stars as Hank, stranded somewhere along the bare coast of the United States, who wants to get back to civilization. He ends up finding Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who at first appears to be nothing more than an unidentified corpse. But he is then reinvented as a sort-of-living, farting, childlike being that cannot remember anything about himself. “You’re a miracle … or I’m just hallucinating from starvation,” Hank tells Manny. The line between reality and delusion only teeters more as the film goes on.
Swiss Army Man empathizes with what most of us consider the greatest aspect of life: loving someone who, in return, loves you back. Hank uses Manny as a tool to make his way off the beach and through a forest. Manny’s body provides water and safety, and can even be used as a weapon. But a good chunk of the film is focused on the effort to help him remember facts about his forgotten true love instead of how he’s being used as a prop.
From the acting and the scenery to the rawness of the storyline, every aspect of the film is infused with thought and care. The back-and-forth of hating it and liking it does not come from lack of effort, but from the fact that Kwan and Scheinert seem to have wanted to create something that was completely plausible but also completely outlandish.
If someone were to be isolated with nothing but a corpse as company, their delusion might be just as insane as it is in the film. Swiss Army Man is worth a watch, with a forewarning that it will not completely make sense—because humans don’t. It’s as frustrating as watching a loved one embark on a downward spiral, but as beautiful as seeing a new friendship grow.