Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man is a bizarre movie, absolutely. But look beyond its rampant dick and fart jokes, and what you'll find is a brilliantly magical film here. Quite frankly, this movie about a man stranded on a desert island who comes across a farting corpse that slowly starts to come to life is a metaphorical work of art, The Tree of Life for the weird and the awkward, and I absolutely loved it.

The movie starts with our lead character Hank, played by Paul Dano, stranded on a small island, completely alone, and attempting to take his life, when the dead corpse of Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, suddenly washes ashore. And it's soon after coming across this corpse that Hank discovers his way off the island, in the form of riding Manny like a jet-ski across the ocean, who is propelling their momentum via his non-stop farting. Stay with me here, folks.

After reaching land, they find themselves washed on a beach just outside a forest, which they can see has been recently traversed as a result of all of the trash they find all over the place. So, Hank and Manny have essentially found themselves back to the outskirts of society, yet still very much remain lost and alone, stranded, as if they were still stuck on that island.

And as the movie progresses, Manny slowly starts to actually come to life, and it's up to Hank to essentially re-train him on what it means to be human. And the more the two connect, the more alive Manny becomes. And likewise, as the movie continues to progress, Manny proves time and time again to be a source of life to Hank. They are each others life-support. In this strange world where they don't quite fit in, they give each other a reason to live and keep on going.

On the outset, you can watch this movie and all that I just described above, and take it as merely a really bizarrely silly comedy about a man and his dead zombie-like friend trying to find their way back home. But really, their entire journey completely embodies what it's like to be this type of person, someone who is a little weird, a little quirky, doesn't quite fit in with society's social norms, and might be a little more introverted and shy than most.

Hank starting off completely secluded on that island shows us literally just how alone he feels in this world. But then Manny comes into his life, and that shows us how all it can take is one friend reaching out to you to help bring you from the brink of your darkest moments, in this case, Hank attempting to commit suicide, unable to take the loneliness anymore. Manny, the proverbial "Swiss Army Man", becomes the very tool needed to fix Hank's loneliness and show him the way to a better, more meaningful life.

But Hank's not the only one who's a little weird, as Manny very much shares a lot of his similar personality traits. And it's in their shared weirdness that the two are able to connect, and just as Manny's presence brought Hank back from the brink and gave him a reason to keep on going, Hank stepping into Manny's life literally gives him life. And this aspect is never more evident than when the two, much later in the movie, fall into a river, and Manny, unable to move, is drowning into the depths of the water, until Hank swims down to save his undead friend, and the two embrace in what appears to be a literally life-giving kiss as Hank presses his lips to Manny's and takes in a breath of air. And the moment when he pulls back and realizes what he just did and goes back in for another breath will probably stand as one of my favorite moments in film this year, as it really just epitomizes the sheer beauty on display and the depths that this film is willing to dive to in order to tackle this movie's issues in the metaphorical manner that it's presented to us here, as the two literally save each other in that moment.

Let's back up a little now, and take a look at when Hank was going over the meaning of life to Manny. He essentially trains him on how to be human, and in doing so, covers all of those social norms that one must adhere to in order to try and fit in with society, many of which Manny, in his innocent state, finds himself questioning, leading to some hilariously awkward dialogue. But eventually, their lessons lead to the conquest of love, and when Manny sees the girl who Hank has saved as his background picture on his phone, it's love at first sight for him, and that's when the real magic of this movie starts to present itself.

We see how Manny's crush on this girl further develops, and how this girl's presence in his life gives him even more reason to live and keep going. And upon seeing this for himself, Hank begins to perpetuate this crush as a means to help them get unlost. And for a time, this appears to be working, and it's this one-sided love that ultimately helps bring them back to society, but more on that in a second.

However, it's just fascinating seeing this entire journey play out for Manny, as he experiences not only love, but the crushing heartache at the realization that his love can never truly be realized in the way that he had imagined it. And upon this discovery, he starts to revert back to his dead self, no longer seeing a reason to continue to live and go on in that moment, and it's only in seeing his friend in peril that he remembers that there's more to life than romantic love, and that he finds a whole new purpose to keep on living, coming even more alive than ever before.

I now want to talk about the ending of this movie, after the two finally do find themselves back in society, literally in the backyard of the girl they had been crushing on. And the first thing we realize in this moment is just how close to society they actually were this entire time as they were wandering through the woods, and yet how cut off from it they were all the same. But as the two finally find themselves in contact with other people in the real world, it's only then that we actually see just how cut off from society they really are on a much deeper level.

To be honest, when I initially saw the movie, I actually didn't feel like the ending fit, like it was almost jarring in how tonally disconnected it felt from the rest of the movie, and kinda wished that the movie had either cut short or tried another route. But it wasn't until some further reflection that I realized that this ending not feeling like it fits with the rest of the movie is precisely what makes it the perfect way to end this movie, because it really emphasizes just how much our leads themselves just do not fit within society.

If the two embracing in a kiss under the water is one of the most beautiful moments in cinema this year, then Manny's reaction when he finally meets another person, only to find them reacting exactly as Hank had warned them they would, reacting weirded out and frightened by him, and his completely bottling back up and becoming completely dead again in response, this is possibly among the most tormenting moments of the year, as it just really hits hard in how honest it is, a fear fully realized, the fear of not being accepted for who you are, of people acting weirded out by you even.

And in this sequence, we also see just how bad Hank's social anxiety is as well, as he's suddenly not the open and talkative individual we had come to know and love by this point, but rather, finds himself too shy for words, in a moment that's striking in its execution. But it all comes around at the end as Hank tries to run away with Manny and bring him back to life, seeing in that moment that the two really do need one another in this big scary world where they don't belong in, and it's only after a show of trust, that Hank isn't judging Manny the way that everyone else is, that he does accept him for who he is, quirks and everything, that Manny comes back from the brink, just as Manny had brought Hank back in the beginning.

As the two are being chased through the woods, though, the ones chasing them come across all the various things that Hank had been busy creating during their time in the woods, cobbling together all the trash and limbs and such around them in order to build things such as a fake bus, a theater, a diner and such all throughout the movie during Hank's various life lessons to Manny, which no words I write can even begin to do justice in trying to describe them, and you'll just have to see them to believe. Hank proves himself to be quite the resourceful guy in this regard, which can initially make you wonder how such a person can have such a hard time finding his way out of the woods, but that, of course, isn't the point the movie's trying to get to.

This particular aspect shows us how the more introverted types happen to also oftentimes be creative types, and the production design in this movie is immaculate in depicting this. And as amazing as it is seeing him making all of this stuff, it all pays off big in just how impressed the others are when they comes across it in the end, showing that Hank isn't as worthless to society as he makes himself out to be, and there he does have something worthwhile to contribute.

What I also loved about this movie was its use of music. I have mentioned in the past a number of times how my favorite use of music in movies is when it's incorporated in a way where it becomes an active participant in the film that the characters on screen are actually hearing, just as we are, which immerses us into the movie on a far greater level than a score playing music that just happens to compliment the scene would. Recent examples of this kind of use of music in action are the scores for Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy.

But this movie almost outdoes all of those examples, as the score here, as brilliantly first introduced right from the outset, is Hank's humming and singing to himself, humming a few notes which are then repeated over and over, until he adds a few more notes to it, which becomes an added layer to the music he's created, and that just keeps expanding further and further until we have a full on musical accompaniment straight out of the mind of our main character. In this instance, it's not just a matter of hearing the same thing the characters on screen are hearing, this movie literally gets us in our characters head with its score, which I thought was just absolutely brilliant.

Now, it can be easy to look at the movie as being immature for its insistence on going with all of the farting gags and whatnot throughout, even going so far as to use Manny's boner as a compass to guide them out of the woods in the movie. But honestly, I think the decision to do this goes deeper than cheap laughs. I had mentioned before how Hank is essentially teaching Manny how to be human, and I think going with these baser human functions really helps emphasize that aspect, to remind us that, despite all of our flaws or our differences, we all have the same strange bodily functions that we hide from one another in shame, in order to further conform within society. But where most movies would go for this sort of humor just to be immature for immaturity's sake, here, the movie is almost insisting that we take a look back at our more immature sensibilities, to not be ashamed of them, as it's all a part of what helps make us human, which is actually quite a mature statement to make.

And I could just keep gushing more and more about this movie, but I just absolutely loved it. Paul Dano was fantastic, and I think Daniel Radcliffe's performance was simply ingenious, and the two had a phenomenal chemistry that totally carried this movie. In lesser hands, this movie could've completely fallen flat, but the fantastic direction and magnificent performances truly brought this script to life like nothing else, and brought us a movie unlike anything else we've ever seen.

This is probably going to be the movie that I'm most gutted about should it go ignored come awards season (as of this writing, it's got Best Score and Best Actor for Daniel Radcliffe in the bag for me, with nods to Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Actor for Paul Dano at the least), 'cause this is a movie that is from start to finish just a magical experience to take part in, taking a deep look at the psyche of the weird and the awkward, and bringing it to the forefront on a literal level. To say that I could relate to this movie is putting it mildly, but I really hope that this one doesn't get so easily disregarded as being merely silly and weird, when there's so much deeper going on with this fantastic film.