Sundance: Swiss Army Man Is a 95-Minute Viral Video
Swiss Army Man starts with a suicide attempt and a fart—and it only gets weirder from there.
Directed by Daniels (aka Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan), Man stars Paul Dano as a man named Hank who, after being stranded in a remote location, befriends a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Hank was on the verge of packing it all in, but when Manny washes ashore, he’s able to use the bloated cadaver like a flatulence-powered jet ski, and a beautiful friendship is born. See? Told you it got weird.
What happens after that is part examination of humanity, part rumination on the nature of love, part celebration of the theme song from Jurassic Park. Its sight gags are many (Manny is a “Swiss Army man” because Hank finds many uses for his corpse, like turning his mouth into a cannon and his gas into a fire-starter). And, despite its bleak premise, its jokes are frequent. It’s so bizarre that at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered Friday, much of the audience was confused, and some viewers walked out. (Sundance director John Cooper introduced the film by saying he was glad the screening meant he would no longer have to explain it to the press because he truly had “no idea” what it was about.)
SWISS ARMY MAN: Yeah, no idea what to make of this fable about depression, magical realist corpses, and flatulence. #Sundance
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) January 23, 2016
If Gondry directed a castaway version of Weekend at Bernie’s it might come close to the strangely confounding SWISS ARMY MAN.
— chris nashawaty (@ChrisNashawaty) January 23, 2016
I’ve never seen anything like SWISS ARMY MAN. Example: Paul Dano riding a dead, farting Daniel Radcliffe like a motor boat. #Sundance
— Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) January 23, 2016
SWISS ARMY MAN is definitely not for everyone. But great performances by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe make it worth seeing.
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) January 23, 2016
That confusion, at least partly, comes from the fact that its humor and pacing have much in common with viral videos. There’s a reason for that. Daniels made their bones doing music videos—specifically the super-famous-369-million-views-and-counting video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What”—and clearly understand the rhythms of absurdist online humor (they also wrote Swiss Army Man). And unlike folks like David Fincher or Mark Romanek, who made very cinematic music videos before going on to direct actual films, Daniels are products of the Internet age. They’re just taking what they do well and stretching it to 95 minutes.
“Originally, it was just a fart joke that Dan made to me,” Scheinert told the Sundance audience following Man’s premiere. “I think just along the way of kind of like joking about how man-riding-a-farting-corpse could be a feature, we stumbled upon something personal. It was an opportunity to explore mortality and big ideas, but with fart jokes so we don’t feel too self-conscious about it being a full-on drama.”
And that refusal to devolve into self-seriousness has clearly attracted talent. “The script was really funny and original,” Radcliffe told the post-screening audience. “I got it and then Paul wrote to me and said, like, ‘I think these directors are crazy geniuses,’ essentially.” Dano chimed in to corroborate: “Page 2 [of the script], once he was riding the farting body, I was in.”
Look, Swiss Army Man is not going to be a crowd-pleaser. If you’ve heard anything about this movie already it’s something along the lines of “People left Daniel Radcliffe’s fart movie. LOL!” (For real though, people leave movies early all the time at Sundance. It’s a busy place; leaving early isn’t always a sign of doom. Remember in Entourage when James Cameron left Vinny’s Sundance movie, but it was only because he already knew Vinny was good enough to be Aquaman?) But it’s not bad. In a perfect world, it would get snapped up by Netflix and become an immediate stoner favorite. It’s a cult classic in the making—it’s just a little too of-the-now to ever live up to the classic part.