Swiss Army Man: A Love Affair

Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I love Swiss Army Man. Those of you who have been reading my blog over the past few months know that I’m constantly harking back to it as being one of the best films this year. It’s definitely the best that I’ve seen yet; that’s a certain fact. I wrote a post in the summertime musing about how disappointing it is that more movies couldn’t be like this incomparable film. I was prepared to leave it at that. That would be all I’d have to say about Swiss Army Man. But then I preordered the Blu-Ray. And after watching the film another time-and then another-and then maybe even another, I simply couldn’t let my relationship to this film be qualified to a simple paragraph on an ensemble post. Because ladies and gentlemen, Swiss Army Man is my favorite movie of all time.

Generally when you’re writing a review of a film, it’s proper etiquette to give the reader a brief synopsis of the film so that they might understand what it’s about. And yet I sit here today with the firm belief that it would be a gross injustice to tell you much of anything about the movie.  Swiss Army Man thrives on the element of surprise and unfortunately the trailers for the film ruin a lot of the best moments. Thankfully when I saw this film the first time, I had forgotten virtually everything I had seen previously, so the movie impacted me in an absolutely otherworldly sort of way. But I couldn’t consider myself a proper critic if I didn’t leave you with a basic understanding of what you’re in for before you go into this movie. Essentially all you need to know is a stranded suicidal man enlists the help of a dead body to help him get home, discovering what it means to be alive along the way. And if that isn’t an interesting enough premise for you, perhaps move onward.

This movie is contained to two fantastic actors: Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. There honestly couldn’t have been two men more perfectly matched to their roles than these two brilliant performers. Paul Dano plays the suicidal man, presenting to us an air of desperation that life is meaningless mixed with a sentimental hope that life can be magnificent. This quiet duality is portrayed with meaningful honesty in a way that never grows excessive or lachrymose. Radcliffe however, may have found the role of a lifetime. Yes, I know that he played Harry Potter. Let me put it to you this way. I am an immense fan of the Harry Potter films, and yet if I ever meet Mr. Radcliffe Hogwarts won’t even come close to reaching my mind. I would only be able to praise him on his role in Swiss Army Man. No one has ever played a dead man in the way that Daniel Radcliffe did in this movie. No one. I will leave my description of his character at that because you really must experience his performance for yourself. It is the kind of role that many actors dream of having, yet find themselves bogged down to your standard studio fare of romantic interests and expression-less heroes. However in this role, Daniel Radcliffe successfully escapes convention and becomes something undeniably new.

We live in a world in which movie studios are scared. They’re scared of losing audiences. They’re scared of losing you. And for that reason nobody takes risks anymore. Marvel movies-all movies really but Marvel movies especially-are so fabricatedly safe that nothing truly feels worth it these days. The movies are calculated down to the second to make sure that they don’t offend anyone or make a mistake that could be exploited on the very vocal communities of Twitter and Youtube. I don’t blame the studios for acting this way, these are turbulent times. I just think it’s sad. That’s part of the reason that Swiss Army Man affected me in the way it did. Because if there’s anything Swiss Army Man is not, it is safe. This film is absolutely and irrevocably audacious. It’s daring and original and takes every opportunity to embrace its absurdity and unconventionality to the point where you never know what will happen next or to be honest, really full understand what’s happening in the moment. Many have heard the rumors that when this film was unveiled at Sundance there were viewers in the audience who walked out. To that I say, good! When asked on the matter Daniel Radcliffe said, “It’s nice to be divisive.” And he’s absolutely right. I think it’s a testament to the filmmakers abilities that they are able to make a movie that is capable of either complete adoration or undeniable vilification. The people who walked out of the film obviously didn’t understand it. And that’s okay. Movies shouldn’t be created with the goal of pleasing everyone. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone, therefore if you make a film with the intention of it being perfect for everyone, chances are your product will be a watered-down, polystyrene piece of mindless entertainment that will be easily forgotten within hours. But if you take a chance you create something with the capacity to be an absolute revolutionary masterpiece. Or something that is a dismal breath of nonsense. Thankfully, The Daniels took a chance.

A Film By Daniels. This sentence which precedes Swiss Army Man is the calling card of this film’s absolutely visionary directors. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who go by the moniker “Daniels,” had a vision. They thought of all the things they hate and at the top of the list were fart jokes, Cotton-Eyed Joe and A Capella music. The challenge that they presented to themselves was to make a movie that made each of these things beautiful. I can understand if you are confused. I would be too. But this is what I’m talking about when I talk about audacity. No one will ever make a movie like this again. I am certain of it. The Daniels draw an amazing performance out of every component of this movie. The actors, the environment, the score, the props, the camera, everything serves one goal of making an adventure that is all at once brilliantly triumphant, realistically melancholy, abstractly introspective and mindlessly fun. As the movie progresses you develop a growing sense that it is coming alive. The colors saturate. The music swells. The dialogue eases. All of this piles on to one another until an enigmatic finale which is a calamitous celebration of senses and thoughts. Perhaps this films biggest achievement is its adaptability. There are two ways you can watch this film. You can watch with an analytical eye, connecting moments to create a decisive understanding of what this movie’s about, or you can just sit back and let the movie wash over you like a wave of celluloid and simply rejoice in its peculiarity and delightful joy. It would be foolish of me to expect this film to get the Daniels an Oscar nomination. Movies like Swiss Army Man simply aren’t recognized with  little golden men. But there is one Academy Award that this film deserves absolutely wholeheartedly: Sound Mixing. Sound is the second most important component of any movie and no film grasps this idea more than Swiss Army Man. Every single sound from the illustrious score down to the simplest of sound effects is engineered to its highest potential, creating a feeling that completely engrosses you in this ebullient tale and leaves the mundane world of everyday life far, far behind.

This film has problems. I understand that. I am not naive enough to believe that any film is perfect. And yet, they say that when you love something, its faults no longer matter to you. I’ve seen this film four times now. There is nothing that I don’t like about it. I’m sure the faults are there, but I don’t see them. The title of this blog is A Cinematic Revelry. This description has never been more true than with this movie. I absolutely revel in its creativity. In its amazing ability to entertain and philosophize at the same time. I understand that many people won’t like it-that many people won’t understand it. And that’s okay to me. What we have here is a cult classic in the making. I am just incredibly satisfied to have gotten in at the ground floor. I know I reacted to this movie a bit more strongly than other people will and that’s alright. If you watch this film on my recommendation and find yourself underwhelmed, I will not judge you. But I will challenge you this. Find a film more creative, more original or more revolutionary made in the past five years. I wish you good luck.

A+

Ethan Brundeen

Image is from The Daniels’ Swiss Army Man, an A24 film

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