This one comes to us from contributor Josh Encinias:

Repellent as its non-stop farts, bone crackling, and other embarrassing bodily functions are, Swiss Army Man joins a new tradition of movies, beginning with Jean-Luc Godard’s film Goodbye to Language and Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog, that force the viewer to dig deep for empathy, accepting foibles of human will as humanity’s default mode. Otherwise, in these movies as in life, you will come away with a deeply cynical, solipsistic view of humanity. This movie may not be for everyone because of its purportedly divisive qualities, however, they are mostly joke fodder and background noise, masking the old story of death and resurrection.

Swiss Army Man is about Hank (Paul Dano), an unreliable narrator who is stranded on an island for unknown reasons. When we meet Hank he is bearded and minutes away from suicide, that is until Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore and has a gratuitous attack of flatulence. Disappointed that the new person on the island can’t befriend or help him, Hank quickly grows despondent again.

Without getting into specifics so not to ruin the movie, Manny’s onset rigor mortis and other functions, in a twist of imaginative realism, are amplified to mythic proportions. His power puts both men on a journey of self-discovery and recovery. In fact, this dead man could save Hank after all.

Radcliffe’s delivery energizes with the progression of his character. Manny is a blank slate, needing the concepts of self, love, and society explained in complete detail. His childlike, Socratic questions lead Hank out of his suicidal depression, as he teaches Manny by recalling the goodness of being, i.e. appreciation for the little things, like riding in a car, eating food, going on a date.

radcliffe

There’s a dialectic between Hank and Manny, the living dead man and the dead living man, that denies comparing either to a dead-then-resurrected Savior, but something from the Garden Tomb has wafted into this picture, and that’s Christian liberty.

A few critics said Swiss Army Man couldn’t sustain its invention and energy to the end of the movie because the story’s logic is seemingly abandoned when they make it off the island and Hank is finally able to admit an obsessional love he held for a married woman – to the married woman, herself! Hank doesn’t have to be dead right anymore, cause dead right can go dead wrong (Francis and the Lights). He’s experienced the grace of being alive after nearly taking his own life. It’s like the filmmakers are asking you to stop worrying about what’s happened in the story up to this point, and to think about why it happened and what it did to our protagonists (answer: it freed them). This sounds a lot like Christian liberty; death to self, giving a person the freedom to confess sin without eternal retribution. Free to admit that we’ve hurt others (even if it doesn’t restore the relationship).

To some critics and viewers, this is insanity. Few contemporary movies have such strong overarching themes of our shared humanity’s need for grace. Swiss Army Man shows that a person’s strengths and weaknesses are inextricable. We think we have to be good, not bad; but we’re both. Simple, not solipsistic.