Swiss Army Man: Physical Comedy Absurdism and Socially Constructed Fear
I peeped Swiss Army Man just last night, and it kinda blew whatever meager expectations I had constructed of it out of the water. It’s a film where the stranded actor Paul Dano finds a very dead Daniel Radcliff and uses his flatulence to ride him, literally like a jetski across the ocean in an attempts to be rescued. Up front, this is a movie definitively worth watching specifically with a group of silly, amicable homies. If you do, you’re almost guaranteed at least one gross-out chuckle, at least two WTF chortles, and probably a handful of off-hand guffaws. The movie is just too unique, weird, and off-color not to stir a round of laughs from a solid group of cinephiles.
Besides the pure oddity, I found that this movie was the strongest display of physical body comedy I’ve encountered in quite some time. It’s body comedy in the way an improv comic might run with an extended gag, but it’s always morphing and dynamic. The gags are silly, gross, and almost cartoony that had me easily changing mental lanes from “hehe, eww, corpse fluid” to “mhh, slurp dat life saving nectar”. For me, the absurdism was wonderfully out there yet grounded enough to foster discussion about how much in the film is happening in Dano’s head or if Radcliff really was a special dead body. The direction, cinematography, and editing go a long way towards making the whole cinematic package come together, bolstered by a very charismatic dead body in Radcliff and a very fractured foil in Dano.
It doesn’t take long for that comedy and goofiness to start reflecting back a vision of how society works through Dano’s eyes. I find it interesting that Paul Dano often plays these semi-broken, arguably “weak” characters, or creeps, or charlatans. He’s quite a talented actor, but I can’t recall him in a role that exudes confidence, charisma, or evokes inspiration. He’s a bit of a tragic actor, but he’s quite great at it.
Here, on the verge of suicide, he’s immediately established as either mentally unstable or at the end of his rope, Cast Away style. He’s constantly afraid and seemingly unable to cope with the concept of how the world functions, to the point of disabling himself. He’s almost a caricature in his anxiety and fear, and resembles a human collectively fearing everything, like an amalgamation of every fear from this this ask reddit thread all rolled into one.
The comedy blends effectively with the social commentary throughout, perhaps starting with his hilarious usage of a particular non-PC term then chastising anyone for using it. There were some serious gut bustery in this flick, especially early on. Dano fleshes out the world in his eyes and whilst it’s initially a beautiful garbage-mural of simple pleasures, every world view he expresses undulates from silliness to sadness and mental claustrophobia. So much so that the relatively inept dead body is more socially relaxed and curious, until he’s berated and taught not to be by Dano’s character.
**Ending and Spoilers, bruh**
The ending is pretty fascinating as it mixes the absurdum with reality, frames their location more concretely, and effectively continues Dano’s portrayal as a sad and kinda helpless dude. Even though I was rooting for him and Radcliff to unite publicly as the team they were privately, I only get a taste of it. Instead, I’m left continuing to worry about Dano and his future.
In psychological research and treatment practice, there’s an abundant amount of focus on combating the disabling, dysfunctional, dangerous or damaging mental issues in order help individuals move from a heavy deficit into a neutral level of functioning. The counterpart to this is within the relatively small subfocus in “positive psychology”, which from what I understand, is growing but still small in regards to the amount of empirical research being conducted. Perhaps Dano’s neutrality and minutia of problems escalated and became more and more toxic until only suicide, or the flatulent gassiness of Radcliff’s butthole could provide comfort? For every comedic moment in this film, a comparable and overt social sadness hit me, and it became an even more interesting conversation when seeing the public’s reactions to Dano and Radcliff’s appearance.
In the end of the film, the framing on mental illness in some way is muddled by this blend of hallucination and actual paranormal functioning, but I thought it was more charming and hopeful this way. Dano’s future might not look hot, but Radcliff’s is hopeful and likely full of growth opportunities. My man Daniel is out there, farting from island to island, making new friends and learning about the world. I for one would read the memoirs of Daniel the dead body.
Swiss Army Man was phenomenally funny in its physical comedy, for real. Fucked up and fart-focused, the laughs may not be for everyone… but a large group outing should result in grand giggle-fits. The social commentary on the other hand was a bit more sad, reflective of morose coasting through life, anxiety-provoked interactions, and struggle-laced mole hills that erupt into mountains. Not everything can be fixed by a compass erection, Dano. Somethings are more challenging and require exposure to discomfort until it becomes a little more bearable, time after time.
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