Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
Swiss Army Man is one of those movies that I didn’t think much of at the time, but my mind kept going back to it a surprising number of times, even now, two years later, and I am not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because in my teenage years, I had big problems walking over to a girl and starting a conversation. Hank (Paul Dano) has the same problem, and he seems to be able to create an imaginary friend just when he wants to hang himself on a deserted island. The imaginary friend is a washed-up corpse, dressed in a wet and rumpled suit and played by Daniel Radcliffe. Sometimes quirky is just what the doctor ordered.
Since the corpse is entirely Hank’s invention, he gives him a name, Manny, and eventually endows him with a number of surprising, bizarre, and gross faculties, sometimes all three at once. For instance, Manny can fart so strongly and consistently that Hank can use him as a speedy surfboard to cross the open water. Manny can shoot projectiles from his mouth if Hank presses Manny’s chest like in a Heimlich manoeuvre. Manny’s erect penis always points north. And just when I thought that the movie is quirky enough, it changes its tone. Hank teaches Manny how to speak, and the movie takes a more sombre turn because now, Hank can ask Manny for advice, which is its own brand of quirk because every dialogue between the two of them is essentially a monologue. There is a gay romance in the air, but Hank is too taken with that girl Sarah (Mary Elisabeth Winstead) to answer Manny’s call.
I am too old to find fart jokes or penis jokes funny, but the thing is that Swiss Army Man uses these moments to create something else, something only partly quirky, but also heartfelt and human. I completely understand those who simply don’t like the movie – I was one of them initially, remember? I started to empathize with Hank, I wanted him to stop thinking about suicide and to be able to talk to Sarah, even if she would send him away. It would be a start. And if his pep talk to himself had to come from a pale corpse, then so be it.
The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.