Maverick Life


This weekend we’re watching: Isolation and descent into madness

This weekend we’re watching: Isolation and descent into madness
'Swiss Army Man' (Image courtesy of A4)

There are three things without which a person is certain to lose their minds: water, sleep and social interaction. No wonder then, that we’re all going a bit nuts with cabin fever, pent up at home. This week’s movie is about isolation, descent into madness and unexpected fun.


Swiss Army Man

Picture the classic marooned man on an island: the frazzled beard, the tattered clothes, the vagrant eyes. Having reached the tipping point of loneliness and despair, Hank Thompson (named as a tribute to Tom Hanks’s performance in castaway) tightens the frayed noose around his neck, mumbling the tune of ‘you are my sunshine’. He takes one last look at the crashing waves. Is that a body lying in the sand?

Hank rushes toward the shore, instilled with a sudden desperate will to live, but the man is dead. Having come so close to death, Hank begins to tell the corpse of his profound realizations about life, when the corpse lets out a hefty fart. And then another. And another. The corpse erupts with gassy force so powerful that it sends the body soaring through the shallows. A few minutes into Swiss Army Man, Hank is riding a farting corpse like a jet-ski towards the mainland, and it only gets weirder after that.

Sometimes, the only thing better than finding what you’re looking for is finding something you’re not looking for. Hank begins to realize that Manny, his dead travelling companion, has strange and useful abilities like some kind of human utility multi-tool. He begins to doubt whether Manny is dead at all. And as Hank descends further into the abyss of madness, Manny becomes more animated and more human.

Swiss Army Man stages a coup d’état against romanticisation in film. It paints a truer portrait of life: a messy vibrant oil painting. A little shocking, never what you were expecting, but strangely charming. In what he thinks are his final moments, Hank’s life doesn’t flash before his eyes, instead he is thinking about his daily commute on the bus. Every time we expect a profound monologue about life, it is interrupted by something unexpected, usually a fart.

And you will have to put up with a lot of fart noises. During its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, many people walked out within the first five minutes, thinking they were in store for a full-length feature film of toilet humour. Don’t let it get to you. The idea is to make you uncomfortable, to disrupt our notions of what’s gross and how things are supposed to be.

Paul Dano who plays Hank, revealed in an interview that he decided to be in the film after reading a one line synopsis: ‘The first fart will make you laugh, the last fart will make you cry’. It’s true – you will laugh, you will cringe, but you will become desensitized to it eventually, and that’s the point.

The film is about acceptance. Accepting who we are as individuals and making peace with the unsavoury parts of one another. At one point in the film, Manny (acted by Daniel Radcliffe) says “Maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly. Maybe we’re all just dying sacks of shit, and if even one person decided to be ok with that, then maybe we’d all be dancing and singing and farting.”

Watching Swiss Army Man, you will feel naughty. It’s not sexy or violent, but with its brazen acapella soundtrack, its cheeky unexpected twists, and its childish bizarre dialogue, it’s just so much fun. You feel a little silly but it’s funny, so you throw caution to the wind – who’s going to stop you? If it seems a little frivolous at first, rest assured that there’s a lot more going on than is obviously evident, and you will be rewarded for taking the leap at the end.

Swiss Army Man is as ‘weird’ as any movie you have ever watched, but “don’t worry, weird is ok”. In this time of isolation, when we’re all missing our friends, it’s easy to relate to the disturbing and yet adorable nature of Hank’s madness, and his loneliness. The world can be a pretty lonely place, and sometimes it’s possible to feel alone in a bustling office or a crowded bus, because it’s not just about being near other people. The message of Swiss Army Man is that to feel as though you truly belong is to feel accepted by those around you and accepting the “weirder” parts of yourself.

Swiss Army Man is not currently available for streaming in South Africa but it is available on a variety of streaming sites abroad, such as Netflix. If you are already paying for an online streaming site such as Netflix, you will be able to legally watch Swiss Army Man using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). DM/ML

If you would like to share your stories, ideas or suggestions with us, please leave a comment below or email us at [email protected] and [email protected]

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