I genuinely thought people were joking when I saw rumblings on Twitter about a movie where Paul Dano rides a flatulent corpse like a jet-ski, all with an air of utter seriousness and poignancy. I thought it was some kind of meme or running joke among the denizens of Film Twitter. What filmmaker could be that insane, I thought. And yet, to quote Han Solo……it’s true. All of it.
Behold the trailer for Swiss Army Man, a film in which Paul Dano, stranded on a desert island, makes friends with a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe. The corpse, which occasionally speaks to him, becomes Dano’s primary tool in his escape efforts, as the title implies. Dano uses Radfliffe’s prone, presumably smelly form, to cut logs, pump water, and yes, as a high-speed water transport. And while you think the trailer (and the film) would unfold with a madcap, cartoonish zaniness, it’s played with as much sincerity as any indie drama about perseverance and self-discovery.
Watching the trailer, a part of me can’t help but think…..have we gone too far in our quest to embrace the absurd? The past few generations were raised, by and large, to welcome the strange with open arms. We’ve been taught in various ways to break free of the conservative, button-down conformism of previous generations and be as weird and unconventional as we want. It’s why Burning Man exists. It’s why Portland exists. It’s why people pay actual money for those hoverboard things, despite the fact that it’s impossible to ride them without looking like an utter tool. We’ve come to commodify, to fetishise, the outside-the-box. Nobody paid attention to Stephanie Germanotta, but they paid attention to Lady Gaga. And that’s fine. That’s great! The world needs more weirdness. Conventions need to be continually re-examined, because oftentimes that examination reveals a restrictiveness.
But maybe it’s the conservative in me that sees something like Swiss Army Man and wants to say “hey now, I know you’re enthusiastic but….cool it”. I can’t help but be reminded of Rubber, another film with an odball premise played straight. Rubber reveled in the strange, the off-beat, the “why not”. But it did so not because it felt there was something interesting to be seen or said in the place beyond normalcy, but rather simply because it could. Like a child who’s discovered swearing, Rubber deployed weirdness simply for the sake of it, because it felt like rules were being broken. And it’s exciting to break rules. But while it is exciting, that excitement never struck me as end. Rules should be broken for a reason, to shed an important light on something or reveal a truth. Weird for weird’s sake was just never something that rarely strikes me as productive.
And in many ways, this ethos is the vibe I get from Swiss Army Man’s trailer. People have already seen it, and I’m sure they’re lining up now to tell me that I’m dead wrong. Heck, I probably am. But still, at this moment, something jumps out at me from the trailer as being Icarus-like about this thing. It looks like one of those films you love in your twenties because it’s weird and it confuses older people, but as you grow up you realize that the unicycle never took off as a means of serious transport for a reason.
Am I being a crank? Do I just not “get it”? Check out the trailer and give your thoughts in the comments section.