Swiss Army Man, the story of a marooned man and his dead buddy’s journey back to civilization is a tale of friendship and what it means to be alive, really and truly alive. The easy thing would be to describe the new Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano two-hander as Cast Away meets Weekend at Bernie’s but that doesn’t grab the poetic essence of what the film is trying to achieve.
“We make our movies for ourselves and we wanted to surprise ourselves into learning something and feeling something,” says Dan Kwan, the film’s co-director and co-writer.
Kwan is half of Daniels, his directing collective with partner Daniel Scheinert. The duo came up with the idea for Swiss Army Man after directing a series of innovative, internet-breaking music videos like DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s Turn Down for What (35 million views and counting).
“We’ve been working together since 2009 and kind of discovered this movie as much as we wrote it,” says Scheinert. “We have very different filmmaking processes but very similar tastes. As we work together certain stories started to reveal themselves.
“It’s kind of autobiographical about the two of us. That’s a joke answer but it is also kind of true. Certain jokes would make us both laugh. Somewhere in that stew of us becoming friends a movie about two guys becoming friends came out. The signature image of a man riding a corpse’s farts across the ocean came out somewhere in there. The relationships with all the crew that made this movie also inspired the movie. We met our DP and our production designer and wrote a movie that played to their strengths.”
With a premise Monty Python might have rejected as too silly Swiss Army Man uses the relationship between its characters to shed light on everything from stifled machismo and loyalty to unrequited love and the need for compassion.
“The overall meta joke was, let’s make a farting corpse movie but let’s make the most personal movie we can,” says Kwan. “If people are connecting to it they’re connecting to us pouring a lot of ourselves into it.”
“Dan keeps saying this movie breeds a strange kind of empathy,” adds Scheinert. “One of the goals was to tell the most unlikely love story. We knew Farting Corpse and Daniel Radcliffe would be viral. Cool, but if we can make you really care about that farting corpse, what a cool achievement. If we can do that, what can’t you care about? You can walk out of the theatre and it will be real hard for you to find someone you can’t empathize with once you have just fallen in love with a farting corpse.”
Reviews have ranged from rapturous (“Hilarious, deranged, and always alive with possibility.”) to rotten (“ridiculously infantile”) but Daniels are unfazed by the reaction. “Even some of the bad reviews were sweet and complimentary,” says Scheinert. Mostly they just want people to see the film.
“I hope people go to a theatre and watch it with strangers because even if they hate it they’ll have a really memorable experience,” says Scheinert. “I hate it when people say it’s not a movie for everyone because I kind of feel it is a movie for everyone. You have permission to dislike this and you won’t be bored if even if dislike it.”