Swiss Army Man

By Tim McEown

Mailed on June 27, 2016

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Dear Tim McEown
Audience Member

Dear Tim,

Don’t be creeped out, but I was watching you while you were watching Swiss Army Man. And I’m not sure which was more entertaining—which is saying something.

The mixture of disgust, amusement, genuine sadness, goofy joy and confusion that flitted across your features spoke volumes. Clearly what you were experiencing was having a profound effect upon you. Not surprising, I suppose, given how the themes that inform Swiss Army Man—alienation, self-loathing, self-imposed isolation, parental disregard and suicidal ideation—are all things you have, or continue to, struggle with.

Weird eh? But I’ve been watching you for a really, really long time.

That these themes played out in a visual style that is best described as Michael Gondry suffering through a mescaline overdose also had something to do with how overwhelming Swiss Army Man was to experience. Add to this a couple of truly inspired performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, who managed to take material that is utterly absurd and transform it into something happily coherent, and I can understand why this film seemed to hold you in its sway for its entire run time.

Swiss Army Man is that rare piece of art that is both joyful in execution, while speaking in brutally honest terms to the kinds of existential truths that seem to plague most members of our species—those of love and death, and the impossibility of ever really being comfortable in your own skin. That it so happily dissects these in such a surreal but concise way is a wonder of storytelling alchemy.

The visual grammar of this film supports a constantly engaging narrative, despite a very loose relationship with chronology or anything close to objective reality. The dream logic that informs most of the film deals in the sort of emotional truths that are difficult to convey with conventional narrative schemes. That Swiss Army Man succeeds in that difficult task was made obvious by your unblinking attention. You were completely immersed in what was happening up on the screen.

And while this film is anything but meandering, what it evokes is both complicated and difficult to express, because it bypasses the frontal cortex and shoots straight into the midbrain. In the best possible way Swiss Army Man is an arthouse film that doesn’t require you to think so much as it demands you experience it on its own terms. That I got to watch you struggle with that frankly made my day.

By the way, you sure do cry a lot. If I had to guess I would say you were probably in tears for a good third of this film, not to mention the entire walk home from Bloor to Shaw—which is like, what, a good hour or so?

Oh yes, I know where you live. Don’t worry though, you won’t ever see me.



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