Today I saw the oddest headline in The Guardian. DANIEL RADCLIFFE’S FLATULENT CORPSE PROMPTS SUNDANCE WALKOUT.
And beneath it were the words DEAD DANIEL RADCLIFFE FARTS PAUL DANO TO SAFETY.
First thing came into my head was, some people will do anything to get into the newspapers. To tell you the truth I thought I’d seen it all when the Irish Times broke its circulation record in 1982 with the front page banner headline FIRE CREW FREES WOMAN’S BUM FROM WALL. But this one took the biscuit.
So what’s the Sundance thing all about then? It seems a movie called Swiss Army Man was showing at the festival and some members of the audience were so disgusted that they got up and walked out. And what was it that made them disgusted? Well, as the movie hasn’t had a general release date yet I have to go on what I’m told. According to the synopsis, Paul Dano’s character (Hank) befriends a dead body (Manny) that is washed ashore and eventually rides it out to sea, dolphin-like, propelled by a stream of farts shooting out of the corpse.
I got that info from my PC and here’s what else I found. The movie is a dark comedy about a suicidal young man who is marooned on a desert island (allegory for his emotional alienation from society). Just as he is about to tie a makeshift noose around his neck he sees a body being washed up onto the beach. After establishing that the body is indeed dead he decides to use its belt as a more dependable noose. That’s when he hears a drumroll of farts coming from the corpse. Soon he realizes that maybe he can use the constantly flatulating Manny to make a kind of jet ski and ride him to civilization and safety.
This thought gives him a new lease of life. He drags Manny through the woods where he (Hank that is) begins to discover a lust for life that he’d never known existed in him. The woods then become his theatre where he dresses up and improvises a modern world from branches and leaves to let Manny see what he’s missing, in the hope of bringing him back to life. So now we have a suicidal man trying to convince a corpse that life is worth living.
Absurdity? Existentialism? Wonderful life? Whatever it is, it sounds like great fun what with Radcliffe’s unrelenting erections somehow serving as a life-saving compass and his windbreaking bum driving them to safety and the two lads sharing a lingering underwater kiss. What I can’t understand is how anybody could possibly object to any of that.
It could be that I’m biased of course. I recently wrote a novel that briefly involved a farting dead woman being waked in my native Ireland. (Some of the surviving mourners would still dispute my claim and point to other suspects). Now our wakes are sort of different from the ones where people sit with long faces on them. Ours are often occasions for much merriment. This, I think, is because those present are actually celebrating two things: the departed’s life and the fact that she or he has departed it. That’s what it is. They’ve left this valley of tears.
Back in 1960 my big sister walked out right at the beginning of Hitchcock’s Psycho because she objected to the love scene featuring Janet Leigh and John Gavin. So she missed what the movie was about. I wonder if the same could be said of those who demonstrated their disapproval at the Sundance festival. Maybe some people have too many unhealthy hang-ups about the stick-ups and hang-downs associated with the male make-up. And maybe we should all be prepared to laugh a bit more at our weird and miraculous anatomies.
Colm Herron is the author of four novels and numerous essays and articles. He hails from Derry, Northern Ireland, and his newest novel The Wake was released last November.