Essays · Movies

Scene of the Year (2016): Swiss Army Man

Sometimes it’s better to just let your imagination take the wheel.
Swiss Army Man
By  · Published on December 20th, 2016

This essay is part of our 2016 Rewind, a look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of 2016.


By many accounts, 2016 is going down as a rather shit year. Around the world, populations are in turmoil. If you live in America as I do, you wake up every day with the knowledge that about half of the country disagrees with you on just about everything. Even the planet appears to be angry with humanity. So there’s no shame in being down about 2016.

What we can learn from our Scene of the Year is that even in our darkest moments, sometimes a little bit of imagination can save us. It also reminds us that a little bit of absurdity is necessary in these low moments. We’re speaking of the opening sequence of Swiss Army Man, from the freshmen directing duo Daniels. The sequence opens with Paul Dano as Hank, a man whose beard shows us that he’s been stranded on this lonely island for some time. He’s at the end of his rope in both figurative and literal ways. As Hank is about to (somewhat unsuccessfully) hang himself, he is distracted by a body that has washed ashore. This dead body, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is the flatulent, miraculous, multi-purpose friend he needs in order to save himself.

Among all the cinematic moments 2016 gave us, this one feels like it speaks the most to our year as a world. We’ve dealt with plenty of darkness and it all got very weird. But in the end, if we let it, our playful imaginations might help us get out of this jam. Or at the very least, distract us a little bit until our minds can catch up. Few moments created a fervor quite like the beginning of the farting corpse movie. In a year that has, by so many measures, brought us all closer to the end of a rope, we just need to find our Manny.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)