Features and Columns · Movies

The Sound of Silliness: Appreciating the Soundtrack to ‘Swiss Army Man’

Queue the sad rendition of “Cotton Eye Joe.”
Swiss Army Man
By  · Published on January 12th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on Manchester Orchestra’s incredibly surreal soundtrack for Daniels’ 2016 film Swiss Army Man.

There’s an old truism that comedy is a lot harder to pull off than drama. Even harder, I would argue, is the balancing act at play in Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s Swiss Army Man: a tonal tightrope walk that takes its silliness very seriously. In truth, it would probably be impossible to make a movie like Swiss Army Man without an undeniably sincere commitment to absurdism.

It follows Hank Thompson (Paul Dano), a man who has been marooned on an island for enough time that he is seriously contemplating suicide. On the verge of hanging himself, he spots something washed ashore on the beach: a pallid, waterlogged corpse (Daniel Radcliffe). After attempting (and failing) to resuscitate the dead body, Hank can’t help but laugh at the corpse’s, uh, “off-gassing,” let’s call it. Without much hesitation, Hank mounts the farting corpse and proceeds to ride it around the ocean like a jet ski. Soon, Hank and the corpse (who learns to talk and adopts the name Manny) have even more special abilities, with a practical versatility comparable to a swiss army knife.

All this abject silliness begs the question: “how do you score a film as wild and wistful as Swiss Army Man?” As the video essay below plots out in more detail, the movie’s score was composed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, the singer and lead guitarist of the Atlanta-based indie rock band Manchester Orchestra. Composed primarily of layered vocal tracks (including Radcliffe’s ethereal rending on “Cotton Eye Joe”), the soundtrack was played live on-set and is a dictionary definition example of a score’s ability to be as subversive and hilarious as its accompanying picture.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Watch “Swiss Army Man: The Sound of Absurdity”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the soundtrack to Daniels’ film Swiss Army Man is by Niche Nonsense, a video essay channel that provides, well, niche nonsense. The channel was only created in mid-December of last year (2021), and this is their first video. You can get in on the ground floor and subscribe here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.