Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Strange Films

Swiss Army Man

When my life is through and the angels ask me to recall the thrill of it all, I shall tell them I remember . . . riding the bus. Okay, that’s not how the song goes, but that’s how life is going for Hank, the lead character and castaway of Swiss Army Man. He’s about to hang himself when he notices a corpse has washed up on the island, where he believes himself to be the only living inhabitant. The corpse turns into a jet ski propelled by its boundless supply of farts, and Hank accompanies him on a wild ride.

The corpse doesn’t exactly rescue Hank, but they both wash ashore on a more habitable island. After emitting an infinite chorus of farts, Manny, as the corpse is called, shows he’s vocal in other ways not involving gas. Manny talks and operates similarly to a ventriloquist’s dummy, sounding a lot like Snuffaluffagus on Sesame Street. Manny’s immobility requires him to be schlepped around the island. At times he seems like he’s more trouble than he’s worth, but he soon fulfills a purpose in Hank’s life.

Life is improving from the time Hank had a noose around his neck. Life may be better than it ever has been for Hank, and this drastic change is all thanks to Manny.

Manny is like Hank’s child, giving him something to live for. In fact, they are both like children, role-playing real life situations in order to work up the courage to rejoin civilization. I felt amused by Hank’s ingenuous answers to Manny’s questions and Manny’s simplicity, but then I was also confused by all the detritus indicating civilization lay nearby and by Hank’s flip flopping between scruffiness and clean-shavedness. It all made sense by the end, or at least I think it did.

At my pre-movie Chinese dinner, my fortune cookie advised me to “Make the next move.” My fortune could also be the moral of this film. Be brave and talk to people, otherwise when your life is through, you may only recall riding the bus.


David Ferrier didn’t set out to create an exposé documentary, but his curiosity and strong sense of justice compelled him to do just that. This film went from quirky to unsettling as Ferrier followed a tickling troupe to find out what fueled this strange practice, branded by its participants as “Competitive Endurance Tickling.” What he uncovers is a web of sadistic games and one person who is playing with vulnerable people like marionettes.

Documentaries like Tickled are wonderful because they expose injustice, but they are also frustrating to watch because they do very little to achieve justice. I wanted to see the person responsible for so much destruction and discomfort squirm, just as he had made his victims squirm. But the sad truth is there are untouchable psychopaths in the world and there are people who will follow a candy bar dangling in front of them until they fall right off a cliff.

Bullies with money always seem to land on their feet. They can pick themselves up and continue destroying people’s lives.