'Swiss Army Man' Directors Explain The Symbolism Behind A Farting Corpse
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And to delve deeper into the symbolism of the flatulent corpse, our co-host Kelly McEvers spoke with the two directors of "Swiss Army Man." Here's their conversation.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, better known as DANIELS (ph), welcome to the show.
DANIEL KWAN: It's so exciting to be here and surreal. Hello.
MCEVERS: OK, so this movie - I just want to get this out of the way - this movie is really weird.
DANIEL SCHEINERT: Thank you.
MCEVERS: I don't know, I guess I just have to ask, like, why? Why farting? Like, did this start - it's just, like, one big fart joke for you guys?
SCHEINERT: We just felt like if we set the bar real low at the beginning of the movie, then it's just all uphill...
SCHEINERT: ...So we start with farting corpse and then we just poured our hearts out and made the most fun movie possible after that.
KWAN: Yeah. I mean, the funny thing about the whole farting corpse thing is every corpse farts, that's, like...
MCEVERS: Are you sure?
KWAN: ...What happens when you die. You decompose and all of it leaves your body.
SCHEINERT: It's a sad truth.
KWAN: Yeah. But the core idea of the image is a very real thing. It's something that no one wants to confront. And I think in the original script we wrote, the character of Hank kind of staring at this farting corpse who he thought was going to be his salvation, we kind of liken it to him staring into a black hole - a meaningless, existential void. Like, what does this mean in my life? Why am I - why am I confronted with this image? And we just thought that was so sad and so funny and so bizarre, and we couldn't shake it from our brainstorming sessions. You know, it just kept coming back into our discussions, and eventually we just realized we had to make this movie against, you know, our own better judgment.
MCEVERS: And who was that speaking? Just to be...
KWAN: Oh, that that was Daniel Kwan.
KWAN: Daniel K.
MCEVERS: Daniel K. I mean, this film is considered a comedy, right? I mean, it definitely gets more serious, but, like, farting sort of at some point becomes, like, this metaphor for being free to express yourself however you want. Like, as Paul Dano's character describes what it means to be alive, it's, like, you should be able to express yourself. Actually, Manny the corpse helps him understand that. Was that the plan all along, or did sort of the idea of farting evolve, too?
SCHEINERT: I mean, so we kind of start with a fart, and then we...
MCEVERS: I can't believe I just asked that question, by the way.
SCHEINERT: You're welcome.
MCEVERS: Like, I just said those words. OK, farting as metaphor for freedom. Go.
SCHEINERT: So the body is kind of like a metaphor for just, like, the human experience in general. We all have to fart every day and decide when and where to do it. But that became kind of, like, interesting to us on, like, an academic level as well because, like, we have these thoughts and, like, what do we do with our thoughts and we have these, like, we have to make decisions every day. And that all felt, like, meaty enough, you know, to, like, warrant a story...
KWAN: And then it became an interesting challenge to try to - basically, this film challenged us to find something beautiful and transcendent in the lowest-common denominator, you know, in the worst part of storytelling in some ways, like - and ideally viewers will get the same experience out of it. They'll be able to find something unexpectedly beautiful and hopefully personal in the least expected place.
MCEVERS: And that's Daniel K. talking?
KWAN: Yes, that's right. The one who's more mumbly and harder to understand is Daniel Kwan.
MCEVERS: Paul Dano, who plays Hank - the guy who's alive - at one point is dressing as a woman who's inspired by a photo in a cellphone. And the idea is that this woman is inspiring Daniel Radcliffe to stay alive and to, like, use his superpowers to help them get back home. And so they have all these scenes where Paul Dano's dressed as this woman and they're sort of acting out a courtship. I mean, I don't want to give too much away, but it seems like something they're learning is that they should be free to express themselves, you know, toward whomever they love, right? How did that part of the story come up?
KWAN: I mean, I think the entire time we were working on the script of this film, we found ourselves trying to dictate to the story, you know, trying to tell the story what it should be. One of those things was this relationship between the body and the living man. At first we were telling it, like, no, you guys can't - you can't fall in love. You guys are just friends, and that's it. And finally when we let that relationship to become what it needed to become, it felt so much more pure and exciting and cohesive.
SCHEINERT: Yeah. From very early on, love was a theme, you know, so we have - we have all these ideas about love and all these ideas about farts. And then the common ground that we found was that you shouldn't be ashamed of love. That love is possible when you can kind of be your true self and kind of - and overcome your shame and that, like, that's - that's some of the most, like, honest experiences we've had where - like, when someone can help you break down a wall and help you be more yourself, like, that's just the most powerful, wonderful part of a relationship.
KWAN: So yeah, I think, like, as far as the spectrum of things you can be ashamed of go - on one end there's farts. It's a very simple thing to be ashamed of. But then on the other end, it's love. Our character's kind of ashamed of the fact that he wants love, that he's alone and he feels loneliness. I think that's one of the saddest things you can be ashamed of. When you are most lonely, you can't tell anyone that because it will push people away. You know, you're not allowed to say, I'm a lonely person. And so I - to us that's kind of how it all kind of fits together. This whole film is just exploring all these walls we build up that keep us away from a connection.
MCEVERS: Well, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, thank you very much.
KWAN: Thank you.
SCHEINERT: Thank you guys.
KWAN: This is surreal. Hi, mom.
SCHEINERT: Hi, mom.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
That's our co-host Kelly McEvers with the Daniels, co-directors of the movie "Swiss Army Man." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.