How Bodies Can Be Useful: Daniel Radcliffe is Swiss Army Man

Warning: do not read this while eating.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a dead man in the Daniel Kwan’s and Daniel Scheinert’s new movie SWISS ARMY MAN. He washes up, a gift from the sea, to an island where Paul Dano is stranded; Dano proceeds to make use of his body in all manner of ways in order to get back to civilization. Dano becomes intimate with Radcliffe’s body—he discovers Radcliffe’s abilities to fart, retain water, and maintain an erection.

Mary Roach, author of the 2003 book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, consulted with scientists who study dead bodies and did find that “it can be said that dead people fart.” The muscles of the anal sphincter relax in death. In SWISS ARMY MAN, Radcliffe’s farting ability torpedoes he and Dano off the island; in another instance it saves them from drowning, and ultimately it forces Dano to examine his own relationship, mired with embarrassment, to his body. Fart jokes are not a new thing, but when heard over and over again in this bizarre context, the moviegoers in BAM cinema where Science & Film went to the movie, genuinely laughed.

Dano also discovers that the reflexes in Radcliffe’s body are still working. Roach, in a TED talk, says, “You can trigger spinal reflexes in dead people—a certain kind of dead person, a beating-heart cadaver.” This refers to somebody who is being kept alive on a respirator, but in SWISS ARMY MAN Dano does hear Radcliffe’s heart begin to beat when he shows him an issue of Playboy. Radcliffe’s erection becomes an incidental compass which Dano uses.

So far as looks go, Radcliffe displays signs of livor mortis; blood in a dead body is pulled down by gravity, since the heart can no longer pump it. He is extremely pale with a blue tinge.

SWISS ARMY MAN is now in theatres across the country. The film is distributed by A24. There is another feature film about dead bodies in development: TO DUST is Shawn Snyder’s Sloan-supported feature debut which will begin shooting in fall 2016 and is receiving advisement from Dawnie Steadman, head of the Tennessee Body Farm.