—Originally written July 6, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Swiss Army Man,” Daniels’ absurdist discussion of humanity, solitude, and farting. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
When the final shot of “Swiss Army Man” came to a close, the screen abruptly switched to a black screen with the words “THE END,” written in white in a simple font, placed directly in the center of the screen. At the juxtaposition of such an innocuous ending onto an otherwise ridiculous film, some audience members started laughing. Sitting almost motionless in the center of the theatre, Gwen, Eleanor, and Dania wordlessly thought the exact same thing.
“Of course that’s how this movie ends.”
As Dania picked up the discarded butter-coated bag that had held her popcorn, Eleanor was turning on her phone to check Facebook. Only Gwen remained sitting down, still rapt by the screen and keeping an eye out for the title “Composer” in the credits. As the names rolled by, all accompanied by the film’s simplistic solfège score, Gwen was already busily rewriting and refining her opinion on the film. This was the kind of movie that needed you to have a strong opinion about it, she decided. She knew she would defend it against the criticism that would inevitably come from Dania – who was already halfway down the aisle out of the theatre – but what specifically she enjoyed about it was difficult to pinpoint exactly.
When the names Andy Hull and Robert McDowell appeared underneath the Composers label, Gwen mentally logged both names to look up later and stood up to leave the theatre. The audience was mostly empty now, save for a couple of white dudes with beards a few rows back, obviously staying in anticipation of some post-credits scene that would likely not happen. Eleanor and Dania were both long gone. As the credits continued to roll, Gwen walked out of the theatre.
Eleanor and Dania were both waiting at the theatre exit, just outside the door. Eleanor was gazing deep into her phone, and Dania was staring at the ceiling from under a furrowed brow. Unable to resist, Gwen decided to jump right in with the question she knew they were expecting from her.
“So,” Gwen asked, “how did you like the…”
“Uuuuuuuggghhh…” Dania groaned.
“…film?” Gwen finished.
“It was so boring,” Dania said. “Let’s go home.”
“It wasn’t boring,” Gwen said, defensively. “How was it boring?”
“Okay, it wasn’t boring, it was just really weird,” Eleanor said.
“Sure it’s weird,” Gwen said. “That doesn’t mean it’s bad, or not worth seeing.”
“It’s just two white dudes bumming around in a forest for an hour and a half,” Dania said.
“I mean,” Gwen said, before catching herself. The white male angle hadn’t struck her during the film. “That they are both white and male doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. They could have been two women of color.”
“But they weren’t.”
“Fine, they weren’t.”
“Regardless of who they are, any movie where one character rides the farting corpse of another character around the ocean like a jetski is not setting itself up to be any kind of classic or anything.”
“There have been weirder openings to movies,” Gwen suggested.
“The point is,” Gwen said, trying to summarize her thoughts too early, “the movie is all about celebrating the things that are inherently human, and about trying to communicate with each other about universal truths, and how difficult or awkward that can sometimes be.”
Eleanor looked off skeptically. “Universal truths like corpse jetski riding…”
“…So the movie sets up something really strange and awkward right at the start to prepare you for awkward humor, and then as the film goes on it gets more and more real and heartfelt.” Gwen looked at the faces of the others and realized that she was not getting through to them. “You did realize that their conversations got more serious as the film went on, right?”
“Sure,” Eleanor said. “But it’s still such an insane premise, I keep snapping out of it.”
“Hm,” Gwen shrugged, exiting the theatre and pulling on a jacket, “that’s on you, then.”
“Well, wouldn’t you typically say that’s the film’s fault for not ‘pulling me in’ enough, or something?” Eleanor asked.
“Yeah, if the film’s still boring, I don’t care what great point it’s trying to make,” Dania added. “I don’t want to watch it.”
“I think it’s a brilliant film,” Gwen said, powering through their criticism. “Maybe not perfect, maybe weird and kind of ridiculous, but still worth seeing for the sake of originality.”
“I don’t know,” Eleanor said. “I think I understood the point of the film, that we should live life to its fullest and embrace what makes us weird…if that was the point. Something like that.”
“What it means to be truly alive, I believe,” Gwen put forth.
“Sure. It’s just how they show it and the story being told I’m not as interested in. Also it’s full of gross-out humor that’s just not my style.”
“I didn’t hate that about it,” Dania said. “The grossest thing was him drinking water out of Daniel Radcliffe’s mouth…”
“Which is still really gross!” Eleanor said. She shuddered to remember it.
“Yeah,” Dania said. “And maybe his laser-guided penis compass…”
“Can we all just stop,” Gwen said, “and appreciate the phrase ‘laser-guided penis compass?’”
“Maybe in general,” Eleanor said. “But not as a central component of a movie I was already kind of down on by that point.”
Gwen kept speaking. “Dania, how can you say that a movie with a penis compass is boring?”
“It somehow is!” Dania said. “Maybe I can because for ninety percent of the movie, they’re just sitting around and talking.”
“It was less than ninety percent. Maybe seventy, or sixty.”
“Anything over fifty isn’t great,” Dania said. “Especially when the other character is dead and the first character is acting insane.”
“What, Paul Dano?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah,” Dania said. “I mean, I didn’t hate him, but he was kinda off the rails right from the start.”
“He’s probably hallucinating due to lack of food, or the like,” Gwen defended.
“Whatever he’s doing,” Dania said, dismissing the explanation, “he certainly has a strange way of talking with Manny about the world. How did he even build all those fake locations in the woods? Couldn’t he have spent that time walking out of the woods?”
“No, because he had to teach Manny – and teach himself – about life. He has a mission.”
“Doesn’t he want to get out of the woods?” Eleanor asked.
“Maybe not!” Gwen said, throwing her arms up in resignation. “I almost expected he was going to end up staying in the woods with Manny. They seemed like a cuter couple than anything he could have hoped for in the real world.”
“The kiss was a bit much,” Eleanor persisted.
“It really is a movie about their relationship. About their willingness to be honest with each other in a way they can’t in the real world.” Gwen saw the faces of her friends and, seeing no path to get them on her side, decided to start wrapping things up. “Sure, it’s a bit heady, but it’s not something we can always see clearly from the outside world. You have to take it on its own logic. Like he asks them all to do in the end.”
“Well, Gwen,” Eleanor said. “You can lead us to watch a farting man flying across the water, but I’m just going to have the same reaction as everyone on that beach at the end.”
“What the hell?” Dania said, finishing the thought.
“I suppose,” Gwen said. She stuck her hands in the pockets of her coat as they continued to walk home. Through her head, the film’s cover of the Jurassic Park theme played slowly. She smiled.