Tag Archives: beach

Bears Don’t Live on Deserted Islands: My Analysis of “Swiss Army Man” [Spoiler Warning]

8 Jul

For my birthday, we went to an Independent theater and saw the Sundance Film, “Swiss Army Man.”  Let’s just get all talking/jokes about farting out of the way now–that’s not really the central theme of the movie–or this blog.  When you’re watching this movie, you have to “buy in” very early or you’ll hate it.  The film is like one of the whimsical paintings I like, but in a film format.  The reality is altered/fanciful, the shots are jerky, the characters (one is a literally dead guy) in their own little world where physics and time aren’t invited.  You could watch the entire film, and just feel like it was a random string of crazy events.  BUT after much thought, I found a linear plot and meaning.

The supporting evidence:

-When Hank first sees the body, and rides him out in the ocean, then the film cuts back to him with his face on the sandy beach.  Is it a new beach?  Is he somehow back at the same beach?

-random garbage appears in the place–all the time.  Everywhere they are.  I know the ocean has trash, but THIS MUCH???

-Hank looks scruffy as if he’s been in this deserted place for a long time.  His beard is long and he’s dirty.  Yet, he has no survival skills.  He doesn’t know how to make tools to hunt or fish with and he eats bad berries so he doesn’t have a good grip of foraging.  How has he survived this long without having any skills?

-toward the middle of the film, a (grizzly?) bear attacks.  Where is this place where a tropical white sand beach is attached to the woods?

-they travel, travel, travel and end up in the love interest’s back yard

-there are space/time descrepencies regarding the island, such as at the end when Hank is back in society, they are both in the yard with other people, then everyone runs through the forest, but finally everyone is back at the beach.  and Manny goes back to the ocean.

-After Hank is discovered, he rides the body down one hill behind her back yard–and there are his crafts and trash-projects!  He has been right behind her house the whole time-creeper.

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Given these factors, I decided there is no physical island in the movie at all.  And that fact changes the whole movie doesn’t it?  We’re not just in suspended disbelief–this is a perspective story.  Hank’s POV.  The island is a metaphor for how Hank feels/Hank’s thoughts.  He is on a self-imposed deserted island because he feels weird/lonely/stigmatized by society.  This is a movie like the 6th Sense or Memento–we are watching through the lense of whatever mental illness (anxiety/depression, love-obsessed stalker, anti-social personality, skitzophrenia???) Hank has.

Let’s re-examine the above factors:

-When Hank first sees the body, and rides him out in the ocean, then the film cuts back to him with his face on the sandy beach.  Is it a new beach?  Is he somehow back at the same beach?

*Hank was in the middle of committing suicide when the film opens, and he sees a dead body.  A lot of people with mental illness are at risk for suicide.  Seeing the dead body, somehow gives Hank something else to think about other then how he feels.  The body makes him interested in something so he changes his mind about suicide.  Then, as Hank’s mind settles a little, and he doesn’t feel so alone, we see Hank “leaving the deserted island” via the body.  But there is no real personal connection between Hank and this body (yet) so the exit off the island is brief and Hank wakes up back on his deserted island, isolated the way it all started.

-random garbage appears where Hank is

*I won’t go into the more obvious symbolism of trash in the movie, but I’ll talk about how the trash proves location.  At the end, Sarah recognizes her own diary in Hank’s belongings/crafts.  It’s the same diary she happened to be writing in when Hank took the pic of her on the bus.  It shows that Hank has been behind her house, squirreling away her trash the whole time.  All the crafts and stuff are made from her trash!  And that has a more creepy/sinister vibe.

-toward the middle of the film, a (grizzly?) bear attacks

*I don’t know everything about bears, but I’m pretty sure they never live on tropical deserted islands.  This was the primary reason I “got” the film.  The terrain in this deserted changes from beginning to end of the film.  We start out at white sand beaches, go through the forest, over bodies of water, hear a road, then we’re in a back yard.  If all Hank had to do was walk, then why was he so desperate to commit suicide at the beginning?  Also, I wouldn’t think you’d make the effort to kill yourself in a deserted island situation–nature would do it for you.  You’d soon starve, or dehydrate.  If you were desperate on an island, and no longer cared if you lived or died, wouldn’t you just make some sort of last ditch heroic effort to get back to people?

-Hank looks scruffy as if he’s been in this deserted place for a long time.  His beard is long and he’s dirty.  Yet, he has no survival skills.  He doesn’t know how to make tools to hunt or fish with and he eats bad berries so he doesn’t have a good grip of foraging.  How has he survived this long without having any skills?

*Really, Hank didn’t have to know survival skills because the desertion was in his head.  He was physically camping near Sarah’s house and scrounging in her garbage.  Which is why Cheetos and alcohol make it to the deserted place, when in reality it would be implausible for one of those items, and probably impossible to get enough trash to literally survive upon.  Also, the beard.  In the beginning, on the island, Hank’s beard is long and scruffy.  As he and Manny open up and gain a camaraderie–Hank is clean-shaven.  Yet we are never shown how.  I think the hair is part of feeling like an outcast hermit so when he has someone else, Hank no longer feels like that and the symbol of being outcast hermit also just disappears.

-they travel, travel, travel and end up in the love interest’s back yard

and

-there are space/time dependencies regarding the island, such as at the end when Hank is back in society, they are both in the yard with other people, then everyone runs through the forest, but finally everyone is back at the beach.  and Manny goes back to the ocean.

*You start to notice that the more intimacy that is gained between the dead body and Hank, the less deserted the island becomes (we go from isolated white sand beach, to forest, to water, see bears, hear cars, and finally see a little girl in a back yard).  The entire film is about these two buddies traveling back to society.  It takes the whole time!  Yet, at the end, Hank rides Manny’s body out of Sarah’s yard, down one hill, through some water and he’s back on the white sand beach.  It shows how Hank started out in self-imposed isolation in his mind (but physically camping behind Sarah’s house), then as he found an ally, left that isolated place his mind had created.  The more they talk, the more secrets come into the open, and the more comfortable Hank gets with being “other/weird.”  His mind is now a forest.  Not quite the isolation or loneliness of a deserted island, but still removed from society.  Then, Hank and Manny are best friends and understand each other.  Hank’s mind has reintegrated with society and he will take a chance and talk to Sarah.  But then, he sees his father, who is ashamed.  He sees Sarah is alarmed, and the world is a scary place again where Hank is the weird one.  All the progress he made with Manny recedes and his mind takes him back out of the yard, through the forest, on the isolated white beach.  And with the exit of Manny into the ocean–to an altered reality.  It’s (the physical location is actually inside Hank’s own mind) cemented when we see the change in Hank’s father demeanor.  When Hank’s mind is back in reality (he is physically and mentally in a yard) his father leans against the truck–ashamed at what has happened and who his son is.  But when Manny goes back into the ocean, and hank is arrested the father smiles.  It’s because Hank’s mind has gone back to his safe place, and in it Hank can fantasize his father is happy and proud of him–because it’s not reality anymore.  Hank is free of societal restrictions on the island/in the ocean fantasy.

-After Hank is discovered, he rides the body down one hill behind her back yard–and there are his crafts and trash-projects!  He has been right behind her house the whole time-creeper.

*This is the biggest clue the audience is given to Hank’s mind/physical body being different.  When we watch the movie, yes everything is strange, but the shows, and crafts, books, and reenactments are normalized.  We aren’t repulsed by any of it, because we bought in.  When we are out of Hank’s head at the end, and see the same items through the lens of Sarah’s perspective, the crafts and trinkets suddenly look garish and creepy.  She realizes he’s back there doing weird stuff with her garbage.  She knows some random stranger saw her on the bus, took a cell phone pic, found out where she lives, and is now camping there are doing strange projects with her garbage.  She looks horrified.

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So even though I, also, sat in that theater and said, “What the fuck?”  as the lights came back on–I liked the movie.  The more I thought about it, and discussed the plot after the movie, the more it made sense.  And when it made sense, it suddenly had a linear plot that was more likable than that string of random happenings.  I like a movie you have to think about.  And Swiss Army Man has no shortage of metaphor’s, symbols, and discrepancies to make the audience do just that.  I recommend you give it a chance and watch the film–just do me a favor and stop with all the fart jokes.

I’m a local. . . Really!

31 Dec

I had to work over Memorial Day weekend.  Hearing my coworkers being so talkative about their plans and seeing all the RVs and boats driving by my work made me super-jealous too.  I wanted to have a Bar-B-Q, have a picnic, go to the lake, or camp!  But nooooo, I was stuck inside.  Like always, I was missing a holiday for work—I was not happy about it either.

When friends invited me to Lake Lahontan , I was ecstatic—even though I hadn’t studied in 4 days.   I haven’t been to the lake in at least 10 years—it was time, right?!  I put on my cutest beach-ware, swim shoes, and grabbed a towel and was on my way by 12:35 pm (note the time).

Before I left, I pulled up an online map and saw you could get to it by Highway 50 or 95, and it only took 20 minutes.  The map made it look like I would be heading North-East to get to beach 6.  Note:  I should not soon become a cartographer.  This comes into play later.  I got to the stoplight in Stage Coach (the end of recognizable territory), and looked at the signs.  If I went straight (East), I would be on Highway 50.  Left (North) was Highway 50 (again?) and Highway 95.  That’s confusing. . .  I decided to go left, since you can get to the lake by either road, I figured taking the direction of BOTH roads was my best bet.  Why I didn’t know the topography of the land after living there for 16 years, I could not tell you. . .

When I turned, I was immediately in line for a one way, truck-guided construction site.  Soon, a whole line of cars followed me.  I waited a half hour and it was my side’s turn.  It was then I realized I was going the wrong way!  I would have to get through construction then turn around and wait for another half hour!  No, I was volubly cursing!  I kept driving the wrong way and ended up in Fernley at 1:30 pm.  I guess Fernley has to get to the lake somehow too, so I just kept going.  That, and I didn’t want to deal with the school traffic AND construction.

When I saw a sign showing Highway 50 that went East, I took it.  Who, when they were surveying the land and highways, thought it would be the greatest idea to have several Highway 50 going in many directions???  I drove and drove, then got to a round-about.  It said Fallon was North or Old Farm Road was South.  Even though the road was sketchy and I didn’t know where it was headed, it seemed to be going in the direction I needed so I took it.  I drove and drove and drove on this mysterious, winding road, not seeing anything familiar.  I was just starting to think I would have to bite the bullet and turn around, when there was a junction.  It was Highway 50!  Jeeze, how many directions does Highway 50 go?!  Again with the person who charted the roads!  I took it South, then realized it was Alt. Highway 50, whatever that means.  So again, I was uncertain where I was going.  Then, to my relief, I saw a sign for Carson City-yay!  I’ve never been so happy to see that. . .  I was back on the original Highway 50 that goes by my house.  Suddenly, there was a Lahontan  sign and I turned to it—yay I had made it after all!

Next up:  Now I remember!  Story of Lahontan’s beach.

I called my friends, and they said they were on beach 6.  I drove to the 6 stick and there was a bathroom, I didn’t see my friend’s car though. . .  Hmmm.  So I drove a little further down a dirt road that winded around.  As soon as the road turned the corner, I remembered. . .
Ahhhh-you can’t drive too far down the beach at Lahontan , because the sand is very soft, and you will get stuck.  I lamented my decision to drive down the hill pretty shortly after doing it.  I realized it too late–the dirt road was narrow and there was no way to turn around.  The momentum of the hill carried me down, but I reached deep sand and my car got stuck at the bottom.
How embarrassing—especially since I know better.  I had to time for elegy as I had to get out of the car and try to get un-stuck.  We used to make fun of the stupid Californians for getting doing that.  I got out and dug my car out with a Starbucks cup.  My car could move, but I certainly couldn’t reverse up a steep, curving hill.  I attempted to get to a well-worn path a little bit ahead.  With some effort, my car amazingly made it to the road and traveled more than the length of a football field through the soft sand!
Suddenly the tire tracks in the sand went from straight, to all directions!  My car stopped.  I tried all the tricks, but I was stuck—bad.  I was also too far from the first hill, but had to cross a lot of thick, soft, sand to get to the next hill.  Not good.  A dirge for the buried tires an through my head.
I dug, and dug, but it was getting hot.  The sun was beating down on me, and the sand and my car were really hot.  I got wet in the lake then tried again.  It was no use—the car wouldn’t budge.  Finally, I dropped my pride and called my friends, telling them how I got lost, and now I was stuck on the beach.  She said they would pick me up and not to worry because her dad could tow me out.
I doubted anyone could get my car out, but that’s the next segment of the story.