Swiss Army Man – What Silence Can Do

I love Swiss Army Man. And I’m fascinated when music is used as mode of storytelling and how Swiss Army Man is an excellent example of this. But I just can’t ignore the abundance of indie-folk sounds (“ba-ba-ba”) and how it became an unfortunate detriment to one of the film’s most important scenes. Spoiler alert: Hank in the ambulance, reaching civilisation. The tone is set for a downbeat moment, but an overstep causes this scene to lose a lot of emotional impact.

Throughout ‘Swiss Army Man’ Hank’s coping mechanism is to constantly hum any old song. Eventually Manny joins in as a way to stop him overthinking. And the film joins in whenever either of them hum, blasting out the tunes that force your heart to swell with wondrous emotion. It’s constantly done, and it helps carry the film through the more simplistic moments. Yet it plays again when things get tougher. And whenever there is silence, it’s gone too soon. But it still works pretty well – elsewhere.

When Hank touches his homeland, he rests in the ambulance and the camera moves slowly closer, a look of realisation washes over him as the music comes on, again.

By eliminating music you create a subversion of expectation. The cacophony of noise creates a deafening silence upon realising its absence. We grow used to the comfort of having the music to guide our emotions. Instant silence creates unnerving feelings, forcing us to experience something through a purely visual perspective. Watching Hank reflect on his journey and what everything meant should’ve been a personal moment, a moment separate from the journey to get here. Without music we have to guide ourselves through the complex emotions on screen. By choosing to include the soundtrack they bundle the scene with every other one like it. This is a missed opportunity to force your audience to intimately observe something rather than passively experiencing it the same way they experienced this scene 10–15 times already.

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