What the Title of “Swiss Army Man” Means


Swiss Army Man is a 2016 film directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, often referred to as the “Daniels”. The title of the movie is a direct reference to the main character, Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe. In the film, Manny is referred to as a “multi-purpose tool guy” by Hank, which directly reflects the metaphor of a Swiss Army knife — a tool known for its multiple uses. The title “Swiss Army Man” can be seen as an extension of this dialogue and concept.

A Swiss Army Knife is a multi-tool pocket knife known for its versatility and array of functionalities. In the movie, Hank (played by Paul Dano) finds Manny the corpse washed up on the shore of the deserted island he is stranded on and soon discovers that Manny has a bizarrely broad set of powers and abilities. Hank ends up using (and continuing to discover more of) these skills to survive and navigate their way back to civilization. Despite being a dead body, Manny is capable of many things, such as producing fresh drinking water, projecting ignited flatulence, and even serving as a jet ski, among other things.

The filmmakers have not provided a specific explanation for the title of the movie. However, they did discuss the film’s themes and their unusual approach to storytelling in various interviews. The directors were also known to speak about the film as an exploration of loneliness, friendship, and societal norms, with the absurdity of the swiss army man/Manny serving as a vehicle to challenge viewers’ perceptions of what is considered normal or acceptable. As Hank uses these abilities to navigate his way back to civilization, he develops a profound friendship with Manny. In the process, the film delves into some deeper themes about life, loneliness, love, and the human condition.

The title “Swiss Army Man” represents the multi-functional role Manny plays in the film, comparable to a Swiss Army Knife’s multitude of utilities. However, the title also highlights the film’s idiosyncratic tone and its themes of survival and friendship. It’s a whimsical, philosophical, and somewhat grotesque adventure that uses the “Swiss Army Man” (Manny) as a metaphor for human resourcefulness, friendship, and the complexity of the human condition.

So the title “Swiss Army Man” is a humorous and metaphorical representation of Manny’s character in the movie, reflecting his various and often surreal uses that help Hank survive in the wilderness, much like how a Swiss Army Knife has numerous tools for different situations. It’s almost a play on Inspector Gadget, as Manny’s body can shift into different skill sets and tools to fit a certain situation.

Some viewers and critics argue that the film, and therefore the title, is a commentary on objectification. Manny, the “Swiss Army Man,” is objectified and used as a tool by Hank for his survival. This interpretation could suggest a critique of how we often use others for our own needs without considering their own humanity.

Others have suggested that Manny represents the unconscious mind. In this interpretation, the title “Swiss Army Man” could signify the various tools and abilities we all have in our unconscious mind that can help us navigate life’s challenges, much like the versatility of a Swiss Army knife. The film delves into the power of imagination and belief. Hank’s belief in Manny’s abilities — regardless of how surreal they are — gives him the strength to survive and find his way home. The title could be seen as a metaphor for the endless possibilities of the human mind when one allows their imagination to take control. In this way, the title could also be interpreted as a metaphor for the potential of human beings to be resourceful and versatile in a variety of situations, reflecting the functions of a Swiss Army knife.
Films like Swiss Army Man are often intended to provoke thought and invite varied interpretations, so there’s no single “correct” way to interpret the title or the film itself. It’s part of what makes the film an intriguing piece of art.