Funny Games – Haneke holds a mirror. (film review)

I wanted the 2007 version of  Funny Games tonight.  I haven’t seen the version made ten years earlier, but given the nature of the film, I’m not at all surprised he chose to remake it and wouldn’t be surprised if he chose to make it again. This is a film about us as an audience of violence and the overlying message is we want this violence over and over and over again.

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The reviews of Funny Games are almost as famous as the film itself. The start of one review (that I can’t find going back now to try to link for you) claims:  “Michael Haneke hates you!”  Having said that, the film is not an act of hatred against an audience, it’s an appeal to something higher he believes is in each of us.  If Haneke really hated us, Funny Games couldn’t have been made once, let alone twice.

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Haneke famously breaks through the “fourth wall” to communicate with the audience throughout this film about sadistic young males emotionally and physically torturing a family. The young men are perfect Aryans with a touch of the “Alex”.  There is more than a subtle nod here to Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (or maybe more Kubric’s version) as young men break into the homes of the wealthy to terrorize the bourgeoisie, a group they obviously belong to. I’ve always had this suspicion that the film A clockwork Orange (I haven’t read the book) fetishised the violence, obscuring the novels “point” in the process. I wondered many times through Funny Games if Haneke feels the same way about Kubrics film. Where A clockwork Orange seeks use film and image to alter the consciousness of Alex, Funny Games breaks through the fourth wall to alter the film viewers experience. This, combined with the drawn out takes (the scene when Peter and Paul first leave is a full, uncut 10 minutes of Naomi Watts intense suffering over the body of her dead son and her severely maimed husband) form a kind of Ludovico Technique for the viewer.  We are severely nauseated, while being exposed to intense moments of violence. However this experience is distorted (and therefore intensified) by the movement through the fourth wall.

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Just as A clockwork Orange plays with our sympathies for criminals and their victims, forcing us to ask questions about our own morality, Funny Games forces the same questions in a more modern context. The reason for the crimes is actually given to us repeatedly within the film – they are purely for entertainment value.  After all, isn’t that why we’re all there?  These comments inform us the perpetrators of the violence are giving us what we want. Coupled with the direct communication with me – the viewer, alone in my film experience – of Paul I am forced to recognize the two men as manifestations of my own desire. I paid good money to see them terrorize this family, so they’d better do it and do it well.

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In true Haneke style, most of the violence is heard and not seen, preventing us from becoming witnesses. We hear the violence taking place, and we see the gory consequences of it, but it is presented as pure entertainment, again reinforcing the connection we have with the two protagonists. Add to this the unsettling facts tat they are beautiful and Aryan and overwhelmingly polite, it becomes quite difficult to separate them from ourselves. Throughout the film the victims will become “ugly”, their bourgeoise beauty washed away in an ocean of physical ugliness, cowardice pathetic compliance and inability to rise to the occasion and fight for those they love. There is even a moment when Naomi Watts has snot dripping from her nose and Paul wipes it away for her. However, our perpetrators are always beautiful, young and clean. It is not their power that makes them strong, it is the weakness of their victims that makes them strong, and therefore appealing.

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With a film like this, so strong in its message, and so beautifully acted and filmed, it is worth taking a look at the other reviews around if you haven’t already. Pretty much everyone recognizes we have a fine film here.  Interesting to see so many people hated it.

Oh!  It reminded me a lot of Rope as well, but I won’t go into that connection here and now. I still think the A Clockwork Orange connection is stronger.

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Before I leave the review I have to make a quick note about the film’s opening scenes, as I paused the film and watched them over and over again. The opening shot is of the car with boat in tow moving down the freeway toward the holiday home where the film will take place.  Classical music of Handel and Vivaldi is playing.  The image we see of the shadow moving along the highway is surreal – almost as if we were watching a cartoon. By the time we move to a shot inside the car of the happy family enjoying their classical music (which they were / are playing a game with) the hard-core sound of Naked Cities second album, Grand Guignol bursts into our consciousness. This is an album dedicated to the examination of our need to watch violence and torture, the Grand Guignol is a reminder we have wanted this for centuries. Interestingly, the early part of the album is made up of alternate listenings (turned to hard-core intensity) of classical music.

There is a great deal to enjoy in this film. Oh, and I’d perhaps expect another remake identical in every way, to appear in 2017.  🙂

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