08 October 2012

October 8th

Funny Games (1997) directed by Michael Haneke
A big ol' middle finger to the audience.  A film that declares that if you continue to watch it until the end, you're a degenerate who is partially responsible for the characters' suffering.  A film made by a director who understands only enough about the horror genre to subvert its common tropes in order to attempt to make the people watching feel guilty.

A part of me admires this.  I love seeing people trying to break the "rules" of a genre and I love seeing filmmakers trying to piss people off by making films that are challenging.  There's so much safe stuff being pumped out every year in Hollywood, a film like this is a refreshing slap in the face.  It reminds us that stories don't necessarily have to follow the age-old patterns, that sometimes they don't have happy or satisfying ends, that maybe we shouldn't always get what we want, and that maybe there are things we shouldn't want out of story.

On the other hand, I utterly reject Haneke's point of view here.  Sorry, I'm not going to feel guilty watching pretend things happen to people pretending, no matter how many times a character in the film breaks the fourth wall and winks at me.  After all, it is Haneke who is creating this tale and not me.  He might have more of an argument were this a video game, but still, those are just pixels and not real people.  You know what movie I really do feel guilty about watching?  Twilight Zone: The Movie.  Real children were killed making that one.

I think Haneke's counterargument might be that society demands these violent images in our entertainment and that perhaps we should think about this a bit.  The discussion Peter and Paul have at the end of film, in which they talk about a man who left reality to live in fiction, seems to suggest that Haneke worries that violence in the media is a cause of violence in real life; that adults watching horror films are really just children, unable to tell the difference between film and reality.  Me, I've already staked out my position on such things when writing about The Cabin in the Woods.  I think we need violence in our media as a safe outlet for the dark side everyone keeps buried inside.  I think denying this side of ourselves is the real danger.

I'm actually not at all sure what the world Haneke is proposing looks like.  I think he completely fails to understand human nature if he thinks it's possible we will all grow to his level and no longer find depictions of violence entertaining.  Haneke even admonishes the pleasure we get upon seeing one of the bad guys killed violently. When this happens, the character of Paul reverses the film and prevents it from happening again.  But, the desire for revenge is natural.  If you don't feel even a twinge of satisfaction when a bad person meets a bad end, that means there's something wrong with you as a human.  This is just the way we are, biologically, for good or ill.

Speaking of, Funny Games really is kind of the anti-Cabin in the Woods, isn't it?  They're both self-aware examinations of the horror genre that speak directly to the audience and challenge our assumptions and expectations.  But, while I see Cabin as a love letter to horror, Games absolutely hates the genre.  Which, I have to admit, is pretty interesting in and of itself.  I can't say I've ever seen a movie like this and it was fascinating to view something with such a strong opinion, even if I don't agree.

Watched: stream on Netflix.

Funny Games (2007) directed by Michael Haneke
My friend Jack warned me that watching both versions of Funny Games would be pointless.  He was right.  I was hoping Haneke would have something slightly different to say in the American remake.  There's a lot of potential given the change in location to violent, Hollywood-obsessed America.  But, no, this is a shot-for-shot remake with a near-direct translation of the dialogue.  Almost nothing has changed.  In fact, Haneke was so obsessed with duplicating the original film, he has the interior of the house set up with exactly the same floor plan, furniture, decorations, etc.  There's even a dead clock in the kitchen in exactly the same spot with its hands stopped at exactly the same position (1:50).  Weirder, he duplicates some of the odder choices from the original.  For example, he has Naomi Watts put on the same bizarre sweater with the enormous arm holes that Susanne Lothar did.  What the hell was the point of bringing that back?

So, I suppose Haneke felt that he did everything perfectly in the original -- it said everything he wanted to say in the way he wanted to say it -- and there was no need to change anything except the language in order to reach a wider audience.  Fair enough.  Still, he had no new ideas in ten years that he wanted to throw into this version?

Watched: DVD from Warner Bros.


  1. As always your insight is great. Reading this once again proves to some of us that you have a brain surgeons understanding of these things. My dislike of the film was more of that of a layman: Single camera shots that lasted minutes….minutes!!!!, and the slap in the face when Paul reverses the film. Also annoying was maybe the sheepish way the victims just went along with the games. Gee Whiz (pronounce the “h” please)

    Where was that damn remote when I had trouble controlling the volume of my voice as a kid, particularly around women…..that’s cheating man.

  2. I think the thematic ideas in Funny Games are worth talking about, but what I hate about Haneke's movie is that he doesn't trust his audience at all. He might bring up the discussion with his sledgehammer to the face approach, but he adds approximately nothing of value to the debate. He says nothing we haven't all thought of before (from having simply watched other movies), as evidenced by the fact that you could point to a previous post on the subject. Everyone who likes horror movies runs up against this from time to time, we don't need Haneke to lecture us about it. And it doesn't help that I disagree with Haneke's contentions here.

  3. Agreed with Mark. Haneke is just kind of a bastard. All of his movies are about watching people suffer. I somehow suspect he'd fail to notice the irony in that.

  4. Gotta love how he thinks he's keeping himself morally pure by not showing any of the major violence (or Anna's nudity), yet wallows in the suffering of his characters nevertheless.

  5. I do like this- er, these two movies for being well-constructed art projects with a theme I totally diagree with, and in spite of being presented with a loaded question. Or is that a Strawman? Whatever. Perhaps what should concern Haneke is that our desire to sublimate our violence is better represented in his other films... you know, the ones where NOTHING HAPPENS IN THEM? Presenting a torture porn film and then wagging his finger at us, like you says, is poor form and perhaps a bit childish. Eh. He's an artest who reminds me of Lars von Trier -- "I'm going to bitch about something that I know more about than you do, you silly little nothing." But sometimes they achieve a sort of synthesis. Haneke's desire to discharge a hindbrain leftover is the same as ours, and Funny Games could be directed at himself as much as us. I would hope.