Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Funny Games (Haneke. 1997)

"You're on their side, aren't you? So, who will you bet with?"

Violence is a concept that is not new to the movies. Bonnie and Clyde was extremely gun violent. Scream had some insanely violent moments. It is the visual representation of pain that makes the audience care about the characters on screen. Some movies use violence as a way to shock the viewer, and some use it to show the struggles that a character in the movie may have to go through. Then we have movies like Funny Games. This is a stylistic horror-torture-comedy that seems to use violence for the sake of using violence. This is not the way that movies should be made.

Funny Games features a pretty straightforward narrative. Two seemingly well educated and upper class males knock on the door of a rich family’s vacation home asking to borrow some eggs. They are not your everyday neighbor boys. They are actually cruel and violent psychopaths interested in playing sadistic games with their prisoners. After killing the family dog with a golf club, they break the father’s leg with the same weapon –immediately rendering him useless. They then proceed to torture, humiliate and murder the son, wife and father all under the guise of playing a game.

Michael Haneke’s screenplay is disgustingly playful. It has the killers breaking the fourth wall on several occasions for the sake of a cheap laugh. The only problem is that nothing in Funny Games is actually funny. A mother is forced to strip naked in front of her family. A young boy is shot dead while his crippled father and hogtied mother sit helplessly in a pool of his blood. A father is made to watch as his wife is sexually humiliated and degraded. What about this is a joke? Haneke obviously thinks that it is funny as one of his killers turns to the screen and gives the audience a smug wink. The killers even go as far as to make a bet with the audience. Will anyone in the family survive? Are you cheering for the family? They do not, and you should not be.

I guess this is some sort of way to unconventionally play with the audience’s sensibilities. The killers never give a backs story. It is much more frightening if you never hear the motive. They are also very friendly and respectful. They do not want to get the carpet dirty as they beat the mother and father. They were willing to be easy on the child until he decided that he did not want to take part in the violent games. They are not presented as bad guys, but rather intelligent and creative youngsters with a taste for the horrible things in life. It is as if they are meant to be some kind of anti-heroes - a murderous and mentally damaged sort of Batman and Robin – all the way down to the funny puns and pop culture references.

Funny Games is specifically cruel to the mother. She is almost the hero on several occasions, but is then simply reduced to watching her son and husband die before being thrown in the lake and left for dead. In a surprising turn of events, her stripping scene is tastefully shot and the camera never leaves her face. This, at least, keeps the weirdoes in the audience from getting any sort of sexual gratification out of her humiliation. Maybe there is some sympathy in Haneke’s mind after all, but there does not seem to be a whole lot of it.

I know what fans of the film are going to say, “This is not a movie about violence. It is about the style and wit of the filmmaker and his challenging of the human consciousness. Most of the extreme violence is off screen. You do not even see it happen”. For me, that is still no excuse to be cheering for the bad guys. There is something irresponsible about making the horrible villains into likeable clowns. I could see how the newly-dubbed “torture-porn” crowd could see this as a modern example of the genre, but that does not mean that I liked it. Laughing at the humiliation of innocent people is wrong. Killing children is not funny. It is not a game. This is why we blame popular culture for serial killers….

Funny Games: D+


  1. A person can choose from various stress releasing techniques, but a hearty laugh can do the best.

    funny games

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