Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I Love Funny Games, For All The Wrong Reasons

Funny Games is a film about a family (a mother, father, son, and dog) whose vacation home is invaded by two young men wearing all white, who play vicious and deadly "games" with the family. Now I don't watch movies in any kind of intellectual or analytical way. I had seen the original film about 5 times, and had never had any idea there was some kind of message to it. I just thought it was a perfectly horrific thriller, one that constantly goes in the exact direction I want it to go. So it wasn't until the remake came out, and I started reading reviews and following discussions on various movie-related blogs, that I was forced to confront all of Funny Games' pretensions and conflicted morality that I've been blissfully ignoring for quite a few years now.

The consensus is that Michael Haneke is either condemning violence in film, condemning audiences who like to watch violence in film, or probably both. Now that I can no longer view the film without this idea in my head, it's easy to see how this conclusion can be reached. But I don't know that the film is actually saying that so specifically. A theory that I came up with is that Haneke is not actually condemning movie violence, or the audience, so much as he's trying to compel people to think more about why it is that they enjoy it, and open up discussion. If the audience ends up re-evaluating their outlook on cinema violence, and realizing maybe it's wrong to cheer for people's deaths, then great. But if they also think it over, and figure out "I like fictional violence because of _____ and that's ok with me, and I'm gonna keep on relishing violence", then that's just fine, too. But he doesn't want people to accept things blindly.

I don't actually believe that theory, but I do think it's a viable way to view the film, and keep yourself from feeling condescended to. The truth is that Haneke is against movie violence, and has said so multiple times in interviews. But here's the thing. It doesn't fucking matter. Because Haneke completely fails to get his point across. I am a perfect example of this. I am a person who loves the fuck out of violence and gore in the movies. I cannot get enough of it. I especially love violence and gore that breaks taboos, such as killing kids or adorable animals, and I also love unhappy endings and seeing the bad guys win. So when one of the characters in Funny Games breaks the fourth wall to ask me who I'm rooting for or whatever, or another explains that they're doing what they're doing for the purpose of entertainment, does this make me feel guilty? Do I feel punished for finding it so entertaining? Absolutely not. I am fucking rewarded with an intense and disturbing horror-thriller that gives me EXACTLY what I want as a fan of violence and torture. I love Funny Games in the exact same way as I love the Hostel and Saw movies, only I love it a whole lot more because it does it so much better.

Haneke also fails with his attempts to make some kind of point by not showing any of the violence onscreen. I think we're supposed to wish that we did see it, and then think about our wishing that we saw it, and then feel guilty? Whatever. Again, he's a failure, because I am as much of a gorehound as it is possible to be, but I don't miss the onscreen violence because it's more of a psychological horror film, anyway, and the offscreen violence works just as well in this particular case. All of the deaths are abrupt and brutally empty, making them even more disturbing, and thus, even more awesome for me the viewer.

This is meant as a defense of the movie, but I guess it's important to point out that my own personal belief is that a director's intent is always irrelevant. And I guess it's pretty crucial that Funny Games is viewed in this way. Admittedly, director's intent is somewhat hard to ignore in Funny Games, since as previously mentioned, the character literally confronts the audience about their enjoyment of the horrific things we're seeing. But even though this is indeed condescending, and it is also fucking stupid and unnecessary, and the movie would probably be better off without it, it can still be ignored. They are only momentary flaws. Few movies are perfect. And if anything, maybe Haneke's failures make the movie slightly better. Think of it as watching it in the same way you would a "so bad, it's good" movie. It succeeds because it fails.

I have a final theory on Haneke. It's that he's, in fact, not against violence in film at all. He's just confused. The movie is simply too fucking good to have been made by someone who genuinely hates the kinds of terror Funny Games inadvertently(?) achieves. The psychological horror is so pristine, so perfectly executed. How could such brilliant filmmaking actually be a spectacular failure? Well, only if Haneke is actually just as hooked on seeing good torture as I am, but has some weird guilt complex he needs to work out. Maybe he's Catholic? I don't have any problem with Funny Games being one of my all-time favorite films for all the wrong reasons. But part of me really does find it hard to believe that Haneke doesn't enjoy his own film at least a little for its brilliant portrayal of sadism and cruelty. I mean, he made the fucking thing twice.

~06/2002: DVD (1997)
02/04/05: DVD (1997)
06/14/07: 35mm (2007)
01/11/08: 35mm (1997)
03/14/08: 35mm (2007)

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