Friday, December 18, 2009

Funny? Not so much ...

Funny Games (U.S., 2007) by Michael Haneke, 111 minutes
(Major Spoiler Alert)

I don't want to dwell on the plot of Funny Games so much as the issue of the depiction of violence in the film. The film is a shot by shot remake of the German film made by the same director in 1997.

Very briefly, an affluent family of three (father George, mother Ann and pre-teen son Georgie) vacationing at their cottage is psychologically and physically tortured and then systematically murdered by two psychotic preppie teenagers for no apparent reason. Two are shotgunned to death and the third is gagged and bound and thrown, while conscious, into a lake after witnessing the death of the two other family members.

I struggled to find meaning behind the depiction of such horror. I, as the viewer, had no understanding of the motivation of the two young boys effectively and sinisterly portrayed by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet, impeccably attired in white, obviously well-educated, and in some instances displaying very proper manners.

The boys appear to be deliberately cartoonish, as if they are meant to represent an exaggeration of evil or buffoonery. They call each other Tom and Jerry or Beavis and Butthead. One calls the other Tubby. They wear ridiculously proper tennis attire and white gloves. They maim and kill with the toys of the middle and upper classes: golf clubs and old hunting rifles.

The boys innocuously insinuate themselves into the household by asking for four eggs for a recipe for a neighbor (later we learn that this is a trick they have used before). The chaos soon starts when George (Tim Roth), the husband, tries to defend his wife Ann (Naomi Watt) who has ordered the boys out of the house. The boys attack and physically immobilize him, effectively neutering him for the rest of the film. It is left to Ann to try and protect the family and the home.

With George symbolically emasculated, Ann is sexually humiliated in front of Georgie, their child (played astonishingly well by a very young Devon Gearhart), and the husband. The terror continues into the night.

When there is a brief respite from the violence, as the two boys appear to leave, and the family tries to escape they are plagued by a couple of convenient plot points. They have no land line in the house and their cell phones don't work for various reasons so they are unable to call for help. The electronically controlled beautiful white gate which the camera returns to so frequently is disabled so, in effect, they are trapped within their beautiful home and gorgeous grounds on an isolated point on a lake.

Each is eliminated in a shocking fashion (with the violence at times offscreen) and we see the boys move on to the next victim.

And the message is what ... here are the victims of materialism trapped and destroyed by one of their psychotic own? No one, not even the wealthy, is safe from chaos and evil?

I am not so willing to condemn this film out of hand but I was mystified. I'm sure that the director had intelligent reasons for creating such a well crafted, beautifully shot film with such good actors but his intention is obscure and I wonder can it be effective as a piece of art if it cannot communicate its intention? Is there art without comprehension? This is an idea that I have explored elsewhere.

A recent film review in noted that:
The film’s real achievement, however, is the undermining of an audience’s customary complicity – in Haneke’s film, we are forced to identify not so much with the victims but rather with their all-powerful assailants. Peter and Paul are performing for us, a point underlined by the characters’ frequent questions direct to camera: they’re appeasing our blood-lust, our desire to witness the worst that can happen to other people. After all, why else would we want to see such a film?

Indeed, why did I watch it - I had more than a strong inkling of what kind of film it was. Am I complicit in the violence? In the voyeurism? I was frightened and disgusted but did I stop watching (like my more prudent husband who grew annoyed very quickly)? No. Is the director playing with my voyeuristic tendencies?

So perhaps there was a powerful point behind this film.

No comments: