Funny Games (1997)

Director Michael Hanake has an explanation for what makes his controversial 1997 film different from more recent torture porn movies but I’m not buying it. funny games 2

Haneke was frustratingly vague in his comments during the DVD bonus features of the intentionally ambiguous Caché. Usually a fan of leaving his films open to interpretation, he was unusually forthcoming though on how he would like Funny Games to be interpreted. On the surface, the film tells the story of a home invasion where two surprisingly privileged and aritculate young men barge in on a married couple and their young son at their beautiful cottage and proceed to torment them both psychologically and physically for the rest of the movie. What’s strange is that, the longer this continues, the more clues we get that the two psychopaths are aware that they’re in a movie, especially when they look directly into the camera and wink at the audience. “Hey, don’t look at me. This has got nothing to do with me,” we’re meant to protest. Or does it? Are we, as an audience to such sadism, somehow complicit in it? The film has a habit of giving us lots of warning every time something awful is abofunny games 3ut to happen, giving us ample time to get out while we still can and Haneke the chance to ask haters “Why the hell did you stay til the end?”.

Horseshit. Shame on you Michael Haneke for shaming me for sitting through your movie and keeping faith that you were going somewhere with all this. Sure, i got the sense that Birdman was mocking me for appreciating it but at least that was funny, thought-provoking, and wasn’t nearly as gut-wrenching an experience. Commenting on sadism isn’t a good enough excuse to bring something so sadistic into the world and, as many critics have already pointed out, not without it’s hypocrisies.

While I resent Haneke for insinuating that he’s smarter than me, I may not buy that this is the anti-horror film that Haneke claims that it is. I see it more as a cinephile’s horror film filled with the director’s signature long takes, an excellent setup, and fantastic performances (especially by Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe as the couple in peril). Today’s horror fans that are used to funny games 1liberal use of gore and torture may find I’m overstating the depravity. In fact, almost every act of violence occurs offscreen. Taking advantage of the power of suggestion and anticipation is a lost art though and Michael Haneke has found it. Every act of cruelty in the movie begins with a long build up filled with clever wordplay. I was literally on the edge of my seat and feeling queasy throughout the entire experience of watching it.

Funny Games is a brilliantly executed and punishing work of suspense and is perfect for those looking for a perverse thrill. I just don’t buy that it’s anything more than that.

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6 thoughts on “Funny Games (1997)

  1. Andrew

    I do think that the film serves as an astute observation in modern audiences gravity towards disturbing acts of violence and how we should, in a sense, feel shamed for taking pleasure in entertaining ourselves with it.

    And, that ten minute (or there abouts) scene in the living room where we see nothing but two parents sob over the death of their son was one of the hardest things for me to ever watch…ever.

    Great review!

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  2. mattasshole Post author

    Thanks, Andrew. I watched it for the first time two days ago and I’m still getting over it. Do you think that I was supposed to get some sort of perverse thrill out of all this or was the fact that I was so sickened by it part of the point? It does make me think of some of my own bloodlust which is satisfied by more thrilling but also more graphically violent films like The Raid or Quentin Tarantino movies.

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  3. Jay

    Are we, as an audience to such sadism, somehow complicit in it?

    Great line, Matt. This is basically why I don’t watch anything horror. While death is part of life, and part of the stories we tell, the horror genre exists purely to entertain people by being increasingly graphic and blood thirsty. I find those movies to be quite degrading and refuse to take part.

    It seems weird to make a movie just to shame people for watching it. In fact, isn’t he the most guilty for contributing to this in the first place?

    Really nice piece, great questions. I really enjoyed reading this one though as you know I haven’t seen the movie – I feel like you took one for the team!

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