WHAP at the Movies: Funny Games

The trailer is incredible.  But every critic everywhere is saying the same thing, “Whatever movies you choose to see in 2008, DO NOT SEE FUNNY GAMES.”  But then again, the film has a 7.2 rating on IMDB.  What’s our take?  Read on…

Funny Gamesis an American shot-for-shot remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name.  Michael Haneke, who is highly praised for his 2005 film Cache, is the writer and director of both the original Funny Games and its American counterpart. 

This film has been ripped apart by every critic who has seen it.  On Ebert and Roeper, Richard Roeper had this to say of the movie:

“The fact that it features fine performances, talented direction and some moments of genuine suspense only makes the end product that much more appalling.”

And to Richard I have to say:  Ummm….I think that was the point.

Funny Games is not just a movie; it is a critique of American culture.  It is a response to the violent movies that have become ever so popular as of late: the Hostels and the Saws.  But what is most impressive about this, is that the original film was made in 1997, long before American cinematic gore was in full force.

And Michael Haneke is not just a director; he is a manipulator.  All throughout Funny Games, a flick that depicts an upper class family (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Devon Gearhart) taken hostage in their own vacation home by two young men (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), Haneke knows exactly what the audience is yearning for.  He knows that we are going to cheer for the good guys.  He knows that after watching a family being tortured for over an hour, the viewer is dying to see them fightback, to see Michael Pitt or Brady Corbet’s guts smeared across the screen.  He knows this, and after what seems like forever, he gives it to us.  And I will say this without spoiling what happens, when the family finally is able to retaliate I was flooded with great relief.  I found myself my smiling at the violence of the moment captured on screen.  During this scene someone in the audience actually pumped his fist into the air and cried, “YEAH!”  But Haneke gives us this joy only to take it away moments later.  He wants us to be angry and reflect on how happy we had been during that moment.

Although the film is a violent one, most of the actual violence happens off screen.  Haneke lets the viewer hear the screams and moans of the victims, but he does not let us see them during the moments of injury.  Instead, he turns the camera somewhere else, often to an on-looker in the family, and let’s us watch in horror their expressions.  This places an incredible amount of importance on the movie’s three victims–Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Devon Gearhart–and each of them deliver.  And Haneke does not just let us be spectators to the carnage, he invites us to be apart of it.  Four times in the movie Michael Pitt turns to the camera, each time making the audience no longer feel as an on-looker, but something that is closer in resemblence to an accomplice. 

Funny Games is a movie that toils with your insides and fucks with your head.  You will know the ending before it comes, but like the family it depicts, you will not want to believe it. 

And the critics are right to dislike the movie.  There is nothing to like about watching a family brutally tortured for the better part of two hours.  But they are wrong to pan it.  Haneke is making a point.  He is asking us why it is so wrong to show violence when deep down inside we are yearning for it.  He is asking us, as a culture, to look in the mirror and question our fascination with torture and gore.  His style is unique and distinct.  The violence in this movie is sudden and random and more often than not, it is not shown.  Instead we shown what is important: the everlasting effects of violence.  And for that Haneke, I admire you.           

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