We’re Not Up to Feature Length Yet

I’ve been trying to decide if Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is totally immoral or not. As film-watchers we enter into a sort of contract with film-makers. “Here is my seven to ten dollars; you entertain me.” Whether that entertainment includes base, defecation-style humor or the mind-bending avant-garde, we don’t want to be “bored.” Ideally and arguably we reach for some sort of physically moving aesthetic experience (a jump, a flinch, a jaw-drop, a tear, a laugh). In this way we want to interact with the film.
funny games wink
It seems to me that Haneke exploits this desire in an extremely perverse, but extremely interesting way. By making the contract explicit (through an initial wink exchanged between on-screen perpetrator and audience) he questions what we demand of him, and then gives us what we think we want. He immediately starts us off with one of these aesthetic experiences. With the blaringly loud hardcore band Naked City interrupting the conventional classical soundtrack, we are immediately on edge. My initial delight in this Brechtian process is very quickly smashed as unrelenting, cruel, and pointless violence is inflicted on the characters.

The killer, as a stand-in for Haneke, gives us exactly what we think we want from this style of film: tension, violence, and horror. So why and how could this film be considered immoral? He is upholding his end of the bargain. I guess I just get the feeling that Haneke is the genie that is taking wishes way too literally. And my first reaction to that is to get upset that my judgment is being questioned.

Haneke takes the exploitation we expect to be inflicted on the characters of a typical slasher/horror film and turns it onto his audience. Instead of removing us from involvement in the story as Brechtian stories usually do, Haneke’s self-referential acknowledgment of the film form creates a new story of which we are explicitly involved. Our aesthetic experiences become the story. We are constantly aware of our own reactions as the villain continually reminds us of them.

Take, for example, the long-take in the middle of the film. At just over ten minutes long and shot from fairly far away, the shot creates a sense of the hyper-real. We have constantly been reminded that this is a film, however in this shot we are given no reprieve from the horror and destruction. We cannot look away, even when we desperately want to.

Haneke is also careful about what he does not show us. We do not see the mother in the film naked. We do not see the ultra-specific acts of violence. Does the fact that these acts occurs off camera attribute to our aesthetic experiences? The sounds off camera cause our imaginations to fill in the blanks, so the effects of the horror is debateable. The important thing here, I think, is that there is an attempt to avoid exploitations of Funny Games’s characters, while exploitation of the audience is clear. In other words, while shielding us from the character’s nakedness while also reminding us that this is only a film, the film creates a safe place for the characters as actors and an uncomfortable place for us as viewers.

Because of this turning of the tables, I think Funny Games is a very moral and important film, while also not one for wide audiences. While the killer, as narrator, leads us through this entire torturous process, we are continually associated with the camera and its interactions with the killer. Without the presence of the camera, the violence would never occur. No one would have to die, if we didn’t demand to see such things in the film. This obviously makes for a very uncomfortable viewing process.

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12 Comments

Filed under Whitney

12 responses to “We’re Not Up to Feature Length Yet

  1. brian

    very nice review. fight saw the original and there’s this part where they rewind the movie, does this happen in the new version?

  2. I don’t know. The one I’m talking about is the original. But I believe he’s making a shot by shot remake with the only difference being the actors and the language.

  3. Taylor

    Pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned. Haneke is showing us what we (the audience) want, literally, in terms of what is exposed on screen, and, as you pointed out, in what way. But more than that he is showing us ourselves, in the sense that he exposes what we want to our own eyes in a way that I certainly hadn’t seen up until watching the film.
    There is still, however, the debate of fighting violence with violence a la ‘Unforgiven.’ Does making us feel guilty through ultraviolence and more importantly a focus on the effects of that violence (the specific place I see as newer to cinema and the very site from which our guilt arises) get us anywhere, or does it just eventually push the threshold of what we are able to take?
    More simply, I guess, does ‘Funny Games’ disturb enough to make one change there view toward cinematic violence, or simply end up another stepping-stone from which we may view even more horrible cinematic atrocities with a less skittish eye?

  4. I think that’s a really good point. That’s sort of how I felt the first time I saw History of Violence. They make something so appealing in a really fucked up way, and then criticize you for liking it and finding it entertaining. And, unlike Unforgiven, I think that humor is what makes self-reflexive violent movies like this so difficult for me to figure out. What do you think?

  5. Taylor

    Well, personally? I’ve thought about this. Outside of creating a film with phenomenologically authentic human death, and finding a way to dupe the audience into believing it’s an utterly normal commercial picture only to later reveal to the viewers the pigs they were in enjoying such fetishization of violence and death, I don’t think any movie is capable of turning the tide or making any significant impact. If ‘Irreversable’ couldn’t do it, ‘Clockwork Orange’ won’t do it, and ‘Funny Games’ certainly won’t. But hey, can’t it be cathartic?

  6. brian

    i haven’t seen this movie, and doubt that i will (i get too squeamish), but do you see any relation to a movie like weekend where the violence becomes more and more pronounced until they’re butchering animals and eating human flesh?

  7. Taylor

    The reflexive humor tip is an interesting one. I was just thinking how different the impact can be than a sort of genuinely diegetic but still humorous treatment of ultraviolence and particularly the extreme of cannibalism. Compare something like ‘Weekend’ to Taymor’s ‘Titus.’ Although they worked to similar ends, I was, for the moment, more distressed by the violence in Titus, while more aware (of course) of the violence, its appropriation, etc., during ‘Weekend.’ Godard’s film got me thinking about the violence, but not in feeling bad about it, more in that I was just made to recognizing it.

    That quality of reflexivity is to me what Fellini showed himself to be the best at, and what Godard reified like no one else. For all that I do or don’t like about Godard, the shot in ‘Contempt’ that tracks upward from an intense sequence between Bardot and Piccoli to level itself on a small painting of an empty theater; I’ve always thought of that reveal as one of the best I’ve ever seen. With that single juxtaposition Godard says, “This is all for you, and don’t you forget it.” It’s almost as good as Cabiria looking at me.

  8. i will only fastforward a movie that is truely terrible. in this case the 10 minutes of crying was pretty stupid so i fastforwarded it. i thought the rewind scene was awesome, not. this film seemed pretty pointless. tim roth in agonizing pain will be worth the remake……….psych.

  9. Brian, I found out that one difference between the new one and the old one is that they change a german shepard for a golden retriever.

    Fight, do you think this will make the movie better?

  10. maybe. but i have a hard time thinking this guy will make a watchable movie. so probably not. can you tell i think funny games sucks shit?

  11. Whitney

    Yeah. and I think it’s The Shit. I really liked Cache, too. But I can see how he’s also a pretentious butthole, in some ways. I’m going to netflix more of his movies (after season one of project runway) and then I’ll see if I like him still.

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