Jun 11, 2008

Funny Games (2008): C+

A funny thing happened the other day. I rented and watched - with much trepidation and skepticism, wondering almost aloud to myself before and during if it was even worth my while - Michael Haneke's English-language remake of his own Funny Games, a film I despised and still find to be more than a bit infuriating in retrospect. Relativity is key here, as I can't say I liked this new version, but viewing what was virtually the same film from the deliberate standpoint of having already seen it, hence knowing what was coming, I was able to appreciate it more even as it pushed all the same wrong buttons again. My favorite review of the new version - unofficially dubbed Funny Games U.S. - was that of Ed Gonzalez (check out Jim Emerson's intelligent take-down, too), who merely reprinted his review of the 1998 original, word for word, save for the respective names of the new actors and actresses. Such was a delightfully understated commentary on the nature of the film itself, although like Gus Van Sant's unfairly maligned Psycho, Haneke's commentary here doesn't seem so much an empty grab for cash (anyone familiar with his obsessions and themes should know better) than an experiment in both familiarity and precision. Haneke's argument remains the same: that violence is bad and anyone immoral enough to obtain pleasure or prosperity from such (case in point here being destructive American culture, most blatantly signified by the image of a blood-spattered television) could stand to endure a dose of their own medicine. Funny Games' central concept - a vacationing upper class family is terrorized by two disquietingly pleasant thugs who challenge their moral and physical limitations with a series of intimidations and physical threats/punishments - remains theoretically brilliant, though again undone here by a sense of superiority devoid of self-examination; just a smidgen of reflexive humor alone could have saved the day, or the more constructive notion that our doomed "protagonists" have even the slightest say in their fateful outcomes. (Spoilers ahead.) A nearly ten-minute, static take in which Naomi Watt's housewife - bound, practically nude - suffers the initial pangs of shock and downfall following her son's horrific death exhibits Haneke's commanding technical skills, and so too does the entirety of Funny Games U.S. exhibit similarly honed talent in framing, lighting and editing, subtle differences (like the re-assembled footage that differed between Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux) that may not speak to their own presence but ultimately lend a different feel, even if at but a subconscious level. Most significant a difference, though, are the performers, who aren't necessarily better than their predecessors than they are less conducive to the unfairly calculated inhumanity of Haneke's dead-end maze, lending pathos and hope to a scenario in which none has otherwise been permitted. Haneke's statements are no more so agreeable than the last time I saw them at work (fascinating to behold even as they are difficult, if not impossible to get behind in such an incarnation) but his execution has proven more powerful than I expected here, empowered, in a way, but this version's more pronounced thematic tones, as if admitting relative obviousness as a means of disarming an otherwise condescending sense of banality. Still, it's almost completely for naught when Haneke plays so deliberately unfair, from a most unfortunate of (apparent) coincidences to the still ridiculous "rewind" sequence. Flogging the audience is one thing, but to deny them free will in their role - thus responsibility - is something else


  1. I watched Funny Games on netflix
    on 6-12-08 and agree wholeheartedly
    with your comments. What Haneke
    fails to realize is that for most
    of us it is not so much the violence, but the desire for justice that motivates us to watch
    horrific events at the hands of
    evildoesrs. Watching Devon Gear-
    hart (a great actor) suffer is only
    worthwhile if something good comes
    of it, not his death along with the
    death of his family. A well done
    but totally unpleasant film after
    the first 30 minutes.

  2. Anonymous3:00 AM

    I've seen it implied in a few reviews that what we're being shown is what would happen in a real life violent situation, without the suspended disbelief that usually occurs in violent or psychological thrillers. Point taken, except that I think the director fell short in the respect that none of the odds here seemed insurmountable. Frankly, broken leg or not, I would've fed these young skinny punks their own throats far before they ever got enough of an upper hand to shoot my son. It's called adrenaline and mental preparedness, and a hurt leg wouldn't have stopped it. The only thing that makes up for this is the part where the main baddie refers to the husband as a pussy, which he most certainly was.

  3. Anonymous12:48 PM

    <**spoilers in paragraph one**>

    The husband was definitely a pussy! I am a female and if my child was in danger I would do anything and everything to get those guys away from him. More ridiculous was the fact that at least one other family (and who knows how many more?) had met their demise in the same way at the hands of two small, nearly (or completely) unarmed boys. The bad guys take a huge chance in leaving the couple alone after their son's death, including with a cell phone that could potentially still work. The wife also could have cut her ties on the boat if she wasn't so damn obvious about it. I know that all of this is not that point...the villians depend on peoples' trust and lack of willingness to respond violently, and likely do not care if and when they get caught... but nonetheless, the fact that they could pull this off at all was unrealistic to me.

    All of that said, the film was very difficult to watch; the director demonstrates a good deal of contempt for his audience. I am mostly in agreement with the main review above... although it was well acted and I was on the edge of my seat at some points, I would never recommend this exercise in cruelty and nihilism to anyone.

  4. As has been said above, the director misses an essential point in his arrogance. The violence in modern movies is a storytelling tool to create a more euphoric sense of justice when the villains are taken down. When the villains are just as sadistic. . but they actually win. . it is a betrayal of the most basic part of storytelling and misses the point entirely.

    I think Haneke need to be forced , clockwork orange style, to watch a never ending parade of bad movies in order to make a philosophical statement about directors who think they are smarter than their audience.

  5. I honestly didn't mind the villains winning.

    I just felt cheated that they won in the most unrealistic way possible - with a remote control and a rewind button. So basically, I was watching a bunch of Gods (with the power to control time and space) torturing mortal human beings. That demanded more questions (e.g. where the hell did they get the power to do this?), so I never really had the energy to examine the purported "dark purpose" of the movie.

    I know some will say I'm missing the point, but this one wrinkle completely destroyed my immersion into the movie. After I realized that they could just rewind everything then it became a comedy. It was making a joke of space/time. So I guess the movie really did end up being funny in the end. But it didn't really "deconstruct" the torture genre for me. It didn't take its subject matter seriously enough at the end.