Stream-Of-Consciousness Review: Funny Games ’97
Title?: Funny Games (1997 version)
First or second viewing?: First
I can put this one off no longer. This format of reviewing lends itself very well to films designed to push buttons, or that I have strong preconceptions about, and this one certainly fits in both categories. I know a lot about what happens in this movie, and in theory alone, I hate it.
I mention the contemporary provocateur filmmakers (Noe, von Trier, Aaronofsky) a lot in these reviews, because their work is designed to push the primal buttons of their audience (if you do this in the name of entertainment, you’re an exploitation filmmaker; if you do it in the name of art, you’re a provocateur). Haneke certainly belongs in this category, and philosophically I dislike him about as much as von Trier. He seems to believe that violent art desensitizes people to real violence; I maintain that the two are very different animals. But I believe in giving the man’s work a fair shake–at least as much as I can with my expectations. Besides, if I’m gonna talk shit, I need to have a leg to stand on.
Overhead shot of the doomed family’s car, scored by portentous classical music. Noe would do similar things in Irreversible, but so far I like the way Noe did it better. I KNOW the movie’s just started, get off me! Anyway, someone’s gonna die horribly to Mozart’s Requiem later; you can just tell.
The vacationing family’s classical CD is sonically raped by John Zorn on the soundtrack as the credits roll. Feels cheap and obvious. Excuse me: provocative. C’mon Mike! Get over yourself, admit you’re working in crass, manipulative exploitation tropes and enjoy your life! Red credits, even? Jesus, watch Maniac much?
Their neighbor is under siege by the home invaders already. Our protagonists are largely clueless; they mention that the neighbor’s daughter wasn’t there, that the husband was acting strange, that he was flanked by two strangers… and dismiss it.
Dog’s gonna be the first one to go.
Haneke probably thinks it’s clever to have poncy villains in crisp tennis whites. If the dog was worth his salt, he would do a lot more than just bark at these two. Regardless, it’s the second red flag that goes unheeded by the protag couple. Only the kid and the dog suspect anything.
Wife invites another couple to come up for the weekend to die horrible deaths as well. Kid asks for a knife, which will likely come into play later.
Bad Guy 2 pops by to borrow some eggs. Red flag #3: eggs are the most disgusting food on earth, and someone who wants to borrow them should not be trusted.
Broken eggs=dead children. Foreshadow something we haven’t already predicted, dude.
The violence is coming, but Haneke draws the tension out. He does it well… but no better than Tarantino at his best.
As I understand it, Haneke wants to rescue violence from films that, in his view, glorify, justify or downplay it, making it awful and real again. But the husband and wife about to be terrorized are fucking idiots, and I have about as much empathy for them as I do for the stoner teens in slasher films. I’m sure I’ll feel for them later on once the shit hits the fan, but only because I’m projecting myself into their situation. Which, likely unbeknownst to Haneke, is exactly the same function the archetypal teens in slasher films fulfill.
Husband cannot stand up for his wife in front of the poncy bad guys: “My wife doesn’t feel well.” Haneke is presenting a pacifism that’s as weak and negative as aggression, parents incapable of protecting their child. Villains and victims are both tainted and weakened by upper class entitlement; is this a conscious point Hanake’s trying to make?
First act of violence at the 24-minute mark. And holy crap, we’ve got an hour and twenty to go. Haneke is about to spend the length of an average feature indulging in what he so loudly detests. What a trooper. Janet Maslin once reviewed Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter positively for the comparative depth of its characters, adding that, “of course, after the first act, there’s nothing to do but watch them die.” I could easily say the same thing here.
As they so often are in slasher films, the bad guys are more compelling characters than the victims. They’re obsessed with “formalities” (designed to keep up appearances) as opposed to “rules” (designed to maintain truly civilized society). When they want to change the “rules,” they simply start up a new “game.”
Bad Guy 1 is the alpha, bullying #2 like David Hess and his son in Last House On The Left.
And now, the moment that made me cringe when I read about it: Bad Guy #1 breaks the fourth wall and asks me if I think the protags will live or die, and whether or not I’m really on their side. Is he implying that it’s my fault Haneke’s killers are more interestingly written than his victims?
God, there’s another hour of this to go. The forced strip-tease is reminding me of the motel room scene in Devil’s Rejects. I get it, Mike: you’re playing a game with your viewers. If you want to win, you’d best show me something I’m not expecting.
Bad Guy 2 channel surfs, stops on a slow-motion stock car crash. Because violent media has made us into awful people who like to look at car crashes. Your time’s running out, Mike.
Bad Guy 1 makes sandwich while Bad Guy 2 kills the kid. We linger on the parental grief for a predictably long, predictably static shot. Intuition tells me it would be as predictable, as boring, as it would have had I known less about the movie going in. I don’t know how the movie ends, but I can guess, and I’m caring less by the second. I do know that at some point, the bad guys “rewind” the movie to make a plot point work out in their favor; I think I’m gonna beat them at their own game. Program stop.
A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. Now, where’d I put my Maniac DVD?