Friday, September 28, 2007

Funny Games (1998)


I mentioned this film briefly in a previous post when I noted the passing of Ulrich Mühe, the star of this film, as well as The Lives of Others. But I think the time has come to really delve into this one further.

What prompted me is that the film is being remade for American audiences, and I feel it would be better to go into my thoughts now before Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot remake of his own film comes out, either later this year or early next year. (The release date has been jumping all over the place, since I can imagine that Warner Independent has no idea of how to market it.)

While pretty much any remake is troubling for any variety of reasons, this one I think is a unique case. Quite frankly, I suspect that this film will be wildly misunderstood by many and worse, I think it will prompt a lot of vocal criticism from those who didn't understand it. (You know, those same folks who complain monthly about something or another without having first-hand knowledge of it.)

The basic premise is this: an affluent family goes to their lake house for some rest and relaxation, and find just the opposite when two young men come over under the guise of needing to borrow some eggs, yet, we learn they have something far more sinister in mind.


They play psychological mindgames with the family and prey off their worst fears, and taunt them mercilessly about the fact that the family will all die before morning. What transpires in the film is nothing short of disturbing. And quite frankly, very daring for American cinema. Yet, I suspect that the film will be demonized by folks claiming that the film glorifies and promotes violence, when in fact, the film is damning you for getting off on it. Yes, that's right. YOU are the one to blame for what the family is enduring.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that this wasn't immediately apparent to me upon first viewing it. It was only with time, reflection, and a little reading that everything came together.

And I think the reason why this message was obscured because it becomes evident through a usually poorly used cinematic device that was initially a distraction to me, but now I realize is very crucial to the film: In the film, the leader of the two young men, Paul, turns and speaks to the camera in various scenes. Usually, this is such a piss poor tactic, that my eyes had a Pavlovian response and rolled a bit. But in doing so, I missed the point originally. In another scene, when asked why they don't just kill the family, Paul says something in reference to it being for entertainment value. Again, it's significance didn't quite register correctly at the time.

Basically, Funny Games is a statement about how saturated our entertainment has become and how desensitized we've become in response. However, when you look at what Paul says during these comments to the camera, you realize that this family, who you've come to care about, is being brutalized for the viewer's entertainment.

In doing so, Funny Games actually resensitizes you to violence, and it is quite sadistic and harrowing. I've heard the film described as "one of the best movies I'll never watch again and never recommend to anyone." I can't say I don't recommend the film, because I think it is a very unique experience: a film that really almost defies you to turn away from the violence and gruesomeness and begs you to turn it off. I almost view it as the cinematic version of how a lot of parents, when they catch their kid smoking a cigarette, will make them smoke the entire pack to make them sick from smoking. Haneke is doing something similar here, I feel, but in this case, he is punishing you for your obsession with violence by making you overdose on it.

So, the best I can say is that if you are interested in the film, or if you are a Haneke fan, check out the original now before the remake. But be forewarned. If you are inclined to wait for the American remake, here is a
Trailer for the Funny Games remake

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