Sunday, September 14, 2008

BENNY'S VIDEO (Michael Haneke, 1992, Austria) Benny sees the world darkly through the clouded lens of adolescence and technology: equally one part removed and one part cruel participant in his narcissistic narrative. His bedroom is a cave, black curtains shroud the windows but a camera shoots live footage of the street outside: somehow, peering at the video monitor is more real to Benny than just looking through the shades. It’s as if the camera has distanced him, on every humane level, from becoming a human being, his empathy lost amid the white noise and static. He films a pig being slaughtered, a rather mundane event on any pig farm, and becomes entranced with the image. He watches the footage repeatedly, sometimes in slow motion, looking for the moment of death when the metal plug destroys the animal’s consciousness: when it ceases to live and becomes inert. He’s looking at death but not feeling death. Michael Haneke is not concerned with the footage itself: thousands of animals are killed this way for food every day. What he is concerned with is Benny’s reaction to the video. When he meets a teenage girl at the video store, he brings her back to his parent’s apartment (they’re away for the weekend) and through small talk eventually shows her the video. Her apathy is apparent too; her response concerns the weather. Benny then shows her the killing instrument and plugs her three times, her screams and violent thrashing echoing the pigs quivering death. He cleans up the mess and pours himself a glass of milk: Haneke shows us a terrific shot of him casually cleaning up the spilled milk in the exact same manner he wiped up the thick congealing blood. He then goes about the remainder of the weekend partying, hanging-out as if nothing important happened. When his parents are shown the video, they are devastated for Benny, realizing his record will be forever tarnished. Soon, they each become an accomplice after-the-fact because Benny’s bright future is more important than some runaway girl’s decomposing body. Benny and his mother take a short vacation so the father can dispose of the evidence. Benny shows no affect, no emotion, and only seems to have an identity when he looks through his video recorder. This affluent family has finally come together as a unit, working towards a common goal…but Benny even subverts this scheme. Can Benny be rehabilitated? That question denotes some beneficent foundation, a base of human morality, whether learned socially or through his family, which has become corrupt. But that’s not the important issue: Has Benny ever been habilitated in the first place? (B-)

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