Monday, July 21, 2008

FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke, 2008, USA)

The MPAA rated this film R for Terror, Violence and Some Language…but don’t worry about the Language. This seems to be a shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 film: I suppose he wanted to make the story accessible to American Audiences by casting Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.

The plot is fairly basic: two young punks kidnap a family and hold them hostage in their summer cabin. They begin to play sadistic games with these totally innocent victims until the film's rewind anti-climax. Why is this movie sadistic and frustrating when the body count in DARK KNIGHT is hundreds higher? Could it have something to do with us, the audience? There is very little on-screen violence as the camera holds on close-ups while we hear the tortured screams and shotgun blasts. Somehow, this makes the ordeal even worse.

There is a trick to FUNNY GAMES and it’s this: Haneke manipulates the audience into victim blaming. Every single person who watches this film exclaims that it would not happen to them; they would run away, call for help, or get a weapon and fight back. Haneke even sets up a few scenarios to foster this belief. He wants to incite the audience into an emotional backlash against George and Ann. As the sadism progresses we begin to feel that they somehow deserve what’s coming to them for being so stupid to put themselves in a helpless situation.

I speak from professional experience: most people blame crime victims. How many times have I heard, “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream?” It’s no mistake that the murderers are young, good looking intelligent young men; Haneke manipulates us into accepting them (and here’s the trick) at the victim’s expense. Once we the audience imagine our own heroic actions and escape, we cease to empathize with the true victims and become the sadists. 

Final Grade: (B+)