#58 - Funny Games (Michael Haneke)

note: article contains spoilers

Torture Porn

This is a remake of the Austrian film of the same name from 1997. Both films are directed by the same man, Michael Haneke, and apart from the setting and the actors they are pretty much the same film to the point where even the dialogue seems to be just a translation from the German version in to English. Yes this is a shot for shot remake, and the only reason that I’ve ever heard from Haneke for doing this film is to preserve the function of the original film and not let some other director bastardize it, or even turn it in to a type of film that “Funny Games” is criticizing. An admirable endeavor if you ask me especially when you consider that it would have been made with or without Haneke.

But before going in to what “Funny Games” is about I need to say just how much I love this guy’s work. I’ve seen about half of Haneke’s feature films at this point and I’ve loved every single one. Sure most audiences will find the majority of his work boring or even detestable (including “Funny Games”) but they’re always very interesting and captivating films to watch for me. Well, at least so far. And despite the simplicity of his style of filmmaking there is a Kubrickian emotional neutrality and objective directorial point of view to all his films that brings out the ideas at the film’s center and makes them very easy to pick up. They’re very intellectually engaging films and can stick with you for days, that is, if you're willing to meet them half way. But anyway, a few thoughts on to the film itself.

“Funny Games” follows a well off family that, after arriving at their vacation house, meets Peter and Paul – two very strange but polite guys in their late teens. After they refuse to leave the family house and attack the father it becomes clear that Peter and Paul have some very unpleasant games in mind for the family. And what follows should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a horror film of this formula. Well that’s wrong, because this wouldn’t be a Haneke film if that was the case.

The most obvious deviation is Paul, who has a liking to breaking the fourth wall. He naughtily winks at the camera at one point, and at another even addresses the audience. With this Paul presents himself as an obvious element of the author’s agency, even bluntly stating in the text of the film that his actions are done to heighten the drama for the audience. This is a clear critique of formulaic filmmaking that the film is employing and especially a certain type of genre films that exploit the suffering and torture of its characters. Such movies have also been branded as “Torture Porn” by some film fans.

Still, Haneke does break the formula eventually with the fact that he kills off the entire family and lets the killers move along to their next target at the end. This brake from the genre starts at a very crucial point, when Ann (the mother) manages to shoot Peter and with that creates an exit point for the “triumphant” third act. But Haneke allows Paul to literally rewind the film and in a repeat scene prevent her from shooting his friend. The point of the rewind is obviously to deliver the full impact of a torture porn film but without the ultimate gratification in watching a survivor take her revenge, making all the senseless exploitation all right for the audience. No, if you want pointless torture porn, that’s what you’re going to get with Haneke and he refuses to give you a catharsis that will make you feel good for enjoying the violence that happened just minutes before.

But there is catharsis in Funny Games, and although it is not a gratifying or emotional catharsis it is an intellectual one. That is if the film did not disengage you somewhere with its genre toying and with its purposeful braking of the cinematic illusion.

“Funny Games” is an amazing conceptual critique of a certain type of film and the portrayal of violence in the media. And when graphic violence is concerned there is very little of it in the film, as most of it happens off screen. However the film is loaded with psychological violence in the form of degradation and humiliation of the innocent family, and this is even more traumatic and difficult to watch at times than any gore that a mere exploitation films could throw at you.

This makes “Funny Games” (both versions) one of Haneke’s least accessible films in my opinion, and this sentiment is just further contributed to with the illusion breaking effects in the film like the mentioned rewind and the winks at the audience. But like any Haneke film it is very much a rewarding experience that expects you to do a part of the work for yourself and does not care to spoon-feed you entertainment or ponder to you in any way. 


an observation - I couldn't help but notice that "The Cabin in the Woods" pretty much de facto ripped off the opening of this film, or homages it or whatever you want to call it. I mean just look at that title screen! It's quite possible that "Funny Games" was in a way an inspiration for that film, as they both deconstruct the machinations of the horror genre in their structure. (I didn't know where to place this tidbit in the main body of the text, so there it is)


Naomi Watts - Ann
Tim Roth - George
Michael Pitt - Paul
Brady Corbet - Peter
Devon Gearhart - Georgie

1 comment:

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