March 15, 2008
FUNNY GAMES is Michael Haneke‘s 2007 remake of his 1997 film by the same name. It’s a shot-for-shot replica of the original, however this time with American actors instead of German ones. The plot synopsis is simple: an unsuspecting family is mercilessly tortured and murdered by two young men. And that’s the extent of the film’s action. The film runs just under two hours.
Both versions of FUNNY GAMES are unrelenting in their portrayals of the scenario — and in that way, we as the audience are tortured along with the on-screen family. We are submitted to a rather unflinching gaze, although very little of the violence is directly shown, but it is nonetheless viscerally portrayed through sound, reactions of the other characters, cuts away, etc.
Because of the intensity of the portrayal, and the seemingly pointlessness of the torture/murders, one is inclined to ask, “What’s the point? Why subject me to such degradation without redemption?” And I think this reaction is valid, and eludes to one of the possible “points” of FUNNY GAMES, that being violence is unnecessary and its portrayal in the entertainment media is often pointless and essentially degrading to the audience and the society that has produced it. FUNNY GAMES illuminates the institution of violence within the world of movies, and by taking its own representation to such an extreme end, exposes the problematic nature of that institution.
Of course, not everyone is going to get that out of a viewing of FUNNY GAMES (either the ’97 version or the ’07 one). Some people are going to dismiss it for garbage, and that’s valid too. On one level, it is garbage. The story events are despicable and the characters of the murderers are equally deplorable. A person might not need to watch this sort of thing to realize that murder is wrong, or that Hollywood is ethically vapid, or even that certain representations of violence within the media are excessive and glorify the subject.
But that should not detract from the importance of FUNNY GAMES as a critical text within cultural discourse. In a dialectical way, Haneke’s films are an antithesis to the thesis that is the standard across the world of entertainment. What is the synthesis? If nothing else, a renewed awareness of one’s own position as a viewer and a consumer of information mediated by popular culture. And hopefully, one will come away from FUNNY GAMES with a newfound propensity to think and be critical of what one is taking in through the movies one watches, the music one listens to, and even the blogs one reads …
As another part of that discourse check out Jim Emerson’s blog about FUNNY GAMES (2007).