Funny Games (1997) Written & directed by Michael Haneke. Starring: a bunch of Germans.
Funny Games is like a cinematic version of entrapment. Michael Haneke, the writer/director of this film, seeks to make his viewers complicit in the psychopathic behavior of his characters. In effect, the psychopaths are a projection of their creator, doing his will to ensnare the audience and make them complicit in the voyeuristic violence he has concocted. Haneke even breaks the fourth wall several times when his character speaks directly to the audience. The director is doing with his audience as his characters are doing with each other — the film is his game. The audience has an implied choice, then: Keep watching, keep playing his game and be complicit in the outcome; or, leave the theater, turn off the DVD, close the Netflix window. You can do that; you have that choice.
I came to this understanding, in a much less fully-realized way than I am now elucidating, about halfway through the movie. Had I not been planning to write this article, I would have turned the movie off, simply because, realizing what Haneke’s game was, I didn’t want to play it. I would have made the decision not to keep playing, not to be complicit. (At least, I’m pretty sure I would have… oh, those tricky hypotheticals.)
But, I’ve turned off two other movies on moral grounds already during this month-long movie-watching project, so I decided to stick it out. I did, however, check out of the film emotionally. The second half of the film, for me, became more of an intellectual endeavor, to see what the director’s endgame was so that I could try to formulate a response to it. Or, maybe I was just waiting for it to end so I could honestly say I watched it. Either way, his endgame pissed me off a little bit–which, regardless of my personal feelings, I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that there was an exact point at which I wanted to pick up the remote and throw it at the screen. I can’t turn emotion off completely, it seems.
I am glad I turned off my emotional involvement as much as I was able, though; otherwise, I’m quite sure the events dramatized here would have had a much more devastating impact on my mind. I have three more weeks of this project to get through, and I’d like to escape with some of my sanity intact.
I guess I’ll end with this: I do find it intellectually interesting, what Haneke was doing with this film. It does make me ask the question: what does my watching this say about me as a moviegoer? But it also makes me ask the question: what does this say about the director?
This bit of trivia from the Internet Movie Database may hold a clue to the answer to both questions: “Director Michael Haneke told producer Veit Heiduschka during the production that if the film was a success, it would be because audiences had misunderstood the meaning behind it.”
My Netflix rating: I don’t know what to do here. My gut response is that I hated watching this movie, but it has suddenly broadened my understanding of the medium. I feel like it’s an important movie, but I’d never recommend it to anyone. It’s a movie that people should talk about but not actually watch. Ouch, my head….
Haneke also remade this film (shot-for-shot, from what I hear) for English-speaking audiences, with two actors I always love, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. There is a part of me that wishes I had watched that instead of his original German version, though in the end I doubt it would have made much difference, except that I would have been able to see Watts and Roth’s performances. As it is, the two who play the husband and wife in the German original, Ulrich Muhe and Susanne Lothar, are stellar, though I pity what they had to endure to get to those emotional (and subsequently physical) places they had to reach.