The second round of our debate on the validity or worthlessness of Funny Games. A summary of the posts so far:
- Round 1 of our debate, including an overview of the Double Shot ground rules
- My original zero star review
- Luke Harrington’s 4 star review
- Ghost Lyon’s 1 1/2 star review of Haneke’s original 1997 version
Here is round two of Luke and I’s debate. For redundancy’s sake, I am arguing against the film, while Luke is arguing for it. Comments and further insights are, of course, encouraged and welcomed (although I noticed a distinct trend toward siding with Luke last time…tsk tsk guys, I’m obviously correct here).
2nd Argument Against: Funny Games logically fails because it employs the very thing it seeks to condemn
Luke, from your review: “Funny Games is relentless in its criticism of a culture filled with people who are all doomed to die but still constantly seek their own survival, all while enjoying the deaths of others.” I cannot directly disagree with this (Americans seem to love their torture porn). It’s the rubbernecking syndrome – when there is a wreck on the side of the road, we instinctively slow down. Haneke’s goal with this film is to condemn that desire to rubberneck, that desire to see suffering as long as it isn’t our own. The only problem is that he’s created his own wreck in order to condemn us for looking at it. Experimentally this has merit. Logically it makes no sense, since it furthers the very thing he’s trying to condemn. Take his own words: “Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn’t need the film, and anybody who stays does.” If Haneke truly wanted to change our appetite for violence he would create films that promote love and forgiveness and human charity, films that instinctively make us say, “I want more of that in my life and less of the violent stuff.” Instead, he’s created a film that utilizes the very thing he (apparently) abhors: cruel, unthinkable violence. He rails against the audience for playing in the mud, all the while being covered head to toe in muck himself. There is a word for this: hypocrite. In terms of the film, Funny Games implodes logically because it cannot sustain the weight of its own goals.
Evan, you make the mistake here of assuming that finding a solution is somehow more important than identifying the problem, when in fact the one depends on the other. To put it simply, the muddy kid won’t be motivated to clean himself off if he’s not made aware of his own muddiness. You propose media that promotes “love and forgiveness and human charity” as a solution to the problem of our culture’s obsession with violence, but no one is going to be interested in a solution if they’re not aware there’s a problem. Haneke’s acting as prophet but you want him to act as priest instead. Doesn’t culture need both? In any case,Funny Games hardly wallows in the mud the way the films it criticizes do—the vast majority of the violence takes place off-screen, and none of it is romanticized or sexed up the way it is in the vast majority of Hollywood pictures. Funny Games strips the glossy sheen off of violence and makes the audience acutely aware of their thirst for it. The intent is satirical (whether or not it’s actually humorous): Haneke gets himself muddy to show others their own muddiness.
2nd Argument For: Funny Games delivers what the marketing promises; you get exactly what you pay for and therefore have no room for complaint
Evan, you seem, in your original review, to be implying that the trailer implies something other than what the film delivers. Having watched the trailer (which, admittedly, I didn’t get around to doing until after seeing the film), I’m not sure that’s the case. The trailer promises scenes of well-to-do young men in white gloves terrorizing a family for no reason other than their own entertainment. Doesn’t the film deliver on this? The reason you seem to be rejecting it is that it doesn’t end the way you’d like it to. Of course, the trailer can’t show you the ending for the same reason the critics aren’t supposed to: the majority of moviegoers are (erroneously, I would argue) convinced that part of the enjoyment of a film is being surprised at the end. Experience, however, says that this is almost never the case. No one walks into the theater expecting Rocky to get clobbered in the third round, or expecting Richard Gere and Julia Roberts to break up at the end. This, if nothing else, makes for an interesting dualism, where nobody wants to know the ending but everybody does anyway. The ending that Haneke has provided here is, in a sense the ultimate “twist ending,” as it’s the last ending anyone expects to see. This is, of course, the point: this sort of victimization and violence almost always ends in pointless tragedy in real life, and almost never does in film. Haneke is seeking to undermine the romanticized expectations of his audience, and he’s clearly succeeded in this. If they reject this, it’s simply because they’ve allowed Hollywood to lie to them for far too long.
I don’t reject Funny Games because of the ending. I don’t reject it because I feel the trailer is misleading (which I do, but I’ll deal with that in a second). I don’t even reject it because it involves torture, human suffering, or “pointless [real life] tragedy.” I reject it because all of those things are not the point – the experiment is. I’ll put the next sentence in bold to emphasize my point, which is the entire crux of my argument: if Haneke had not broken the fourth wall in the way that he did or included the ‘rewind’ scene, I would not discount Funny Games’ value as a film. If those elements had not been present (i.e., this would be the film that is advertised in the trailer) you would be left with a grim picture of nihilistic violence. I would not enjoy such a film, but I would have to accord it more respect than I currently do. Subverting the audience’s expectations is a common cinematic convention and one I have no quarrel with. The issue is that once Haneke has subverted our expectations, he takes it two steps further: he calls attention to the fact (Michael Pitt’s fourth wall addresses) and mocks us for it (the scene reversal). This reveals his hand in an unflattering and detrimental way. Up until that point I was engaged with the characters and the story, but once I became aware of Haneke’s goal I recoiled from the film in an immediate and shocking way. I wanted to leave, not because of the content, but because I could see, with absolute clarity, the Wizard pulling levers from behind his emerald curtain. The joke was up and I was the punchline. I have never before experienced such an instantaneous reversal in my attitude towards a film.
If Haneke had left those elements out, he would have succeeded more surely in condemning violence as entertainment. Because he does include them (for him, this arrogant insistence to show his cards is part of the point), Funny Games is reduced to a manipulative Pavlovian experiment.
Note: Look for our conclusions and final thoughts later this weekend