Cast: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart
Director: Michael Haneke
Runtime: 111 min.
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller, Experimental
Has there ever been a greater actress than Naomi Watts? Maybe, Isabelle Huppert, or maybe some artist I have never had the honor of watching. I might subscribe myself to the shame and disgust of a thousand Hostels but never would I be able to bear the weight of her intensity. That she summons all of herself in this picture that is essentially manipulative, false and unbearable isn’t a matter to be held in disregard. The question isn’t how much you liked it, for the picture if any, is infinitely infuriating. You might as well give up on the viewing exercise, and I believe one should. It is a frame by frame, shot by shot remake of Haneke’s Austrian version of the same name, released in 1997, which I experienced to be a trifle less extreme, and all that is because of Watts. It is a light years beyond sustained horror, and I would admit, I couldn’t watch it at a single stretch. I would wander off into the balcony, get some fresh air, and return.
The question is how much of it can you take for how long. Those 111 min. are probably the most unbearable and relentless I have endured at the movies in many a year. And yet, I appreciate it, for what it is. And I can only appreciate; there cannot be any other positive reaction. Not all good films are meant to be liked, or be entertained, or enjoyed or any reaction along those lines. I wouldn’t recommend it to those who are filled with any level of contempt for torture porn – Hostel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remakes). This is an important film that ought not to be watched by the faint of heart because its ‘games’ are so inhumane. It is made with that very purpose in mind with an eye burning with revulsion. I would like to explain why.
Funny Games is so spiteful it would much rather spit on its audience and kick them for their fetish for violence in movies prevailing under the sorry pretext of horror. I have often wondered what leads somebody to make a film as sickening and pathetic as Hostel, and degenerate minds appreciating it as great horror. It isn’t horror, you know, because they’re essentially enjoying and getting entertained, which isn’t the purpose of pure horror in the first place. It is like getting off on whacked limbs, and I don’t understand it and I certainly wouldn’t queue up to socialize with such an audience. As a viewer who considers himself almost all kind of subject matter and treatment, I would be the first to raise my hand and scream at the top of my lungs that torture porn cannot be art. They exist for the same reasons as plain pornography. Nothing else, maybe even lesser, because in their own way the films are brain-dead. I’m not excluding myself here either; I have known myself to enjoy the odd burst of blood – John Rambo, Gladiator. Funny Games is the criticism; it is the review that lambastes all such entities that ensure the existence of a favorable financial climate for splatter films.
The genius of it is hardly any act is shown on screen, and everything that is supposed to be entertaining transpires off screen. We’re subjected to the devastating results of the couple and the child who’re at the random mercy of two young intruders, who just for the sake of fun are indulging themselves in making the rest of the family’s life a living hell. There isn’t any story, and they’re lengthy passages which in any other, lesser film would have been edited out. But then, that isn’t the purpose in the first place. The film makes us aware that it is aware. Paul (Pitt), one of the intruders, breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience quite often. He complains that the film hasn’t reached a standard running time. There’s even a sequence where Ann (Watts) kills off the other intruder Peter (Corbet), and Paul rewinds the film. We’re constantly reminded that it is just a film, yet the strange factor is we’re forced to take it seriously. I believe it is because of Haneke’s direction as much as it is because of performances. He always plays it straight, asks his actors to play it straight, and occasionally the film looks at us and winks. And we meander in the hallway. There’s also a conversation that involves a rather hollow debate on what’s fact and what’s fiction. It is a satire that isn’t funny one wee bit.
Then there’s the language. Only once is the ‘f ‘word used in the film, and probably on two occasions we hear swear words. By that I mean, BS. Much of the conversations include please, sorry and polite words that twist the perversity even further. There’re lines strewn all over the place that under the ruse of dialogue is essentially rebuking the audience. For instance – “You must admit, you brought this on yourself.” Or to George’s (Roth) pleading that why don’t they just kill and get it over with, Paul replies – “What about entertainment?”
On his previous version, Haneke commented thus –
"Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn't need the film, and anybody who stays does."
(Courtesy: Jim Emerson’s negative review at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080313/REVIEWS/679566521)
Funny Games isn’t even a film, it is an experiment that puts us through a grinder and minces us with all the violence we can take. And it wants us to feel guilty about it. He, and I suspect, most deliberately makes Watts move around in her bra and her underwear. The psychopathic intruders ask her to put her clothes on, yet Haneke manipulates the immediately subsequent events in such a way she remains in her undergarments. Why? Obviously, with the kind of body she has we would be forced to peek at her anatomy, even when we know she is under great physical and psychological duress. And we’re implicated, red-handed.
It challenges all the rules of standard horror fare, as in a rather good ending, or focus on violence and action, or the weaklings (children) not getting killed. The set of rules that make horror entertaining. I’m all for entertainment, but obviously not at the cost of cruelty. When I watched Hostel on a DVD late in the night, I felt I ought to take a bath. It is twisted and perverse, and not because it is being cerebral about it, but because it is mentally retarded state of mind comes to the fore. Funny Games pukes at such films, and it pukes at the implications. You want to know what I mean. Take a look at the poster of the 1997 version I attach below, and see what I mean. And you’ll know why Haneke didn’t choose the same poster, but instead opted for a wrecked broken pleading Naomi Watts, which is in my eyes just the same.
There has been much debate on Funny Games, and some greatly learned critics, like A.O. Scott of New York Times argue (here) it is as guilty as films like Hostel. Only that it is pretending to be intellectual, while at the same time providing enough to please the same target audience. The film wants to have it both ways. I’m not sure, and honestly, I do not want to watch it once more just to dissect it. It achieves what it sets out to do, and that there’s no gratuitous violence is what holds me to believe this film is a reaction. An apt reaction.
Note: Only if you care, read, more about the film and its debate at -