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Funny Games Is Much Ado About Nothing

Funny Games
Written and directed by Michael Haneke from the 1997 film Funny Games by Haneke
Warner Independent Pictures, 2008

We Americans are always being accosted for our violence. And sure, we kill people a lot. Michael Moore tried to explain it all in Bowling for Columbine, ultimately resting the blame on the media for laying a bunch of fear at our doorsteps, making us all feel like things could be taken away in an instant and that we need to be prepared to fight for it.

But I wonder, in the case of Funny Games, if the filmmakers didn’t come out and say, “We’re making this movie as a study into American violence and here’s what we did in this scene and that scene,” whether or not the subject of American violence would even come up. As is, Funny Games really doesn’t make much of a statement at all. If this movie had been made and shelved and I heard nothing of it and it got buried under a bunch of rubble and I stumbled on it and had the means to watch it, I’d see it for what it is: a simple film about psychopaths and torture.

Ann (Naomi Watts) and her husband George (Tim Roth) are moving to a new, upscale house with their kid Georgie (Devon Gearhart). They are moving into an aggressively white, rich country neighborhood filled with their rich friends. And in our present movie subtext this means they deserve to have violence brought to their door.

This comes in the form of Paul (Michael Pitt) and his friend Peter (Brady Corbet), who are overly polite masking a passive-aggressiveness masking truly diseased killer minds. They come asking Ann for eggs, but things keep happening where the eggs break, slowly frustrating her and testing her own politeness. He has the audacity to point out that she can always get more eggs (hey, she’s rich after all, so nothing annoying should bother her). And then Peter “accidentally” knocks her cell phone into a sink full of water.

Peter and Paul don’t seem to want to leave. They keep testing the waters and when it comes to George being tasked to throw the boys out of the house, they test the family even more, to the point that George breaks the physical barrier first. Thus the boys now have the incident they need to not only inflict violence themselves, but prove a point as well. They tie the family up and bet that by 9 AM the next morning, they’ll all be dead.

Of course, this isn’t a bet by which the family can really win anything. They play “games” all through the night, all made up with no real rules, just an excuse to inflict more pain and suffering. The actual violence is never seen directly onscreen.

And while the movie passes for being well-made, I just failed to see the point. Paul makes a remark after some brutal torture: Are you ready for a big plot development now? Well, I guess not, considering I’ve heard so much about what this movie is supposed to be about. Hence, there’s no surprise to this. It’s an exploration of nihilism on the behalf of the characters and by extension, Michael Haneke.

I think if your film makes a statement, it does so without the aid of your publicity machine. This is the second film from Haneke I felt like you needed to know a bunch of stuff going in to really “get” it. The last film, Cache, I felt was way overpraised. On its own, it made no sense. With explanation outside the film, it got a free ride of critical praise. This is not what film is supposed to be in my eyes.

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