Friday, March 6, 2009

Funny Games (1997) / (2007)

This is going to be a completely different type of film review. For my film class, I am supposed to write "short responses" to 5 different films by Michael Haneke. Since the intended audience is my professor, I wrote the essay assuming the reader has seen the film. This is not a film review, this is not a plot summary and this is not for people who haven't watched the film.

First, a short introduction: Funny Games (1997) was originally intended for American audiences. Due to certain restraints, the Austrian filmmaker (Haneke) was unable to find English-speaking actors. However, Haneke directed a shot-for-shot remake of the film [Funny Games (2007)] starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt. If you have seen one film, you have seen the other. For all practical purposes, they are the same film. The only differences are the actors and the language.

With that said, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. My essay in its entirety is below.
Click to read spoilers

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) may seem like it is a conventionally violent thriller film, but in reality it is Haneke’s attempt to criticize the thriller genre and its audience’s lust for violence and blood. Haneke utilizes cinematic techniques that are unconventional to the thriller genre in order to emphasize the obsession with violence in contemporary Hollywood cinema.

With Funny Games, Haneke criticizes what the protagonists of contemporary cinema have become: ultra-violent murderers who hold the Machiavellian view that the end justifies the means. Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), the protagonists and murderers of Funny Games, are not meant to be sympathetic characters. This notion is contrasted, however, by their clothing; they wear white throughout the whole film. In classical Hollywood cinema, the heroes always wear the color white, ride a white horse, etc. In Funny Games, the murderers wear white. Through this device, Haneke relates Paul and Peter to the protagonists of conventional violent thriller or action films. Whereas violence is usually accepted by mainstream audiences as long as it involves the hero of the film killing antagonists, few viewers will agree with Paul and Peter’s actions. Haneke might not be implying that violence is always evil, but he is rather challenging viewers to think carefully about the morals in the films they see.

Funny Games is an exceptionally violent film, but very little violence is seen on screen. This is one of the key differences between Funny Games and most other ultra-violent films; it denies the mainstream viewer exactly what he is expecting from the film. By denying the viewer on-screen violence, Haneke is condemning the audience’s desire for such violence. When violence occurs off-screen, the viewer may feel cheated by the film; in traditional cinema, the camera would follow the action of the scene. However, this technique challenges the viewer to think about why he wants to see the violent acts that are occurring off camera. This in turn forces the viewer to reconsider the presumably violent actions of his favorite cinematic heroes.
Not all protagonists in contemporary “thriller” or “action” films commit actions of extreme violence, but Haneke may be responding to such ultra-violent films as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). The film viewer may begin to see some similarities between Paul and Peter from Funny Games and Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction. Whereas in Pulp Fiction the viewer identifies with the main characters (who commit multiple murders) the viewer does not want to identify with the main characters and their atrocious actions in Funny Games.

Haneke’s criticism of violence in cinema is ironic considering the savage content of Funny Games. However, he uses unconventional cinematic techniques to challenge viewers’ preconceived ideas about morality and violence. For example, after Anna (Susanne Lothar) kills Peter, Paul picks up a television remote and rewinds the movie, reversing Peter’s death. This not only reminds the viewer that he is watching a film, but that he is watching a film that criticizes certain aspects of cinema, namely the violence of contemporary Hollywood cinema.

Funny Games (1997): A-
Funny Games (2007): Unnecessary films receive no grades.
Pulp Fiction (1994): Coming soon?


Joan said...

"Unnecessary films receive no grades." hahaha you're too funny. By the way, your essay is great

Mitch said...

Thanks! Marco sure thought so; he friended me on Facebook :)

Joan said...

omg, yay! wow, I sound like an idiot saying that, but really, finally. How long does it take for someone to accept or decline a friend request. I hope he's not as much of a creeper as we are, because then he would know that we were creepers :-) but I'm ok with that.

J. Gibb said...

So when I was naming my blog, I think I subconsciously had yours in the back of my head. And then I copied you. What a jerk, right? But hey, graphic designers do nothing but steal!

Last year, I had an assignment for Critiquing Film to see a film at The Ross and write a report on it. My unfortunate choice (out of two options): Funny Games! I love how you sidestepped the need to give it a grade. I'll totally read your essay later... when I'm not at work. ;-D

Mitch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The remake may have been unnecessary, but Naomi Watts was pretty amazing in it nonetheless. She's an underrated actress, who goes into the depths of her emotional core.

Mitch said...

Anonymous: I agree. Naomi did give a good performance. And perhaps calling it unnecessary is a little harsh. If the 2007 version wasn't made, many Americans might not have seen the film--Haneke would have missed his target audience.

J. Gibb said...

I think the other movie running at the Ross during Funny Games was Nanking. It certainly looked like the better option, but we had just watched Behind Forgotten Eyes in class, and they looked depressingly similar. Ha-ha...