“Funny Games”

Michael Haneke‘s Funny Games (Warner Independent, 3.14) is simultaneously the ugliest and most repulsive violent melodrama I’ve ever seen (including the thoroughly disgusting I Spit On Your Grave) and the smartest and nerviest critique of sexy-violent movies in the bang-flash vein of Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Eli Roth and other purveyors and marketers of homicidal style.

A fair percentage of those brave enough to see this Warner Independent release this weekend are going to walk out on it — trust me. It’s a hateful and infuriating film, no question, and yet it has a worthwhile point. And you can’t not respect Haneke for this.
It’s certainly one of the ballsiest movies ever released by Warner Bros. (technically Warner Independent) in its 90 year history. I mean this in a sense that average people might come out of showings feeling enormous hate for Warner Bros. for having done so. Seriously. If the final effect wasn’t so stunning and dispiriting I could imagine people beating up ushers on the way out.
It’s basically a chilly, creepy home-invasion horror story about two young, ice-cold psychopaths (Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet) who terrorize a couple (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Devon Gearhart) and their young son with the intention of gradually killing them. No theft, no ransom, no rape…just sadistic mind games followed by brutal maiming and then awful death.

But it’s not a movie that pulls you into the story and persuades you to suspend disbelief and blah, blah. It’s strictly a “game” piece — an exercise film that feels real and naturalistic as far as it goes until it periodically pulls back, stops and tells you (in three instances with Pitt literally talking to the camera), “We’re wanking you off and trying to get you mad…get it? We’re making a point about all the violent gunplay movies you’ve enjoyed ad infniitum for the last 30 or 35 years, starting with The French Connection but particularly since the start of the Tarantino wave in the early ’90s. Violence is horrible, ghastly, reprehensible ….and it’s time for the all the little moviegoing children out there to wake up to this simple fact.”
Funny Games is a shot-by-shot, line-for-line remake of Haneke’s 1997 Austrian- based original. (Which I’m going to watch on DVD this weekend.) In the press notes Haneke says that “when I first envisioned Funny Games in the middle of the ’90s, it was my intention to have an American audience watch this movie. It is a reaction to a certain American cinema, its violence, its naivete…the way American cinema toys with human beings” and the way some of them make “violence consumable.”
What happens in the first 30 or 35 minutes of this film is so ugly and stomach- turning that I was starting to suffer an anxiety attack. I wanted to get up and walk into the movie, Purple Rose of Cairo-style, and shoot Corbet, whose face enraged me. His eyes and mouth especially. (If I see this guy on the street I’m going to have to take a breath and count to ten to keep from taking a poke at him.) I was muttering to myself, “This is the best argument for gun ownership and the NRA I’ve ever seen in a movie in my life.”

I’d love to get into particulars (there are ten or twelve aspects I’d love to sort through and dissect), but I’ll just get yelled at for spoiling. Fair warning: I’m going to discuss every damn aspect of this film that I feel like discussing, no holds barred, sometime on Sunday. No spoiler whining or squealing will be tolerated. If you want to get into it, see it on Friday or Saturday (a good idea regardless given the likelihood that this film is going to be gone very quickly) and get your ducks in order.

76 thoughts on ““Funny Games”

  1. Wells to GuyQuenneville: What do you mean? It’s the same film. What possible difference could this make? It simply doesn’t have subtitles and has different actors.

  2. Why would it have been better for him to have watched the original first? He’s gonna see it this weekend, and they have identical stories?

  3. Jeff, do not ruin the ending. It’s really important that your readers watch this movie on DVD and lose their minds as it unfolds. This is a really brilliant movie.

  4. (vague spoiler)
    The boldest scene in the film has to do with rewinding something. I don’t think it works. I get what Haneke is trying to say and do…but I say no fucking way to that particular trick.

  5. [Editor's note: Rothchild called me (along with an HE poster named Geoff) an asshole. Cheap, vulgar name-calling directed towards yours truly is against HE rules and grounds for expulsion. Rothchild isn't being given the heave-ho now, but his comments are being deleted.]

  6. I saw the preview this weekend at a suburban theatre. Total silence until the end when someone said FUCK YOU to the screen. The audience applauded.

  7. I had the same reaction to the original film and I was excited for the remake until I found out that Haneke had essentially made the SAME EXACT movie. Now I feel no need to see it because I’ve already seen it basically.

  8. C’mon, now. Worse than I Spit On Your Grave? I doubt that. I heard most of the really horrible stuff happens off-screen. Are you saying that the horrible visions the movie conjures in your head are worse than anything actually on-screen? Because I don’t think Naomi Watts is going to get graphically gang-raped on camera like Camille Keaton.

  9. I found it ironic that the trailer for this film was an homage the A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’S trailer seeing as how Haneke thinks Kubrick glorified the violence in that film.
    I constantly go back and forth on that issue myself. Everyone always talked about how disturbing it was when I was a kid…so then I saw it as a kid…and kind of liked watching Alex (of course I found his acts horrible) and began singing SINGING IN THE RAIN. What does that mean?

  10. The original “Funny Games” is right up there with Pasolini’s “Salo” as one of the most disturbing and upsetting movies ever made. I had trouble sleeping for around a week after seeing “FG”; about 15 minutes into it, a noose-like tightening took hold of my guts, and by the end of the film, it felt like my stomach was going to bottom out.
    I’m usually pretty cast iron when it comes to violent content in films, but really – nothing can prepare you for this.

  11. The original gave me a headache that lasted 3 hours but it was compelling.
    See no reason why the guy had to remake it. Pointless.

  12. Robbery, worse than Salo? It’s much different and far less graphic. I found Funny Games extremely hard to watch, but Haneke is constantly reminding you that you’re just watching a movie, which kind of takes some of the tension out of it. I think Salo and I Spit on Your Grave and Cannibal Holocaust are all more difficult to sit through…which also has something to do with the fact that I don’t think they’re very good movies.

  13. wells– i’m going to side with guy on this one… i’m glad i saw the original first because not being at all familiar with the actors kept me one level further away from the light….there was not the distraction of being aware of roth, watts, pitt and corbett…it seemed to make it all the more horrifying…..
    really looking forward to reading your other takes on this in sunday’s posts….spoil away!

  14. Spoiler….
    Spoiler…
    Spoiler. Spoiler. Spoiler. I didn’t realize until the movie was over that all the violence happened off-screen. It was goddamn disturbing. Abbey Normal, if you’re reading this, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  15. I think the majority of your readers would be happy to be spoiled on this or any film as long as its done below the jump with a main page warning that the particulars will be gone into further into the article. We enjoy your take on what you see, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We just want to know what we’re getting ourselves into before we’re knee deep in spoiler territory.
    And no, I don’t think mentioning spoilers will be coming up in future posts really counts because not everyone can read you daily and no one reads posts from the bottom up.
    On Funny Games, I can’t wait. I love violence in films when there is a point to the mayham. Even if that point is simply that you shouldn’t be enjoying the violence we’re being shown.

  16. I haven’t seen this movie, so this comment may not be applicable, but whenever a filmmaker sets out to show how terribly wrong violence is, he/she almost always ends up glorifying and/or glamorizing it.

  17. Noah – certainly different, and “FG” is of course far, FAR less graphic than “Salo” (which is downright snuff-like in its realistic portrayal of torture), but both disturbed me in a way no other film has.

  18. “when I first envisioned Funny Games in the middle of the ’90s, it was my intention to have an American audience watch this movie. It is a reaction to a certain American cinema, its violence, its naivete…the way American cinema toys with human beings” and the way some of them make “violence consumable.”
    This of course presumes that American are only guilty of this “naivete”…
    *yawn*

  19. I watched the original in college, on a saturday night with a bunch of friends in their apartment. I had no idea what to expect… I had taped it off IFC simply because I had seen something about it in a film book and it looked fascinating. After we had watched it, my friends and I were all emotionally spent, and we sat there in silence for about a half an hour. We couldn’t talk or do anything else but sit and smoke cigarettes. It just ruined us. Not exactly a Saturday night movie.
    It’s an utterly disturbing movie, and there is one scene that plays out for an entire mag of film, and it’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen and it’s been indelibly etched into my mind.
    **SPOILER**
    Someone mentioned it earlier, but the “rewind” moment really doesn’t work at all. It’s a really, for lack of a better word, lame way for Haneke to get his point across. Aside from this moment, which almost takes you out of the film completely (I know that’s kind of the point, but it takes you out in a bad way), it’s a really fantastic film.
    I don’t know, however, if I’ll see the remake. At least not in the theaters. i remember seeing “The Piano Teacher” in the theater and it really pissed me off and I swore to never see another Haneke film again. But I was young and naive at that point.

  20. I’m pretty happy to have read so much about this movie that it’s basically “spoiled” for me (I wasn’t even aware of the original until a few months ago). I think I “get” it, and that means I actually don’t have to subject myself to seeing it, right? I promise that the next time I watch a DIE HARD or SCREAM movie I’ll feel a little bit chastized, okay?

  21. Has anyone around here seen IRREVERSIBLE?
    That movie was just as disturbing as the orginial FUNNY GAMES I think. Maybe even more.
    The curiousity inside of me will compel me to rent the new FUNNY GAMES to see the performances from Watts and Roth. But I found the original to be a totally unnerving movie watching experience.

  22. I thought of the SALO comparison as well. This sounds like it has a similar message, although SALO accomplished it in a visually clever way at the end that did not involve the main character’s speaking directly to the audience.
    Anyway, I didn’t enjoy SALO at all, and it’s not because I’m a desensitized prurient (or – the converse – a prude). It was just so relentless that it became almost comical (perhaps intended and another slam on the audience), and I thought the message was almost a tautology. You’re chastising me for eating up this culture of violence, but you’re doing it by making a ridiculously over-the-top violent movie? It just seems too meta to carry any weight. And what if I’m not even enjoying the movie (as I didn’t enjoy Salo)? Doesn’t that diminish the weight as well?
    I sat down to watch the movie, yes. That goes without saying. Making that fact the thrust of the film seems redundant.
    That all said…yeah, I’m curious and morbid enough to check this out.

  23. Irreversible is a masterpiece.
    In Roger Ebert’s great review, he points out that if the film was chronological, it would be pornographic. In its reverse form, it’s tragic.

  24. Following up on K. Bowen’s note, I have no desire to watch a young boy tortured for two hours, and I have no desire to see that boy watch his parents get tortured either.
    Maybe it’s because I have two young sons, but if that makes me a film wuss, so be it.

  25. My reactions upon watching the original were twofold; as a movie designed merely to turn the screws, it was certainly well done, but as a “statement,” it was little more than finger-wagging – “Oh, you kids, with your rock-n-roll, and your watching violent movies and playing violent videogames, you’re so desensitized against violence!” And I agree with those who say Haneke’s attempt to implicate us is pretty heavy-handed.
    I can’t believe I’m calling IRREVERSIBLE subtle in comparison to anything, but its attempt to implicate us in the violence – which is even more stomach-churning – feels more honest and less like its scolding the audience than FG does.

  26. Of course, those Americans most in need of this vital message about violence are the least likely to see this. Better Haneke could have remade STARSHIP TROOPERS…

  27. I find the entire idea of this movie – “made specifically for american audiences” – annoyingly pretentious and condescending. What does he think, the Transformers crowd is going to come out in droves the way they didn’t when his original came out? It’s going to reach a small margin more than the first one did, if that. But Jebus, would anybody whose an Irreversible fan, as I am, really want to spend two hours with an American remake because the filmmaker thought we desperately needed to be taught a lesson? Please.

  28. I find the entire idea of this movie – “made specifically for american audiences” – annoyingly pretentious and condescending. What does he think, the Transformers crowd is going to come out in droves the way they didn’t when his original came out? It’s going to reach a small margin more than the first one did, if that. But Jebus, would anybody whose an Irreversible fan, as I am, really want to spend two hours with an American remake because the filmmaker thought we desperately needed to be taught a lesson? Please.

  29. No question that Haneke has a bit of the Euro-smugness about him. But I think that he has earned the right to remake this film as a political statement for American audiences.
    It will probably fail to reach the desired audience. But if you are a filmmaker concerned with the dehumanizing effect of visual presentations of bloodlust — a theme that runs through a lot of Haneke’s work — and you have the opportunity to reach a broader audience with a powerful statement on this theme, why wouldn’t you do it?
    And if some theoretical American filmgoer is stupid enough to rush out and see Saw IV on its opening weekend and think Funny Games is worth $10 based on the trailer they saw — “lookee, it’s one of those funny home invasion pictures — then they get what’s coming to them.
    Of course, my fear is that those people end up seeing the movie and thinking it should have had more blood.

  30. Haneke isn’t being pretentious when he says this is specifically targeted to American sensibilities, it’s the exact opposite: He’s PANDERING. When you’re making films in Europe that have some element of societal critique to them, the way you get everyone on your side is to bill it as a critique of “AMERICAN” society. It’s just the way of things: Euros have been doing nationalism longer than anyone on the planet and brace at explicit criticism, but put the fig-leaf of the U.S. on and they feel more “freed up” to give ribbing to society they’d strongly object to if it was said to be going after THEIRS.
    No big thing, just how the game is played… Though it’s worth pointing out that his thesis doesn’t hold up to history: “fun movie violence,” which is the subject of the criticism in these two films, is not only hugely popular outside the U.S…. “we” didn’t even INVENT IT.
    Hitchcock provided the DNA for “slashers” with Psycho, but it was Italian ‘giallo’ imitators who thought to ratchet up the gore, set design and sexuality to the point where it’s just a formal exercise. Friday the 13th was re-importation of this European aesthetic. At the same moment in the late-80s/mid-90s that Scorsese was sand-blasting the romance off of the gangster genre the French were high on ‘Cinema du Look.” Hell, even the much-derrided “torture-porn” and “bullet-ballet” films it’s so fashionable to slam as fundamentally-American decadence are just imports from Japan and Hong Kong, respectively.

  31. Is there a double standard when Cronenberg does a social commentary with AHOV, and it’s ok, but Haneke does it, and he’s anti-American?

  32. Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Eli Roth, Haneke has actually killed a living creature on camera for one of his “films,” THE TIME OF THE WOLF. If he wants to start scolding American directors (I guess T. Scott gets a pass) for their violent fictions, he better be prepared to get scolded for his violent reality.

  33. All the “torture porn” business is misleading, I think, given that we were still watching Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer when the original came out…Haneke’s bugbear isn’t specific films or even a specific genre but a mode of storytelling which identifies the audience with ordained Good Guys who (eventually) visit retribution upon the ordained Bad Guys and prompt the audience to cheer behavior that’s considered (at the very least) problematic by almost any ethical standard. (I don’t think Funny Games is saying that killing an intruder in your home is inherently reprehensible — Haneke is obviously not a pacifist — but the implicit celebration of it, and the way the audience can be browbeaten into going along, is clearly the major preoccupation.)

    And Haneke, for whatever it’s worth, identifies this narrative mode with Hollywood (as an extension of pre-20th century storytelling, not as something Hollywood invented out of thin air) and argues that postwar European cinema (he doesn’t claim to know anything about non-Western cinema) has offered more space for other forms, whereas Hollywood tends to push them to the margins. In any event I don’t think it’s necessary to accept Haneke’s identification of this kind of storytelling with Hollywood to derive something from what he’s doing.

  34. I don’t want to know the ending. But is there any sense of satisfaction to it that makes it worth the endurance test, or will every rational person be wanting to shout “Fuck you” at the screen?

  35. This guy has posted his personal ad to a celebrities dating site for several months. That site called ” wealthydater. com”. I just visited his profile page yesterday seems he is a certified millionaire there.

  36. I don’t want to know the ending. But is there any sense of satisfaction to it that makes it worth the endurance test, or will every rational person be wanting to shout “Fuck you” at the screen?

    There’s no closure (at least not of the type that anyone would derive “satisfaction” from), no catharsis, and “fuck you” is pretty much what it’s intended to elicit. Haneke said (speaking of the original, but I assume it applies here) that he has no problem if people want to walk out midway through the movie, so that should be a big red flag right there.

  37. Knowing little about Funny Games beyond what I’ve been reading here (have seen the trailer too), it strikes me that the precedent for this that may be most apt for comparison is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Hugely controversial not only due to the lurid and unsettling subject matter, but because it implicates the audience in taking some kind of voyeuristic pleasure in the proceedings. Powell was raked over the coals for suggesting that moviegoers generally take a perverse pleasure in vicariously viewing violent acts onscreen – be they committed by either the heroes or villains – without consequence to their own lives.
    Am I way off here?

  38. The fact that Hanecke remakes this particular movie for US audiences is what is importat to note. It’s a clue of sorts in case you are wondering about the movie in terms of what it means or why make it.
    When I saw the original I thought I had been violated yet I could not condemn Hanecke as I saw he had a point. His idea that we should not so gleefully consume violence in media or that if we do we should consider the effects is worthy of notice. After 9/11 and the beheadings, rendition, torture, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, it seems like this reminder to us is as important as ever.
    We accept violence on our behalf as long as it is neatly tucked away, out of sight. When a movie comes out like this that hits you in between the eyes and makes you guilty of indulging in violence, we scream bloody murder and condemn the picture – which is not meant to be disposable entertainment.
    Consider the message.

  39. “Wells to GuyQuenneville: What do you mean? It’s the same film. What possible difference could this make? It simply doesn’t have subtitles and has different actors.”
    Does that mean you endorse people watching Van Sant’s Psycho instead of Hitchcock’s, Jeff?

  40. I can’t believe the number of infants that populate this sight. Boo hoo, Haneke has an opinion that challenges me. Boo hoo, Downey Jr. is playing a black guy. My grandmother would refuse to hang out with you sissies.

  41. MarkVH, you are not way off at all, but the difference between PEEPING TOM and FUNNY GAMES is the former doesn’t hit you over the head in implicating the viewer.

  42. I completely agree p. Vice. Either Wells is exploring new levels of sophisticated satire or he just made one of the most ignorant comments I’ve ever read.Jesus Christ.”What possible difference could this make”.
    Did you seriously ask this question?Maybe to see the original impetus, the director’s vision in it’s first, unique form.
    The fact that Jeff can’t see that he is exactly the kind of American Haneke is pandering to, is further proof of his ignorance.
    I used to come to this site for what I perceived to be an informed, unique and passionate take on all film, in a film blogger’s world which elevates the inanity of the soundbite.Now I’m just trawling through a series of politically biased threads and watching Mr. Wells make ridiculous statements like the above.It’s be sad if it weren’t so bloody annoying.
    Whatever happened to Jeffrey Wells?

  43. NEWS FLASH TO P VICE & CALREIGH: Pyscho was remade by Gus Vant Sant in a more or less shot for shot remake – but it is not the same (see masturbation, shower scene).
    Hanecke remade this film blocked entirely the same as the first – the differences being on performance of the different actors but with the general content – text and subtext – intact.
    I think the impetus of the remake is entirely social/political from the artist’s perspective

  44. Sorry, what point are you making again?
    My point is, Mr. Wells dismissed watching the original ‘Funny Games’ out of hand, based on the fact that Haneke’s U.S. remake is exactly the same. Whether it’s a shot for shot for remake or entirely different is not the point.And I agree with you!The filmmaker’s reasons for reshooting the film are entirely social and political.But all the more reason for seeing the original work!I’m not a purist,I’m just someone who respects auteur filmmaking.
    As for Van Sant’s ‘Psycho’, the less said the better.

  45. Having watched the trailer and read the comments here and on the IMDB forums, it appears the entire point of this film is to convince people to not watch films like this. I think I’ll skip the lesson and just go to the desired end-result of not watching the film.

  46. Having seen the original in the last 3 months or so, (because i own it), I can safely predict that nothing could make me see in the theater. I have a very strong stomach, and I couldn’t sit through it again. It’s not pointless and it’s not disgusting like a slasher-movie, but it is disturbing. And it is an ad for gun ownership.

  47. What a poor attempt at intellectualizing violence on film. Without an ounce of creative style, this film is really just for feeding an audience another 90 minutes (or whatever) of violence. I think Heneke has overlooked the fact that there are plenty of other films like SAW and HOSTEL and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (the new one) that successfully drag their audience through nerve-racking, anxiety ridden human death and destruction. If this film is actually pretending to be an intellectual slasher film, then it really should be called THE EMPORERS NEW CLOTHES. Beyond the cool, flashy (yet not very original) opening credits, there is nothing but the completely predictable menacing of human beings. If you’d like a real introspect on human evil and general nauseating ugliness towards life, see Gasper Noe’s IRREVERSABLE or Virginie Despentes’ BAISE MOI (RAPE ME). At least you’ll have some interesting conversation afterwards and not just a blank nausious feeling in your gut.

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