Our Two Cents: Funny Games
By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 17, 2008 2:55PM
Having seen the controversial new movie Funny Games over the weekend at the Landmark Century, we feel compelled to chime in. In case you haven't heard about it, it's provocateur Michael Haneke's nearly shot-for-shot English-language remake of his own 1997 film, which was in German. Naomi Watts and and Tim Roth play a well-to-do married couple just arriving at their summer home for a vacation, with their young son and beautiful sailboat in tow. Soon however their lives are invaded by two extremely polite young psychopaths (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett) who take them hostage, forcing them to play a series of pointless "games" as torture.
It may all sound like just another suspense thriller. But anyone who has seen the original knows that it's Haneke himself who's playing the "funny games" ... on us, the audience. He does this by subverting the clichés of the suspense thriller (helpless victims, brilliant and interesting killers, a remote location, etc.), showing us precisely what we do not want to see (including an agonizingly long sequence involving duct tape and a dead body) and refusing to show us what we're accustomed to seeing (almost all the gore is just offscreen).
Haneke's unapologetic experiment in random negative stimuli has caused Chicago's film critics to throw a hissy fit. Jim Emerson at rogerebert.com sneers, "...if you liked those pictures from Abu Ghraib, you'll love Funny Games!" Bill Stamets in New City says there's "no excuse to find it entertaining or to find it worth thinking about." But J.R. Jones at the Reader spews the ultimate putdown: "The closest antecedent for Haneke’s new Funny Games might be Gus Van Sant’s widely panned 1998 color remake of Psycho ... Yet even that project has more integrity than Haneke’s."
Our two cents: any movie that's causing this much bile to spew from the critics' pens is doing something right. Haneke's deliberately clinical handling of the sensationalistic setup, robbing us of any catharsis, and his godlike willingness to "change the rules" to suit his own purposes are calculated ways of driving us crazy by making us feel helpless. And by making us angry Haneke is trying to force us to examine the supposed "entertainment" value of loud, violent trash like The Hills Have Eyes and 28 Weeks Later. We admit that Funny Games isn't a feel-good movie. But sometimes walking out of a movie feeling pissed off is a lot more bracing and edifying.