Written by Owais Azam, Edited by Sophie Behan
On its surface, Funny Games seems like just another home-invasion thriller: expect characters to be tormented; expect them to be violated; expect anxiety; expect violence. And while Michael Haneke does provide his audience with all of these, he simultaneously deconstructs the sub-genre and studies its audience.
Predominantly, Funny Games interrogates media spectatorship, specifically an audience’s voyeuristic craving to consume and witness violence through their engagement with forms of entertainment, including film. Through its growing tension and pace, Funny Games seems as if it’s slowly and conventionally creeping towards a satisfying climax whereby the home invaders are finally punished, forced to face the same sense of suffering they enjoy imposing on their victims. Or, equally, a climax whereby the home invaders finally murder their victims and conclude this episode of their murderous rampage. But Haneke denies the spectator a climax at the end of this crescendo. When victim Ann (Naomi Watts) shoots home invader Peter (Brady Corbet) with a shotgun, finally blowing his insides out and sending him flying across the room, Paul (Michael Pitt) nonchalantly rewinds the moment, as if a film, and prevents her from doing it. It may be that this simply makes the characters more terrifying within the diegesis: “the home invaders can control time like Adam Sandler in Click, so they’re unstoppable!” And although a perfectly apt reaction, the film seems more layered than this. The home invaders dictate what happens, just like the consumers of film; if violence remains popular, violence will continue to be commercialised in entertainment, and the severity of violence depicted on screen will not only continue but worsen. By aligning the home invaders with the audience through their meta-recognition that they’re in a film, that they’re being watched by an audience, and through their ability to dictate their reality by pausing and rewinding it just as we are, Haneke questions who’s commissioning their actions; specifically, who’s commissioning violence on screen? Is it the audience or the artist? And furthermore, what does our thirst for violence say about us as consumers?
Haneke also exposes the tendency of an audience to ‘be on the side of’ the antagonist; he utilises long takes, shots, and sequences of the victims running, hiding, attempting to forge plans to escape, etc., all of which accumulate to an almost palpable and frustrating futility. He also rarely shows deaths on-screen but cuts away from them, one thematically invigorating example being Haneke’s cut to a blood splatter over a television, instead of showing the body of the character just murdered. He refuses to give viewers what they would expect and want to see. If you’re not thinking ‘I wish this family would find a way to kill these invaders’, you’re definitely thinking, ‘I wish these invaders would get on with it and finally torture and kill this family!’ and Haneke is acutely aware of this. He manipulates the violent genre by utilising filmic form to expose the sadistic tendencies of an audience in their spectatorship, denying his audience the violence and catharsis they desire to purposefully frustrate them and collaterally question their viewership, just as he denies them the death of Peter. Using filmic form and an inversion of genre tropes and expectations to expose his audience, Haneke inverts the spectacle and redirects focus onto the viewer’s relationship with the film, away from the film itself. Investigating this relationship, Haneke asks the question ‘what makes violence so attractive and entertaining to watch?’
Whether you agree with his sentiments or not, Haneke’s execution through which he prompts debates is undisputedly well crafted just as it is in Caché, and there’s no doubt that Michael Haneke is one of the most interesting filmmakers alive.