Benny’s Video (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★
Benny (Arno Frisch) loves to spend time in his room and watch videos. The most recent video that he takes great interest in, to the point of obsession, is the one he recorded while he and his family visited a farm. It shows a butcher taking a gun and shooting a pig in the head. Once the dead pig is dragged off the frame, Benny rewinds the tape to watch it again. And again. In slow motion.
“Benny’s Video,” written and directed by Michael Haneke, is able to look at evil, in the form of a boy’s lust for violence, and explore it fearlessly, without apology. We see what Benny sees, experience what he experiences, so in a way, for a time, we are him.
When his parents (Ulrich Mühe, Angela Winkler) are away one weekend, Benny notices a girl (Ingrid Stassner) outside of his favorite video rental place. He invites her to come over and ends up killing her. The lack of score is immediately noticeable. In most movies with sudden outbursts of violence, music is used to make our hearts a little bit faster, to suggest that that we have seen is terrible and it should have, and will most likely have, consequences. But not here. The lack of score allows us to question how we feel about what we have just witnessed.
There is an element of horror in it. Most of us will feel bad or shocked with the events that happen in the picture. But consider that there are a select few with personality disorders who will not be affected by the images. It isn’t that they choose not to feel. They are born that way, perhaps like Benny. With Haneke’s assured direction, he is able to create that division without sacrificing the implications and difficult questions.
Benny’s actions are curious and frightening. After he kills the girl, he goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, and eats yogurt. I imagine that if I had killed someone, accidentally or not, I am not sure dealing with hunger would be at the top of my to-do list. Thoughts about possibly getting caught would run around my brain. I would probably take a second to gather myself and plan my next course of action.
Not Benny. After eating, he tries to clean up the puddle of blood, using a small rag, so slowly to the point where it seems like he is either enjoying it or does not care. When he notices blood on his torso, he wipes it all over his chest and stomach as if to relish it. Although disturbing, I could not take my eyes off the screen. I felt like I was being dared to keep watching, to question how much more I could handle.
And then there is the parents’ reaction when they find out that their son has committed a heinous crime. Again, the material is rich with implications. Perhaps Benny is not born with a chemical imbalance. Perhaps it has something more to do with who raised him and how he was raised. The writer-director is careful not to give us direct answers.
Though some may claim otherwise, “Benny’s Video” is not created for mere shock value or to encourage controversy. It has something to say about two things: our relationship with violence as a society and what violence means to us personally, when no one is looking at us and judging. It is not just about what we do, it is also about what we choose not to do.