Funny Games (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★
To decide to watch “Funny Games,” written and directed by Michael Haneke, is to subject oneself to an experience—the kind that is horrific, darkly comic, infuriating, humiliating, numbing, increasingly hopeless, but one that is unforgettable. It is not a study of violence—although violent things happen on screen—but how much we can tolerate by watching a family (Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Stefan Clapczynski) get tortured by two young men (Arno Frisch, Frank Giering) in a lakeside vacation house.
The picture is directed with confidence and precision. Haneke has a way of capturing small but exact emotions by moving the camera just so or placing it at a specific angle. He understands that by moving the camera too much or by making too many cuts, he risks taking the viewer out of the experience. Therefore, he establishes a hypnotic, rhythmic flow—it seems as though not much happens at first but one cannot help but stare at the screen in tense anticipation.
Notice that the lack of score and the use of soundtrack is minimal, only utilized before and after the credits (and once during a scene involving a rifle). This is because in most movies, music is a tool to guide thoughts and emotions. Here, the writer-director wishes not to lead the audience. It is up to us to check in and evaluate how we feel about a situation. Are we entertained? Sickened by the images? Wondering what point the film wishes to make? Apathetic? Bored? Asking when the movie is finally going to be over so one can get on with one’s chores?
Having seen the picture for first time when I was fifteen or sixteen, more than decade ago, I remember feeling overcome with anger once the end credits started rolling. Perhaps it was because I felt no satisfying resolution and that all of my expectations of a thriller were turned inside out and upside down. I felt robbed of my time and—although I was no stranger to movies that think outside the box, certainly violent ones—I wondered why Haneke felt the need to create such a piece of work.
Now, after gaining more experience in life and the movies, I think the answer is optimistic, that Haneke is coming from a place that loves the art form. I believe the answer is that he wants us to always take an active role in our relationship with films. In other words, if one feels that one’s time is being wasted or one’s intelligence is being insulted by a piece of work, take the initiative to get up, walk away, and do something else that feels more rewarding. One’s self is to blame if one continues to subject himself to an unpleasant experience. Every second is a decision.