Crash Analysis: FUNNY GAMES (USA/France/UK/Austria/Germany/Italy, 2007)

Not Close Enough

Haneke’s shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film establishes the Farber family as funnygames1a trio of well-off Americans residing in a gated vacation house. They go about their normal business when a snotty, Eddie Haskell-esque kid (Michael Pitt) comes in and asks for eggs. Afterwards, the story tailspins into a hellish, tension-filled story of emotional and physical sadism where the duo works hard to take down the trinity of Father, Son, and mommy as our Holy Ghost.

*** BIG TIME SPOILER ALERT ***

The always stunning and more than capable Naomi Watts plays Ann Farber, with Tim Roth as her impotent husband, George, and Devon Gearheart delivers a stellar performance as their young son. Michael Pitt (of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH fame) with his still boyish looks and Brady Corbet – his sidekick in mayhem, malice and murder – portray ever-smiling serial killers.

On occasion Paul addresses the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall, which is extremely distracting, and makes what’s happening on screen less genuine because it interrupts the otherwise steady tension. Haneke may have done this simply to taunt the audience, to let us know without a doubt that we were incapable of reaching through the screen to help the family. However, by rewinding a crucial scene, Haneke deprives the family and audience of any victory over the situation and its villains. In effect, Haneke is telling us we simply must suffer the overall experience. Worst still, Paul tells the audience that he and his cohort must leave the family for a while to create dramatic tension so the movie can be given time to reach “feature length,” which proved to be extremely irritating. Near the end, Peter and Paul discuss the gray line between fiction and reality, which means Haneke poses the question: “Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?” Since studies show that watching violent films, cartoons, and video games, as well as listening to violent music, does not encourage violence, Haneke’s already answered his own pseudo-philosophical question. Either way, Peter and Paul are the disciples that bring us the message of violence, just as Peter and Paul brought Christianity to Rome.

Many of the scenes were long, but they added to the suspense and were far from boring. In some scenes that appear to be too dark, such as when George Junior is running and hiding in a neighbor’s home, we find ourselves looking through the abyss to see if Paul is catching up to him. George Junior could not see him and neither could the audience, until Haneke deemed it necessary, making this an excellent cinematic touch. There was only one lame setup (the knife falling into the boat) that was later used to taunt the audience with another avenue of false hope near story’s end.

With Haneke’s commentary on fiction/reality and violence in film/life, he also removes “the man of the house” or “captain” from the equation. After Peter breaks George’s leg with a golf club, Father Farber is left impotent and cannot save his son or his wife. When his wife prepares to leave the home in search of help after their son is killed, he says, “Please forgive me.” Afterwards, he is left with the chore of holding a hair dryer to a wet cell phone. Even here, he fails and can not get a call out to the police. As George was emasculated, so are the men in the audience, for we are also impotent and cannot intervene to save anyone. In effect, Haneke may be asking all males: As men, whom can we really save? I am not sure if he is asking us as men to stand up to violence in our lives, or if he wants men to relinquish old world ideas of masculinity, or if he’s simply taunting for taunting’s sake. From “Films as Catharsis,” Haneke does state that his movies “are intended … for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.” This means there may be no right answers except in the minds of those taking part in the discussion.

A couple of things are puzzling, however. Initially, the family seems to have little reaction to the young invaders. Fight or flight is virtually absent and they stand around in awe of the finely dressed young men. This may be because they are not used to violence and never expected anything to happen to them in their own home in such a well-established and wealthy lake community. They meet “the uncanny” and are left with an inactive, wide-eyed response, like deer in, well, you know. When leaving the house, Ann does not take a knife to defend herself, and she runs out onto the road where she is ultimately recaptured. Knowing the killers left in their SUV, which was the only vehicle, why did she not try the boat first or at least stay off the main road and run with the tree line?

Regarding the uncanny, Haneke has the camera following the Farbers around the house, focusing attention on what they own, from golf clubs to shoes, and gives us an inside look at their refrigerator. Though nothing horrific happens in this sequence, we are left with an unsettling feeling that what is normal and mundane will enter the realm of Freud’s uncanny. The inciting incident has to do with the dropping of eggs and the verbal altercation and attitudes that follow. Then, a golf club becomes a weapon to kill a dog and break a man’s leg. A small kitchen knife is used to torture. Moreover, the phone – the lifeline – is soaked, low on energy, and cannot be used to save the family. The two killers appear to be fine men, all in “good guy” white, ready for a tennis match; they smile often and are well spoken. Other than the shotgun, simple things we normally find innocuous are turned against the family – from inside their own home no less.

The actors, cinematographer Darius Khondji (for providing some off-kilter camera angles, which made it appear as if we were voyeurs), and unyielding tension made the grade. I was not impressed, however, with Paul playing to the audience, regardless of Haneke’s intentions, because this extracted us from that uncanny world he had fought so hard to create.

Most importantly, Haneke failed to deliver something new. But Haneke did deliver in creating elements of fear and horror for any person caught up in the illusion that home is a sanctuary.

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo from MoviePhone.)

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