FUNNY GAMES, Michael Haneke, 2007

“Should we enjoy being manipulated?”

Michael Haneke first made Funny Games in 1997, in Austria, in the German language; he re-made it shot-for-shot in 2007, in America, in English.

As Stanley Cavell points out in The World Viewed, cinema is simultaneously a hiding place which absolves us from the moral responsibility that the outside world (the world outside the cinema theatre), engages us in, and the very place which informs our moral reasoning about that outside world. Cinema, in its symbolically voyeuristic darkened room (darkening the world outside and creating a new world inside to escape to), has primed audiences into accepting an idealistic totality that resolves its own problems.

This tension is at the heart of Funny Games. For Haneke, movies are preoccupied with hiding (their artifice, their technical manipulations), and wherever there is hiding, things must be held suspect. Thus, Haneke wants us to meet head-on the way we participate in the world that we view in the cinema theatre or on our TV screens. He does this in two specific ways. Firstly, he deploys a modernist reflexivity that allows the spectator an enhanced position of knowledge about the cinematic medium, and secondly, and far more abruptly, he takes a direct and aggressive approach towards the spectator, which attempts, as he so bluntly puts it to “rape the viewer into autonomy” – by confronting them directly with their own complicity in the illusion of cinematic production as an escapist entertainment.

Haneke draws on our familiarity with generic conventions in certain paradigmatic scenarios from suspense thrillers. Both the form and the content of the film play on this familiarity. By twisting those generic markers out of shape, Haneke provides a paradigm shift in that the expectations of the spectator become far more confused than they would be in the conventional stereotypes of any genre film. One of the ways in which Funny Games provokes an alternative emotional response to that arising from the use of generic conventions is by subverting the pleasure of thrill; by frustrating the moment of catharsis and replacing it with an aesthetic of consequence and a concomitant experience of discomfort, making the spectator aware of the suffering that results from the violence that the suspense thriller inevitably displays.

As a result of this discomfort not only is the spectator confronted with the realisation of his or her status as a voyeur, but also with a question that dominates ethical inquiry, and particularly Kantian ethics, “What ought I to do?” More specifically, in Funny Games the spectator finds themself watching scenes that prompt the question, “Ought I to be watching this?” In considering this, the spectator finds themself engaged in a process of moral deliberation.

Bash Khan




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