For the sake of precision: I watched Michael Haneke’s 2007 Funny games, not Michael Haneke’s 1997 Funny games. It shouldn’t make much of a difference, since the former is a shot-by-shot remake of the latter, but it’s better to understand each other from the beginning. So I enjoyed the performances of Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, as well as those of the extremely evil Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet. And another thing: I’m afraid that I won’t be able to avoid spoilers this time, but I hope that you’ll forgive me since 21 years have passed since the original came out… if you haven’t seen it, do it and come back to read the review later!
What’s the plot of Funny games? The rich and beautiful Ann and George (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) go to their lake house to spend a couple of weeks with their little son Georgie and their equally rich and beautiful friends playing golf and do some sailing. When they arrive at their destination they notice that the couple of friends of the villa next door behaves in a strange way and is accompanied by a couple of elegant young men dressed in white, Paul and Peter. A few hours later one of the two comes to their house to ask for some eggs…
And soon we find out that the two are nothing but psychopaths who take the whole family hostage, after having slaughtered the dog with a golf club, and severely hurt George. The situation is very tense right from the beginning: the two speak in a calm and polite way, but they don’t seem to want money. It just seems that they want to have fun and bet that they’ll kill the three hostages by dawn. In a terrifying escalation, they first shoot little Georgie, then they kill George with a knife (and they also shoot him in the head just to be sure), and then they drown poor Ann in the lake. And finally, as if nothing had happened, they go asking for some eggs to some friends of the poor victims.
The film makes the viewer suffer. And Haneke achieves that with a steady direction and an almost non-existent soundtrack, except for a classical music piece at the beginning of the film brutally interrupted by a not-so-catchy Bonehead song that will also be used by one of the two psychopaths to scare Georgie during his escape attempt. The flawless script makes the viewer plunge into a state of incredible rage and impotence. From the very beginning, the torturers prove to be hateful, with their good manners so strongly contradicted by their actions, while the tortured are totally innocent victims and get brutalized for no reason at all.
But why is Haneke doing this? Judging by the interviews he gave around the release of the film, his intent was to make a film against violence that could arrive to the American public, a public accustomed to violence in everyday life as well as in cinema theaters. But Haneke’s violence is not the one that Hollywood normally shows: physical violence is never shown on screen. unlike torture porn movies like Hostel (2005), for example,
But above all, in Funny games there is no revenge violence, there are no cathartic moments. Hollywood movies accustomed us to wait for the moment in which the victims are able to rebel and take revenge. Well, that doesn’t happen here. In fact, it’s even worse: at one point, Ann manages to steal the torturers’ rifle and kill one of them (and here we see the violence, with blood and everything!). But the other one simply looks for a remote control, REWINDS THE FILM, and the second time prevents Ann from stealing the shotgun. Another (sadistic) game of the director is the use of useless (in terms of plot development) insert shots. For example, Haneke puts a lot of emphasis on a knife that happens to be on the boat where the two bring poor Ann at the end of the film before drowning her, shows us Ann trying to use that knife to free herself… only to get noticed by the two and be killed shortly afterwards.
The film is a clear condemnation of violence and of the violent society in which we live. Clearly far away from the torture porn genre, Funny games is perhaps closer to A clockwork orange (1971) by Stanley Kubrick, although it doesn’t contain the most obvious elements of social denunciation of the latter in which the system and those in command use violence (and the violent persons) for their personal purposes. Here violence is literally nonsensical: Paul and Peter are psychopaths, they are not motivated by their economic condition, by their origin… In fact Haneke plays with this lack of motivation, with Paul telling at least three different stories about the identity of Peter, a bit like the Nolan’s Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).
In short, Funny games is a great film. Powerful, evil, sadistic… a must-see for sure. Be aware that once you’ll be done with it, you’ll have an irresistible desire to take a shower and to reconsider the quality of the entire human race. Ciao!