Funny Games (2008)
Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt
Release date: March 14, 2008
The Banality Of Evil Never Dies
“No. I care. This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.”
– David Sumner from Straw Dogs
“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.”
– Alex from A Clockwork Orange
“You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.”
– Peter from Funny Games (2008)
Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 German-language film, Funny Games, is a pointless exercise. Film stock is expensive. Making movies is very expensive. I realize that American audiences do not like to read subtitles when they go to the movies; perhaps, they should have dubbed the original film in English as they did with Wolfgang Peterson’s Das Boot. Remember when it was called The Boat and it played at a theater near you.
Having said this, my friend and fellow Geeks of Doom writer, Dr. Royce Clemens, wrote an excellent review of the original Funny Games. Whatever value I thought the original film had has been tarnished by this remake. It is as unimaginative as it is cruel. A shot-by-shot remake of the same film by the same director does no one any good. When George Sluizer remade his 1998 masterpiece, The Vanishing in 1993 for American audiences, it was a disaster. That year also saw an almost exact remake of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita called Point Of Return. John Badham directed the remake which could not touch the original film. The great tragedy of this ordeal is that Michael Haneke has made some very interesting films. His masterpiece is the French-language mystery thriller, Cache. It is a truly brilliant film. Many people consider the original Funny Games to be his best, but I will take Cache or Time Of The Wolf over it any day of the week. The Piano Teacher was all about Isabelle Huppert and the continuation of her wonderful, perverted iconography.
The story is still the same in the remake. A husband, wife, and their son go to their vacation home in a secluded lakeside community. As they settle in, two young men invade their home and hold them hostage and force them to play vicious games for their own pleasure. It is the exact same storyline. It is the exact same deconstruction of the way violence is portrayed in the media. I will say this: the violence is played off screen for the most part, but we do see the aftermath of the horrific acts. We do hear the noises as the evil occurs. It is a grueling experience for the audience and I am sure it was not easy for the actors either. The tactics and actions are the same in this version. A request for eggs from Peter opens up a Pandora’s Box of sadism, barbarism, and violence for the killers’ amusement.
“I get it,” Tim Roth‘s George tells one of his sadistic captors halfway through the film. I get it too, George. I got halfway through the original film as the late Ulrich Muhe’s Georg says the same thing to his captors. The films are interchangeable. Even the American locations are exact duplicates. The interior of George and Anna’s house is almost identical. You really are watching the same film twice with the exception of different actors, but this is not the same thing as watching different actors doing the same David Mamet play.
I will say this: the casting is the most intriguing aspect of the remake, if there is any. The irony of having Tim Roth play George is not lost on us and I am positive it is not lost on Haneke either. Twenty years ago, Tim Roth would have played Paul, one of the two sadistic captors as played by Michael Pitt. As a willing voyeur, I so very wanted Tim Roth to break out of character. I was begging for one of his characters from The Hit, Reservoir Dogs, Little Odessa, Pulp Fiction, or Rob Roy to fight back and show these thugs who was boss. A futile effort on my part even while watching the original version where Muhe’s character is suffering at their hands. Would you really mess with Muhe’s Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler from The Lives Of Others? No, I would not either. Naomi Watts plays George’s wife, Anna. I like Naomi Watts a lot. She is an executive producer on this film — I do not know what she was thinking. I can understand wanting to be on board such a project because it is a prestige project. We feel her and George’s humiliation as their middle-class existence has been violated. With Watts, I kept hoping King Kong would come crashing through seeing that his Ann Darrow was in trouble. Their son, Georgie, is played by Devon Gearhart. We worry about his fate as soon as we see him. Peter and Paul are playing a game that is anything but funny.
Funny Games plays on the worst violations — our privacy and security of our homes. Funny Games is more than a film about home invasions. The way that Haneke has developed the story it goes further than that. He harms his agenda in a way I did not even realize until watching the remake. He, like Brian De Palma, is obsessed with voyeurism. The voyeurism theme works much better in Cache than in Funny Games. The major problem is the fourth wall. Paul, played by Michael Pitt, keeps winking, smirking, and talking into the camera at various points throughout the film. The other captor, Peter, is played by Brady Corbet. Unlike, Paul, Peter has no idea he is in a film. As our captors and tormentors, they are as vile as they come in cinematic history. I am taking into account the vile characters from Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, The Last House On The Left, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, and either version of Cape Fear when I write the above. Michael and Paul are a far cry from Humphrey Bogart’s Glenn Griffin in The Desperate Hours or Mickey Rourke’s Michael Bosworth in the inferior remake. Griffin and Bosworth seem like gentle souls in retrospect. By having Paul communicate with us, Haneke is making us willing accomplices. We are free to leave and trust me, several people walked out of the theater where I saw it. By having his characters break the fourth wall, Haneke makes us complicit in the crimes that are going on. The film would work better without this device. It is as pretentious as the middle-class existence he is preaching against. It does something even worst and I only caught it while watching the remake. I feel Haneke empathizes with Peter and Paul. I really do believe this and it sickens me. The other irony is that Peter and Paul’s tactics remind me of the Hitler Youth and the Gestapo. There is a sickening insincerity to their tactics. They are polite while they are carrying out their monstrous deeds. The relationship in the remake between Peter and Paul reminded me of the relationship between the high school assassins in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant which was an interpretation of the 1999 Columbine High School killings. Michael Pitt plays this part too well. He is the meaning of pain in this film. He is far more psychotic here than his character in Murder By Numbers. Paul is the exact antithesis of Blake whom he played in Last Days or Matthew in The Dreamers.
Hope is a vacant ideal in Funny Games. There is no real turning the tables on the captors in this film. The one moment where it looks like Anna has the upper hand is a fraud. Haneke repeats his most miserable invention from the original film — one of the captors is able to use a television remote to rewind the event. It is a cop out. I know this is supposed to be a clever and artistic tactic, but trust me, it still does not work ten years later. It taints the film’s creed. These films have an unrelenting fatalism to them. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible was a much better take on media violence — a truly shocking and disturbing film that dared you to look at screen the whole time. At least in Straw Dogs, Dustin Hoffman was able to finally fight back. In both versions of Cape Fear, there is justice; there is hope. In A Clockwork Orange, when Alex finds himself back at the scene of the crime, there is a turning of the tables. In Funny Games, there is none of this. I know, that is the point and many will say I have missed the point. I know this and the original film are Mr. Haneke’s polemic on sticking it to the bourgeoisie. On another level, it is a way to show a raw depiction of violence in the media. The original film is as anti-Hollywood as you can get. In the remake, Haneke wanted to give American audiences a taste of what violence is really like and its real aftermath. Doing a remake seems to accomplish nothing new or profound. Are we supposed to be in awe of a filmmaker who thinks he is superior to his audience? This film does not respect its audience.
Here is a quote I discovered by Michael Haneke earlier: “A feature film is twenty-four lies per second.”
This may be a reversal of Jean Luc Godard’s “The cinema is truth, twenty-four frames per second.” To be very honest with you, this is a variation of Brian De Palma’s “The camera lies all the time; lies 24 times/second.”
Haneke makes it clear to us with his visual shenanigans that his film is truly a lie. The film is devoid of any hope, compassion, humor, or happiness. Funny Games may be true torture porn; a term coined by David Edelstein — a term I do not like. In the two versions of Funny Games, there is a level of hypocrisy on Haneke’s part. That hypocrisy extends to the film critics who rush to praise either version of the film, but who usually dismiss most horror films. Funny Games is a pointless remake. It is nothing more than a horror film disguised as an art film. After watching the original film several weeks ago, it was a form of torture watching the English version this weekend.