Anyone want to defend "Funny Games"?


Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown is among my all-time top ten favorite films. Cache and Time of the Wolf are favorites also. But I can’t bring myself to go see Funny Games when it’s getting reviews like these.

Anybody out there want to stand up and defend what Haneke’s trying to do with this film?

Here’s a new interview in Filmmaker, where he describes his intentions a bit. But it doesn’t convince me that I should subject myself to two hours of watching cruel torturers beating the pulp out of a family.

Filmmaker: You were talking before about how this film is about violence in American cinema and how you wanted it to reach an English-speaking audience. So what do you hope the impact will be? And what change do you hope might come about?

Haneke: A film can do nothing, but in the best case it can provoke so that some viewer makes his own thoughts about his own part in this international game of consuming violence, because it’s a big business. [laughs] So maybe one or other [person will ask], “What am I doing when I’m working for this? Why am I working for this?” That’s the top from the possibilities. [laughs] And I’m not a social worker. [laughs]

Filmmaker: So in an ideal world…

Haneke: I don’t believe in an ideal world. [laughs]

Filmmaker: I’ll rephrase that then. Would it be preferable for you to see a Hollywood cinema that is much more responsible in regards to violence?

Haneke: Of course. Cinema could be an artform, can be an artform… it’s very rare. If it is art, it is automatically responsible. A film has to be a dialogue, not a monologue — a dialogue to provoke in the viewer his own thoughts, his own feelings. And if a film is a dialogue then it’s a good film; if it’s not a dialogue, it’s a bad film. It’s very easy.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’ve seen the Austrian FUNNY GAMES twice — it’s #4 on my 1998 list, though it only moved up on a second retrospective viewing; my first viewing was my first exposure to Haneke and I agree with Mike Leary that the film needs contextualization in his whole body of work more than most films do.

    As for the American film, which I saw last weekend, again, my reaction is pretty similar to Mike’s … it’s redundant because FUNNY GAMES is the kind of “meta” stunt that there’s no point in repeating except in terms of getting an audience reaction (though I wonder what my opinion would be if I had never seen the original).

    I think there are some casting problems — Michael Pitt is not Arno Frisch (i.e., he didn’t star in BENNY’S VIDEO and I think that matters); he also is far too naturalistic when he delivers the camera asides that are *absolutely crucial* in fact the film’s whole raison d’etre. Because viewed as a film-on-its-own-terms rather than a thesis, the only morally acceptable response to FUNNY GAMES is to walk out. It’s deliberately repellent … denying all meaning, all narrative logic, all social criticism, all context to its violence (it mocks those very ideas), and even refusing the pornographic pleasures of violence itself since the “money shots” are all offscreen and seen only in their effects. The only real “pleasure” the films offer, though it’s a considerable one IMHO, is the spectacle of Haneke’s formal mastery and masochistically being under its control. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that so explicitly identifies its director and its audience with different onscreen characters and be so explicitly and radically different. But that’s when the film, either version, is viewed “meta.”

    And viewed in terms of audience reaction, which is the only reason to remake FUNNY GAMES, the film is pretty impotent because (1) it’s not playing to “the audience” (in general terms) who didn’t see the original, and (2) its point, and the only terms on which the film is morally defensible (i.e., as a meta-film or what Ebert calls a thesis) is too elusive for the multiplex.

  • gaith

    Watts: “We are so addicted to violence. We go to the cinema and we are numbed by someone’s brains hitting the wall, because that is a bad guy that just lost his brains so we feel it’s okay. In fact, not only do we feel it’s okay, we cheer it on because we are so pleased.”

    … As Mr. Overstreet pointed out in his review, “King Kong” had a lot of senseless violence, and blonde women being hurled in the air (presumably fatally) as a laugh moment. I don’t recall Watts condemning that film.

  • “The idea that we need to see this film in order to properly judge for ourselves is a fallacy.”

    Sorry about the confusion, but I never said that we needed the film to properly judge for *ourselves*. What I *did* say was that to judge the film fully and functionally we need to see the film. If all we needed was to judge movies, then why would we have movies? Someone who has seen Funny Games probably has a bit more authority on it than someone who has simply read spoilers about it online. Nothing can replace the actual viewing experience. If you don’t want to see it, of course that’s up to you, and if you want to judge whether or not it’s good that you see it, that’s also up to you. But analyzing all of a film’s merit or potential merit based just on things read online seems to be lacking an importance piece of the puzzle: the film itself. I’m not saying you should go out and see it: I fully agree with Jeffrey that this

    “film’s rewards will not be worth the cost for many viewers, but that it will have enough merit to speak meaningfully to some who do choose to see it.”

    And no, you don’t need to have killed someone to serve on a jury – but you’re judging the wrongdoing of that person based on a solid set of rules known as the justice system, and when you choose not to eat that gravy you’re basing it on nearly universal rules of cleanliness – but even then the line is blurred as poverty-stricken parts of the world could use that gravy to live for another day.

    This is film, however. Haneke is not actually killing anybody with his movie. He’s questioning the killing of people in movies, and his methods are, yes, disturbing, and possibly morally problematic, but this doesn’t preclude it from being a well-made, and maybe necessary, film.

    I would still like to hear what people have to say about movies like There Will Be Blood and No Country. A part of each of these movies is the suffering of the innocent and a questioning of why they are impacted by such brutal life all around them when they have basically been good people. Do you or I need to see these to know that it’s a tragedy that innocents get caught up in worlds of violence? Of course we don’t. That would be simply ridiculous. People basing all their morals and answers to life questions on either of these movies are probably a bit mentally unstable.

    So why *do* we watch them? What do we get from seeing Javier Bardem blast away with an air gun at some Mexican drug dealers? What makes this supposedly better than “Funny Games’ “sadism”? I’m not advocating that everybody watch Funny Games. It could actually do some mental harm if you’re not in a healthy state of mind or ready for what’s coming.

    And saying that watching a family get beat-up is a too simplistic description of the film. It’s like saying you don’t want to see No Country because it’s about “a chase where the bad guy kills people in the head graphically with an air gun.” What a poor description of such a fantastic film! It completely ignores everything about No Country that made it so great – you can make any film sound bad by just using a bare bones description like that.

  • mleary

    Argh. I forgot to toss “Cache” in there as one of his not-to-be-missed.

  • mleary

    “have enough respect for some of Haneke‚Äôs previous work that I don‚Äôt want to jump to any rash conclusions‚Ķ either for or against this film.”

    And granted, Haneke often spoke of the first version of “Funny Games” as a fairly radical example of his approach to filmmaking. An anology would be the time my wife and I visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona. It is set up in such a way that you walk through the museum seeing examples of his work in chronological order. These various periods are as following: nice, nice, wow, beautiful, AHHH Scary, nice, beautiful. And there is a continuity in his work of course, like Haneke the characteristics of his hand are always apparent. But there was that one period where Picasso seemed intent on being very clear about some of the anger and despair that had always informed his work. The first “Funny Games” is akin to this in Haneke’s history.

    Because this is the case, I think one can sit down thoughtfully with “Code Unknown” and “Time of the Wolf” (two of his easier, less confrontational films) and cull from them anything that you could possibly learn from yet another installment of the “Funny Games” nightmare. He has been really consistent in what he is trying to communicate in his films, such that at this point a “Funny Games” remake is superfluous. As unecessary as Van Sant’s “Psycho” remake.

    So I think a plausible answer to your question JO is that a few of Haneke’s films must be watched if you want to have a handle on contemporary cinema. If you spend some time reading Haneke interviews, in which he is always clear and engaging, and couple this with “Code Unknown” and “Time of the Wolf” viewings, you can just go ahead and skip “Funny Games.” The first one simply could not be “unwatched,” and I don’t want to duplicate that experience.

  • flatlandsfriar

    The idea that we need to see this film in order to properly judge for ourselves is a fallacy. I don’t need to eat the packet of powdered gravy in the parking lot to know it’s a bad idea. I don’t need to have killed someone in order to serve on a jury for someone accused of murder. For movies like this, I read in order to know enough about what’s in them to answer questions my students have or to discuss with them. In comparing the spoilers with other movies that I have seen, I’ve found their accounts are usually accurate.

    Jeffrey suggests it would not be good for his spirit right now to see this movie. If I read “Through a Screen Darkly” right, I doubt he would agree with me, but I would extend that statement. I don’t believe that spending the better part of an hour watching what I’m told is a very well-acted and well-filmed depiction of three people, including a child, suffering at the hands of psychopaths is *ever* good for *anyone’s* spirit.

  • It’s late, and I’ve got miles of editing to do before I sleep. I’ll jump in tomorrow.

    I will say that this is an important, necessary discussion, and thanks for taking the time to express your perspectives here.

    There are many violent films that I take seriously as meaningful works of art, and there are many violent films that I find merely empty exercises in excess or self-importance.

    I have enough respect for some of Haneke’s previous work that I don’t want to jump to any rash conclusions… either for or against this film.

    But I also know that it would not be good for my spirit right now to put myself through what sounds like a harrowing ordeal.

    I suspect that this film’s rewards will not be worth the cost for many viewers, but that it will have enough merit to speak meaningfully to some who do choose to see it. Beyond that, I cannot yet say.

    More tomorrow…

  • It’s odd to me that so many people feel free to comment on this film without even having seen it. By my count, the only two people on this twelve comment list who have seen it are me and Brett. Anyone out there who has seen it and is not just basing their commentary on their *ideas* about the movie? Did the last commentator see it?

    And besides, I think we should all, having seen the movie or not, give Mr. Haneke the benefit of the doubt and ask ourselves the question: how possible is it to rebuke this kind of material without, to an extent, engaging in it yourself? Not many people were criticizing No Country for Old Men, even though there was considerable gore in it. Why? Because it questioned the nature of violence and its effects on the human soul? The same as A History of Violence?

    I’m pretty sure I don’t need either of these movies to know the dangerous effects of violence on humankind, and to quote the commentator above, such information is “available to anyone with a conscience.” I also don’t need There Will Be Blood to know that greed is a powerful and parasitic force. All three of these films show a lot, and I emphasize a lot,more blood and gore than Funny Games. What gives them the right to be more “mindful” than the “mindless” funny games? I’m really curious to know people’s answers, even Jeffrey’s. What do you think of the discussion so far, Jeff?

  • flatlandsfriar

    Unless I’m mistaken, what actually takes place offscreen is what we’re used to labeling “violence,” i.e., stabbings, shootings and beatings.

    We still have [COMMENT EDITED TO DELETE SPOILERS ABOUT SCENES OF EXPLICIT AND OFFSCREEN DISTRESS AND VIOLENCE] The fact that Mr. Haneke stops before actually showing us the [SPOILER DELETED] means nothing (Yes, that’s a spoiler. No, I don’t care. But feel free, Jeffrey, to edit it out if you’d prefer).

    If Mr. Haneke’s point is that movie audiences accept too much mindless violence as long as it follows set tropes and offers satisfying dramatic conclusions, big frickin’ deal. Such information is available to anyone with a conscience, and his decision to wallow in the violence while wagging his finger at its consumers brings to mind the way NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer prosecuted prostitution operations while himself paying for sexual services.

  • Saying “exploitation of violence is bad” doesn’t get you anywhere at all. Does Haneke’s film get you somewhere? Well, that’s part of the question. And *you* may understand that by watching the news and other such things, but there are many out there who won’t. Some people may go to funny games thinking it’s another gleeful outing of watching terrible people do terrible things to good people, and receive a solid punch in the face. Maybe it’s them who need it.

    I just saw it today, and though I can’t say I exactly enjoyed it, it’s definitely thought-provoking, challenging, engaging, terrifying, unpleasant, and unique.

    And on a side note, you don’t really watch any senseless violence in the movie. As Brett said, most of the violence takes place offscreen.

  • faraway212

    Do we really need another reminder of how senseless violence is by watching senseless violence?

    I think we all agree on how disgusting and repulsive meaningless, exploitative violence is, and how Saw, Hostel, etc. are terrible influences on culture. I can understand that much from watching commentators on the news. I don’t need to subject myself to a film who’s sole point seems to be that violence is bad and the exploitation of it by the entertainment industry may be just as bad

    That can be said in one sentence, absolutely painlessly.

  • cptcasualt

    > He makes the case for a direct link between watching torture porn and being complacent [sic] to real torture, if not actually committing it.

    I had a peculiar reaction way back when I watched Terminator 2 as the two human-looking machines pummeled each other. I still don’t understand it. It was this: “What are we doing to the image of God?”

  • gomezeec

    And here I am. Yes, I’m willing to “defend” it, though I’m not sure why it’s become something in dire need of a defense. It’s much less offensive and certainly less violent than the typical “torture” (or even blockbuster action) film these days. I think the trailer for Funny Games immediately marked it as a “gone too far” type of film, what with its use of words like “wicked, savage, monstrous, brutal, evil…”
    But the trailer, like the film, is just Haneke manipulating the audience–daring us to be intrigued, interested, even allured by the film. Mid-way through, after a series of “breaking the fourth wall” direct-to-the-audience addresses, anyone can realize what is going on here. But it makes the film all the more effective I think, that we are called out as complicit in the exploitation happening on screen.
    I should note that this film is less violent than many of the “best films” of 2007 (There Will Be Blood, No Country), at least in terms of what you see. All but one scene of violence takes place offscreen, though you do hear things (gunshots, screams, etc). Haneke instead opts to show images of making sandwiches, NASCAR, and other banalities while the heinous bloodletting is occurring somewhere off camera. It’s a pretty keen observation by Haneke I think: that in cinema, death and torture and the worst kinds of suffering are just as “banal” as the most mundane activities (like making a sandwich). But “Funny Games,” is, in the end, probably too smart for its own good. I’m not sure–even with the obvious directedness toward the audience–people will “get” what Haneke is commenting on…
    All this to say: I do think “Funny Games” is worth seeing. Don’t let the trailer scare you away. This is not “Saw” or “Hostel” (films I cannot get through). If I hadn’t seen the 1997 version, I probably would have been scared away by the trailer too. That said, “Games” IS disturbing, but as commentators have already noted–since when is disturbing a bad thing?

  • aslanfrodo

    Brandon beat me to it, but Brett McCracken did put the film as in the “The Best of Now – Movies in theatres” at his blog. So, is Brett ready to “defend” it? Not sure. Did he appreciate it? Seemingly so. Brett, read this and jump in here, buddy!

  • I was repulsed after seeing the trailer for this film several months ago. I sort of see what Haneke is trying to accomplish here, but I think this was done much better and more thoughtfully by Cronenberg in A History of Violence. My advice would be to watch that film, and let this one die a quiet death.

  • Here are some quotes perused from Rotten Tomatoes:

    “The performances are outstanding across the board. The direction and writing are masterful.”
    -Peter Howell
    Toronto Star

    “All the things we hope from in a fright film with characters we recognize as very much like ourselves are toyed with.”
    -Lisa Kennedy
    Denver Post

    “While I would stop short of calling Funny Games brilliant, I think it’s forceful, unforgettable, and thought-provoking.”
    -James Berardinelli

    “Funny Games is about as hostile a jest as has ever been aimed at American audiences by a foreign director. The joke wouldn’t be half as galling were it not so expertly written and executed.”
    -Jan Stuart

    “Can a movie be gripping and repellent at the same time?”
    -Owen Gleiberman
    Entertainment Weekly

    “Meanwhile, Haneke is busy tossing off, quite effectively, the usual tricks of the horror/thriller trade ‚Äì like the disabled phone, the near-escape and, of course, the seeming death punctuated by a sudden resurrection.”
    -Rick Groen
    Globe and Mail

    And this just took me three or four minutes. It’s divided about halfway right down the line wherever you look, but one thing in common between everything: it’s disturbing. And last time I checked, disturbing is not a reason to not see a movie. If it is, then I guess I shouldn’t go see There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, or No Country for Old Men ever again. Why should I take reviewers for granted if there’s such division over its recommendation?

    Oh, and Brett McCracken recommends it.

  • puckspice

    I knew it was bad news when the New York Times thought it went too far…

  • flatlandsfriar

    Just read the spoiler at Not only is it impossible to defend Mr. Haneke, it’s impossible to defend anyone who *wants* to see this film.

    Since he’s 65, it’s probably already too late to hope he hasn’t reproduced.

  • All the reviews only make me want to see it more. It’s a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a long time, so I want to make my own judgment on it.

  • I’m glad Filmmaker noted each time Haneke laughed. In most interviews it wouldn’t be important, but there’s something telling when Haneke laughs after saying he doesn’t believe in an ideal world.