AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


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THE WOMEN FILM CRITICS CIRCLE TENTH ANNIVERSARY AWARDS CEREMONY 2014 BROADCAST

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3/12/08

Funny Games: A Different View

By Prairie Miller

With the cult of cruelty wallpapering the mass media more than ever before, and everything from murders, wars and celebrity breakdowns as lowbrow spectator sport entertainment, it was only a matter of time before the cinema of sadism would seek a new, virtually untapped market among the egghead arthouse crowd. And now that German born writer/director Michael Haneke and his warped imagination have ventured into that virgin territory with Funny Games US, the remake, the stampede is on. Or so it would seem.

Film critics, whom one would imagine would know better, have apparently lost their minds over this movie at the moment. Or at least hastily set aside any sense of professionalism and even moral decency, as they've shown up at preview press screenings for Funny Games in droves, with lines snaking around the block, to partake with great gusto and hearty cheerful enthusiasm, in the ambulance-chasing style morbid pleasures of observing a family, however fictional, being tortured nonstop on the screen for two hours.

Haneke decided to remake his original Funny Games, which came out in 1997, for reasons which are unclear, considering that this production remains nearly intact. Except for a new cast of characters, relocation of the setting from Germany to Southampton, Long Island, and a notably passive male head of household victim and contrasting take charge, more aggressive housewife. The director has mentioned in interviews that he had really intended his first film to be made about America, because of the greater inclination of US movies to revel in violence as entertainment.

As Funny Games begins, the affluent Farber Family, George (Tim Roth) and Ann (Naomi Watts) are headed by car to their remote palatial vacation home with their young son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart). While father and son tidy up the family fishing boat at their private dock, Mom makes preparations for a dinner that night with visiting neighbors.

Ann's kitchen duties are suddenly interrupted by the appearance at the door of an odd preppie young man dressed in a golfing outfit and white sports gloves, and with impeccable formal etiquette. Peter (Brady Corbet) asks to borrow four eggs at the request of a neighbor he claims to be visiting, then proceeds to drop and break the eggs, and ask for four more. Soon Peter is joined out of nowhere by his identically attired and likewise strangely verbally polite pal, Paul (Michael Pitt).

When the peculiar pair becomes increasingly demanding and refuses to leave, a confrontation with the couple ordering them to do so leads to an ugly hostage situation, and escalating degradation, violence and psychological torture for this unfortunate family. And the two patrician young men never lose their soft-spoken cool, while casually applying the most despicable forms of suffering and humiliation to these random, doomed victims.

The emphasis is clearly on torture for sport, given the athletic attire of these elite thugs, and their favored wielding of golf clubs as potential deadly weapons. And their stated intentions that the rules of the 'funny games' in progress consist of whether or not the family members can prevail and avoid death at their hands, by managing to survive until morning.

There's also the implied intended collusion of the audience, devised by a mischievous filmmaker not without his own culpability in this extended atrocity, in a kind of depraved spectator sport. And sorry to say, the assembled film critic viewers at the screening I attended, appeared to themselves be taken agreeable hostage with pleasure and even laughter, for the ride. Will the real monster stand up, please.

This sort of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too indulgence in torture porn, however arty, while pretentiously and simultaneously implying a vague critique of the proceedings, is nearly as repulsive and pointless as anything observed on the screen. Is Haneke suggesting deadly home invasion with its initial, deceptively gracious diplomatic overtures, as symbolic of imperialism? If so, there's not much merit to that premise, as the perpetrators and victims alike are all upper class. Perhaps the most striking irony at work here, is that the wealthy have devised all sorts of technical measures and gadgetry like elaborate electronic gated communities to protect their interests, but in doing so may also be trapping themselves within, in a crisis. Well, so what.

The idea itself for Funny Games, though, is not necessarily far fetched. The most notorious patrician killing spree on record, that of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. who kidnapped and murdered a child in the early 1920s simply for thrills, subsequently inspired two movies, Compulsion (1959) and Swoon (1992). But Funny Games sheds no new light in this arena on either the complexity of pathological human relations, or psychological depravity.

Hopefully Funny Games is not indicative of a new trend where the arthouse crowd gets their own stylistically upgraded B slasher fare too. That ominous cruelty-is-cool, polite homicide-is-hip mentality is nothing more than a new low in the movie world.

Warner Independent Pictures
Rate R

Prairie Miller

3 comments:

  1. Ms. Miller:

    I just wanted to let you know that I read your review for the movie “Funny Games” and I feel that you were able to express very succinctly the discomfort that our society’s eager acceptance of these ‘torture porn’ movies makes me feel. I too am disturbed that people are able to gain enjoyment from wallowing in the suffering of others, and it’s great to hear a sane voice stand out and make a comment on the fact that people are doing just that. This all reminds me of the use of Michael Madsen’s character in Reservoir Dogs. I enjoyed the movie, although the torture scene there hit a nerve with me (and still brings on a wave of nausea, thinking about it [the mind state behind an enjoyment of sadism]), I understood that was a part of the character, and was put there to show the true nature of that character. It didn’t detract from what I consider to be a well made story. But that a movie focused almost entirely on that aspect of depravity is well received, I feel that it is indicative of the sickness of our culture in general. I didn’t see “Funny Games”, or Tarantino’s “Death Proof”, nor will I; but I have read about them, and know the plots, and continue to cringe each time one of these movies becomes a box office hit.

    Wow, I didn’t mean to go on like that, I just wanted to thank you for expressing your feelings in your review, because I agree with them. (I guess that’s pretty lame, now that I think about it, since many people feel as strongly in favor of these types movies, and can send emails to the people that gave the movie positive reviews because they agree with them, but there it is… I’m not a writer, after all).

    Rick

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  2. Good day to you, my name is Jamaal. I was watching the Showtime hit TV show "Dexter" that they're running on CBS earlier tonight, and was a little taken a back that they would be showing some of the things on "regular" TV, regardless of the hour. Having read the book, I was familiar with some of the places certain plot lines were headed and half heartedly watched wondering how they would let it play out and BAM they just went with it, no brakes...Now, with that withstanding, no sooner than I said quote: "how far will we go" the commercial for "Funny Games" came on and I just about lost it!

    It was no more than a 60 second promo, highly stylized, artfully looking, but just images of just latent disturbing violence, just utter violence, inter spliced with praises of "Brilliant" "Masterfully Chilling", "...so and so so (director) has out done himself". What the heck, what the heck?!?!?!? So, because, maybe, perhaps, by some odd chance, I missed it, maybe it is indeed about something else and the ads just show the parts that will sell. So I google the movie and, no, the movie is about killing. Blatant, random people selection killing? I found your review to be one of the few that said the movie was disturbing, if you would be so kind as to give me any further insight or if you a like a more, if there is, review of the film. I have two younger sisters, 13 and 11, one of which is going in to high school, the other middle next year. I try to make it a point to keep up with as much as her friends and other kids might just be watching and having to grow up seeing. Not to block it, but just to be prepared, and somewhat educated on what kids and adults are watching, so that when school shootings happen, It's not such a shock, the signs are here. I also write as a performance poet here in the area, and like to sometimes share things like this with my audiences, so that people are better educated as well as to the actual world we live in.

    Feel free to email me at your leisure, Or if perhaps you are too busy, that is understood. I thoroughly enjoyed your article.

    Jamaal

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  3. Thank you for the appropriately morally outraged film review. I write for DVDTalk.com, and increasingly, I'm beginning to wonder where, exactly, the outrage is for these increasingly nihilistic exercises in snuff torture.

    Excellent review.

    Best regards,

    Paul Mavis
    DVDTalk.com

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