Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What is the Line?

Michael Haneke's film Funny Games has been getting quite a bit of critical reaction.

I was reading Jim Emerson's blog over at Roger Ebert's site and this passage especially caught my attention:

Funny Games is an experiment along the lines of the famous Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments. In other words, the movie is also an incitement to action. To politely and willingly submit to the movie's terms of authority is to sheepishly put yourselves in the same position as the captives in the movie, to accept its premise that "You brought this on yourself."

Once you buy into that, even a little bit, then you are trapped. The film demands something more than that you just sit there and take it, especially if you reject what you're seeing. If you passively "give up," then both you and the movie have failed the conceptual challenge. Maybe this is taking Haneke too seriously, but if he really means what he says he's attempting to do, he might well claim that fitting, healthy responses to the film would involve forms of protest and civil disobedience that... well, you'll have to figure out where to draw the line yourself. For me, free speech demands more free speech.

Emphasis mine. Maybe it is taking Haneke too seriously, but it is a perfectly legitimate question based on Haneke's own parameters and thesis, no?

Emerson also lists many blurbs, (positive or negative,) from critics around the country.


Thomas Garvey said...

Of course an appropriate response to the movie could include protest and civil disobedience. That's precisely why so many critics are upset by it. It's not simply a conceptual broadside at American culture, but at their criticism as well.

I'm intrigued, however, by the claim by one critic that "Paul" is now the central character (I'm even more intrigued by Haneke's agreement with this point). That might be enough to get me into the theatre. I encountered the first version knowing of its horrific reputation, but completely ignorant of its meta-cinema frame. I still think that's probably the best way to see it - I was at first almost overwhelmed by the film's tension, then almost equally disturbed by its subtext. By the finale, I felt it was probably the most important film of the 90s. I still feel that way, and am more certain than ever that Haneke is our greatest living director.

But do I want to put myself through "Funny Games" again? Hmmmm . . . .

Art said...


I haven't seen the film, or the original.

When you say it is a broadside at their criticism, do you mean that Haneke's experiment literally sidesteps aesthetic criticism as practiced by most film critics?

Thomas Garvey said...

I mean that Haneke is opposed to the idea of evaluated sensation as the primary aesthetic criterion, which is the predominant mode of current film criticism, and really the only mode of mainstream film criticism. And Haneke has utter contempt for it. He is capable, one would guess from Funny Games, of producing quite a "thrill ride" of a movie if he wanted to. Instead he deconstructs one - or rather re-constructs one as a trap for its audience, in which our own bloodlust becomes a topic of moral inquiry, rather than the entertainment engine of the film. But then "the audience" is almost always a central Haneke concern; his best movies tend, at their deepest level, to be about their viewers, and deny us the voyeuristic distance on which our comfort as customers - and critics - depends.