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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.67%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 30%
Total Crap: 3.33%

2 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Funny Games (1998)
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Robert Flaxman

"Hey, that wasn't funny at all!"
2 stars

Michael Haneke would like us to believe that his film Funny Games is satire of the boldest type. He would like us to believe that his two-pronged critique goes after both the conventions of violent Hollywood films - Haneke has said the film is partially a sort of rebuttal to Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers - and the medium of television. He would like us to believe all that - but I'm not biting. Haneke launches several attacks, but by far his most effective one is that which he directs at the viewer.

In Funny Games, two young men invade the house of a married couple and terrorize them and their young son. At its basest level, the film is exceedingly tough to watch. Although most of the violence takes place off-camera, Haneke lingers on the devastated reactions of those watching the violence, which actually may be more damaging in the end. It's like Haneke is trying to prove that Hollywood is a bunch of pikers for resorting to showing blood - but surely that can't be right. Isn't Haneke sending up the Hollywood culture of glorified violence?

Well, he is and he isn't. I can't say that Funny Games is completely without intelligence; Haneke has the more assertive of the two men, Paul, break the fourth wall a handful of times. He first does it while the wife is searching for the body of her dog, which he has killed; he turns to the camera and winks at us, as if to suggest that we are now in on a private joke. Later he speaks directly to the audience, asking if we are on the couple's side as if daring us not to be. And even later, Paul uses the television remote to rewind the film back past a certain event, in a sequence so meta-referential that it hardly makes sense at all.

Where's Haneke going with this angle? He appears to be poking fun at the people who would claim of Hollywood bloodfests that "It's just a movie." The implication in Funny Games is that you can be told it's just a movie all day long; sooner or later, a film goes over the line and that excuse just doesn't hold any water.

Of course, Haneke is subverting his own point by making the film so sadistic. He also severely overrates the way the Hollywood violence culture works. Few if any Hollywood films are as difficult to watch as Funny Games. He would have a point about how we should be bothered more by flying limbs in Hollywood films than by off-camera screams here if this film weren't so disturbingly intense and simultaneously nonchalant about its violence. It's possible to be guilty of the same things you're trying to attack - and by attacking Hollywood as too violent, Haneke leaves himself open for criticism here. Sure, some movies glorify violence more than they should, but not all of them do.

His critique of the way viewers respond to those films is also unfounded. In breaking the fourth wall, Haneke isn't just hitting out at the "just a movie" excuse. He's also accusing audiences of rooting for the villains. The suggestion in Funny Games is that the audience wants the killers to win, which is ludicrous. Presumably Haneke is thinking of the slasher genre, in which the killer characters are the only ones that actually become popular. He miscalculates, though - people root for the killers to a point because the victims are one-dimensional, oversexed teenagers, but no one actually expects or really wants the killer to survive the whole film. We expect a comeuppance. Funny Games doesn't present such an ending. This doesn't make it smarter or more in tune with its audience - it just makes it sicker.

The attack on television is even more baseless and presented absurdly. Paul and Peter refer to each other alternately as Tom and Jerry, or as Beavis and Butthead (they even deliver laughs that imitate Mike Judge's). Evidently this is supposed to prove that television had a hand in their sadism, but it just doesn't stick. Even if it's more generally trying to implicate mass culture as a whole, it doesn't fly. These guys didn't learn how to do this anywhere, least of all on TV - they're just a couple of crazy people who get off on torture and murder. Why Haneke thinks for a second that we're going to root for them is beyond me.

We root, quite naturally, for the family, and so things pretty much only get worse for us as the film goes along. Hollywood generally knows better than to kill innocent animals, but Haneke's thugs do that right off the bat, and later there is a very long single take (Haneke loves long takes) that just shows the husband and wife attempting to cope with what has happened, while nursing their injuries, when Peter and Paul have left the house for the time being.

Haneke certainly has technical skill, and the acting is good, but these things really just contribute to making the proceedings harder to watch. It's not that Haneke doesn't have a point about the violence of mass culture, American mass culture in particular, but he's really doing much more to add to it than to make a significant comment.

The real joke in Funny Games isn't on any of the targets it aims for, but on the audience who sits down to watch it not knowing what to expect. Haneke gets to bombard us with sadism for two hours and say he's making a statement. I'm making a statement too: don't see this one if you can avoid it.

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originally posted: 10/15/04 16:55:21
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User Comments

3/14/18 Louise Both reviews good. Horribly watchable film. 5 stars
5/07/12 Marty ok acting, so-so message. disjointed pace comes off clumsy, remote control thing stupid. 2 stars
2/07/12 daniel vermillion this is why i don't watch hollywood films. 5 stars
1/10/12 watcher disturbing but in a thoughtful way. He makes you own your decisions to watch. 5 stars
12/04/10 eleni papa Humans love sickness. An intelligent, funny film. What a surprise!! 5 stars
10/12/10 evan p This film is a conceptually rich and displays the power of the director 5 stars
6/03/07 Anthony Putland I saw this movie age 15 - jesus, what a morally destructive film 5 stars
10/23/05 mG my mum recommended it and I thought it was a great, very intense film, 5 stars
10/13/05 Agent Sands Thanks to Haneke's knack with pseudo-deepness, it's awhile B4 this clever thriller sinks in 4 stars
10/09/05 leblich shocking, distressed. A real test to recognize a psychopath 5 stars
6/23/05 Alexis Papachristos Almost Hitshkok 5 stars
1/06/05 malcolm suspense and dread were almost unbearable. but no way i could recommend this to anyone. 4 stars
12/09/04 Joey Mortensen A film that needs a closer look than just the first cynical impression. 5 stars
10/27/04 Paul Domokos It's hard to describe how scary this film is. Just see it! 5 stars
10/16/04 Kyle Fucking intense. 5 stars
10/16/04 Monster W. Kung Decent tension at times, but the smug attitude is irritating and the message moronic. 2 stars
10/15/04 Jack Sommersby Borderline amoral, unrevealing, and crassly exploitive. 1 stars
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  11-Mar-1998 (NR)
  DVD: 16-May-2006

  30-Oct-1998 (18)
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  13-Aug-1988 (R)

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