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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Funny Games (2007, 1997)

Funny Games is a film about the way the media deal with violence. It is also a scathing analysis of how we, the audience, clamor for brutality while still expecting a happy ending. By the end of this piece of "torture porn," however, it is the audience that is taken hostage by the film—a film that leaves us with no possibility of redemption, justification or even an explanation for its contents.

Funny Games begins with lovely Ann (Naomi Watts), her devoted husband George (Tim Roth), and their twelve-year-old son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart), all driving to their summer home somewhere on the East Coast. They are just settling in when some “friends” of their neighbors, awkward Peter (Brady Corbet) and glib Paul (Michael Pitt) invite themselves over to borrow some eggs. The two young men begin to manipulate Ann and George with their polite yet creepy ways. Before long they turn violent and take the family hostage for no other reason than “entertainment.” Peter and Paul (who remind me of Alex and Dim in A Clockwork Orange) also refer to themselves as Beavis and Butt-head and Tom and Jerry. In this way they identify themselves as entertainment archetypes: a pair of mischief-makers packaged for mass consumption.

There is something you should know about the 2007 version of Funny Games: it is an exact replica of the original. This is not like Gus Van Sant’s perverse and artistically bankrupt “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho in which new subtexts and twists are added to the original story. No, with a few very negligable exceptions, the 2007 version of Funny Games is an exact replica, from the Mise-en-scène to the dialogue. Even the raucous thrash metal in the opening credits is exactly the same. This leads me to ask the question: why? Why remake one’s own film in the same exact way for an American audience? I believe it was made to address a pair of particularly American conceits: an obsession with torture and violence and the substitution of film entertainment for reality.

Normally such a film would immediately ally us with the family, the victims; the people who are being needlessly tortured. The film anticipates this and undercuts it by allowing Paul to break the “fourth wall” and communicate with the audience. Paul taunts us, asking us if we are betting that the family will survive. Since Paul speaks to us we naturally feel a stronger relationship with him—in fact we become co-conspirators in the torture. Later on in the film Paul states, “A film is reality. If you can see it it’s really happening.” This statement is the closest thing we get to a motivation for their actions. As consumers of mass media we have reached the point at which we cannot tell the difference between film and reality. The violence on television that we view for entertainment is the same violence that these two perpetrate….for their entertainment.


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