10 May 2008

Funny Games

Are you bored of those slasher films in which annoying teenagers are victims like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer? Do you want to see 'normal' middle-class people being killed instead, not because they are loud and talk like American kids, but simply because they are just normal they should deserve to die? If you like this idea, I recommend you watch Funny Games. Directed by Michael Haneke in 1997, the film addresses the issues of bourgeois complacency and fragility -- complacency because they think that everybody should be like them, fragility because it's in fact so hard and difficult to uphold that facade of bourgeois perfection without realising that it's all just a game. Haneke did a perfect job in turning the whole thing around and surely making viewers feel ill at ease about their own bourgeois conditions.

The premise is simple: one family goes to their second home during a holiday and lets two guests in their house out of pure bourgeois courtesy. They are, however, unaware that these guests will invade their territories and play a series of violent games that lead to a tragedy. The invasion of these guests is significant: they are not robbers wanting to steal their money, but are purely there to take revenge on this family, simply because they are perfectly middle-class and seem to fit in so well with social rules. In fact, they are what the ideal family should be like: two loving parents, one pleasant boy, and a lovely dog. They seem to be well-off enough to have a second home and arrange to play golf with their neighbours. It's this complacent condition that is perhaps oppressive, especially as it sets a rule for other people who are 'different' to follow suit. Perhaps it's this reason why they should die ...

What is interesting about this film is that Haneke seems to be reticent in giving details of this family (who are they, what work does the father do, etc.) and the two guests. We don't know where they're from and what they say in the film should be taken with a pinch of salt. I guess these two guests function somehow like 'avenging angels' in the modern era who control our fate and serve as perpetrators of poetic justice. But what's chilling about all this violence is that the middle-class family deserves to be punished simply because they exist. The moral of this story is perhaps this: don't be too perfect because you just make people around you jealous and uncomfortable (as you set the rule where other people need to follow). Poetic justice has changed: it's not being good or evil in the traditional sense that counts, but being too perfect and becoming a stepford family are perhaps the evils of the twenty-first century.

The film uses surreal techniques at times (such as the actual rewinding to undo an event and the asides by one of the guests) to let us know that it's highly ironical and self-reflexive and this elevates the status of the two guests as 'God' or 'the director'. In this way, Funny Games is aware of its own status as a film and the audience is exposed as a group of conniving participant-cum-voyeurs, with whom one of the two guests occasionally talk. Of course it can't be denied that most of the viewers are quite likely to be middle-class and this film will function like a slap in the cheek of the audience themselves. Perhaps, when I come to think about it thoroughly, the whole film is one of Haneke's own funny games.

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