Funny Games: Who are you betting on?

Directed and Written by MICHAEL HANEKE
Starring MICHAEL PITT, NAOMI WATTS, TIM ROTH and BRADY CORBET

The first time Haneke makes it very clear that this is not your average horror/thriller is when a calm (and rather snobbish) game of guessing opera songs is suddenly interrupted by the most annoying heavy metal piece of music you can imagine. The loud, unbearable screams will have you reaching for volume control, maybe even wanting to stop watching the film. It will shock and make the average viewer uncomfortable from the start, with a feeling that standard rules of filmmaking might not apply to Funny Games. And he would be right.

The film is simply about two young men who take a family hostage for one night – or about a family being tortured by a couple of psychopaths, depending on how you look at it. It’s not unusual for the audience to get attached to the villain, even when they’re vicious murderers. This normally comes from them being three-dimensional, having a side of them that we can identify and empathise with, or even admire. We hope they succeed, or at least that don’t get caught just yet, even though we solemnly condemn their actions.

But Peter and Paul are different – there’s no grounds for sympathy, no sad back story to stir any compassion from the viewers. We know nothing about them apart from their fondness of killing for no other reason than entertainment – our entertainment. So the question is, are you entertained?


That’s why we’re playing cat in the bag. To preserve moral decency. – Paul

Slashers have been around for a while now, but the question of why people enjoy them and any other kind of death/torture on film remains an interesting and relevant question. On the subject of death and violence, Haneke himself has noted that we’re fascinated by it, even sometimes in real life, because we’re not directly concerned; like a kind of line that disables any emotional connection. In movies that line is what separates life from fiction, them from us – a matter explicitly referred in one of Funny Games’s final scenes.

So if there’s no link between the film’s fictional events and the reality of our lives, we’re not affected by it, not really. But with Paul breaking the fourth wall again and again, directly addressing us, we’re no longer outside looking in – we become part of the game. But more than choosing sides, we’re forced to say to ourselves why are we still watching this movie, and most importantly, why are we enjoying it so much?

Of course not everyone enjoyed it: for some its apparently gratuitous violence is unbearable or condemnable; while for others, Funny Games is not violent enough, it actually fell short of their expectations. Interesting, isn’t it?

I get it. Isn’t that enough? – George

Well the latter do have a point, at least when it comes to physical violence: all of it is shown off screen, except when it is committed against the perpetrators. — SPOILERS AHEAD — Even such an important scene as the kid being killed happens while we’re watching Paul prepare some sandwiches in the kitchen. He even seems to joke about it with Peter when asking Don’t you have any sense of timing?

Further ahead, in one of the film’s most famous scenes, Paul will literally rewind the movie he’s in to prevent Peter from being killed by Ann. In another scene he exclaims Bravo! after Ann begs to God to keep her safe through the night, in a way that we’d probably say it later about Naomi Watts’s performance. — IT’S SAFE AGAIN —

All these details make Funny Games both disturbing and genius, and have us feeling like we’re part of some kind of experiment. On my first watch I went through hell with this movie, and was mostly shocked by all these devices; many of its shots and lines stayed with me long after the credits rolled, forcing me to think about them every once in a while. They pushed me to see the film again, but it’s the nuanced acting and writing, and the unveiling of more brilliant details with every watch, that will keep me coming back to it.

And all of this just for a carton of eggs.

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5 Comments

  1. July 10, 2014 / 12:05 AM

    I watched Haneke’s earlier version of Funny Games in the movies and it totally creeped me out. From what I read this remake was an almost shot-by-shot remake with American actors, and I wonder if Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt did a good job.

    The Austrian/German actors were amazing and I think that this choice wasn’t very challenging: Michael Pitt is used to playing psycho/disturbed characters, while the actor that plays Paul (as you can see in that last picture) is super cute.

    Even though it’s a difficult watch, I really like challenging movies and because of that Funny Games is very interesting. Don’t plan to watch it again, though. xx

    • July 10, 2014 / 1:36 PM

      I think they did. It seems that Watts was requested by Haneke himself, and as you said, Pitt does have that experience. I believe they didn’t see the original, so it would be interesting to see if there are any variations in tone… I’ll watch it someday — like you, I’m not very keen on seeing it any time soon.

  2. TheVern
    August 31, 2014 / 2:31 PM

    Very good post, especially your thoughts about how we never see any violence on screen except when it’s done to the two boys. He does make a good case about why we enjoy seeing this type of violence on screen. I gave this flick to my parents one year, and they loved it.

    • August 31, 2014 / 3:02 PM

      Thanks, Vern. Yes, personally I’m drawn to this kind of film, and psycho movies, but I still don’t know why, exactly. It’s an interesting thing to study, though.

  3. Josh
    December 2, 2014 / 6:49 PM

    Great post! It’s films like these that make Haneke one of the most interesting directors around. I love both versions, and I was captivated by the sheer audacity of the film(s) from the beginning. I actually watched the remake first, but it didn’t spoil my view of either version. Though, I slightly prefer the original.

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