On Michael Haneke’s Funny Games US
By Enes Erbay | 01 June 2010
As a masterpiece in Haneke’s filmography, Funny Games US (2007) is a remake of the Funny Games (1997). This anti-thriller, like the others that precede it, is a critical enquiry of brutality and spectatorship, and undoubtedly it takes a sui generis place among other examples of the aesthetics of violence. The plot of the film is irritatingly simple: A rich American family of father, mother and son (with their dog) go on vacation to their lakeside villa. A well-groomed young man arrive clad in golf gear and asks to borrow some eggs. Then a second young man unexpectedly appears and the two proceed, without any purpose, to terrorise and then kill dog, son, father, and mother. It should absolutely be defined as an anti-thriller because there is neither a rescue sequence, nor a revenge scenario; there is even no happy ending to the story. The violence, on the other hand, is never really disclosed in the film, except the bloody death of Peter, but rather indicated in the soundtrack or recorded in the faces of the killers or of family members. Only the effects of violence on the victims are shown through close-ups and long shots, and with a slow tempo in montage and camera, which allows audience a distanced ‘thinking space’. The question that seems to be posed most often to Michael Haneke in many interviews is: “Do you enjoy disturbing the audience?” But how should we approach this terrifying style of the director? According to Wheatley, ‘An unpleasure calls attention to itself in a way that pleasure does not, it prompts the viewer to question what it is in the film that causes this feeling, and hence forces them to engage rationally with the image on screen. The film thereby employs spectatorial “unpleasure” as a device for mobilizing a tension between reason and emotion, creating a moment of “impact” for the viewer.'(1)
The physical environment of the scene that I have selected from Funny Games US to discuss in this article(2) — even the atmosphere of the whole film — and the elements in it are overly structured by an emphasis on ‘whiteness’: The living room, with its white walls, is furnished by various items in different tones of white — doors, cupboard, arm chairs, coffee table, frameworks of the windows, curtains, carpet, lampshade, tableaus hanged on the walls, (silver-coloured) television, eggs, and so forth. The purity of the atmosphere is also supported by some distinctive features of the characters: privileged race (white Western), upper class (classical Western music, an expensive jeep, a white elegant villa, a white yacht, white golf clothes, gloves, shoes), gender (queer-like couple).
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* Published in the First Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).