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Funny Games (2007): A Simulation of the Horror Film Genre
The Two Most Polite Home Invaders
A Horrific Display of Despair
Having heard about this film, I was skeptical as to whether I would enjoy it, however, my interest was peeked when I heard that it's message was actually about Hollywood's continuous normalization of horror, gore and violence in mainstream movies, I was anxious to see whether it would portray this message, or fall short and be simply another violent, home invasion movie for the sake of it. In the past decade, torture porn films have hit mainstream Cinema with massive success. Films like 'Hostel' and 'Saw' gained a huge cult following, while even more surprising, art-house films like 'Anti-Christ' were received with massive applause.
In saying all this, I was pleasantly surprised by this films quite beautiful depiction of a truly horrific scenario. Michael Haneke's, shot for shot remake of his own German film, 'Funny Games' (2007)', is a film widely considered disturbing, cheap but at the same time even forces its viewers to question exactly what it is they seek from violent films.
The Symbol of The Egg
The egg is important in the film as it signifies many things. Obviously and most notably,they represent beginnings, and new starts/lives, which is used in Funny Games as a beginning of the ordeal, and also a new experience for both the family and audience (which I will speak more about later on). Beginnings are the main theme with these eggs as the boys use it to get into the neighbors homes too.
It can also represent somebody being stuck in an unrealistic reality, the opposite of being 'out of the shell', they are inverted and haven't tried new things. The family epitomize this, as we get a sense of routine watching them throughout the first 20 minutes of the film. its also hard not to notice the All-American family values they have, and how they integrate with people of their own social standing. While the two Intruders too appear that they fit this social class, we know that they are more 'out of their shells' than the family.
The circle of life, a never ending circle of birth and death. The two boys have killed the neighbors seen at the start, just as they killed the family the film centers on and will kill the family at the end. It's a representation of how cinema will continuously keep on depicting graphic, bloody violence.
The Broken eggs similarly have meaning as the first two attempts to get four eggs from the family end in them all breaking. This blatantly connects. but juxtaposes with the eggs symbolizing life. Instead of life, they symbolize death, there's three people in the family, twelve eggs, broken into three sets of four. The son is the first to die, but before that even happens, its already been shown in the first four broken eggs. The next broken four eggs impersonates the fathers death. And finally the last four eggs, depicting the mothers death, are kind of forgotten about after Intruder #1 hits the father and he drops them on the floor in their carton. We don't see evidence of cracking but its the not knowing that is filled with suspense and confusion. Sine the Mother dies after being thoughtlessly thrown overboard a small boat, it makes sense. We the viewers assume she is going to die, Her hands and feet are tied, but its the not knowing. Are the eggs cracked? Or did they somehow survive the fall?
The film opens with the family, consisting of a mother, father, son and dog, in a car listening to some pleasant classical music, laughing and enjoying the ride. Juxtaposing this when the title sequence begins, we hear much louder, screaming, metal, unpleasant music, but the family still laugh together. What we are to assume for the duration of the film is that these characters are barely even that, instead they are simulations of the horror genre 'victim' character and simultaneously representations of cinema goers. This first car scene symbolizes the happy family off to the cinema.
In the film, they are actually heading up to their summer home, in a wealthy area of gated, luxurious homes where golfing and boating seem to be the only things important to the inhabitants. As the family drive up, they stop outside a neighbors gate and shout Hello to four people standing and playing golf. The neighbors however, appear less than pleasant, stilted almost in their responses. The family drive off wondering about the awkward nature of the greetings.
Once in their own home, Father and son take off on a boating excursion, while the mother is left to put away the bags and food. A young man in golf shorts and white gloves comes to the door asking for eggs. He says he is staying with the family next door (the one that they had stopped to say Hi to) and they are hoping to do some baking. In a scene that lasts roughly 10 minutes, with minimal cuts, while nothing aggressive happens, quite the opposite, he's awfully polite, the mother and young man begin an irritated conversation to the point where the increasing sense of anxiety if inescapable. After he drops the first four eggs she offers him, she says she needs to keep the rest for the morning, as is her right. The boy has other ideas though, and tells her that even if she gives him another four, she will still have four for the morning. She agrees, begrudgingly, and offers four more. This goes on for around 10 minutes and as I said, even though nothing drastic happens, its noticeably uncomfortable. It is of course within her right to refuse the eggs, but he perseveres and keeps asking.
The Horror of Asking for Eggs....
'I Just Don't Want to Impose'
When a second boy appears, things take a turn for the worst, and the first act of violence takes place after the husband (having returned because of hearing the dog barking) asks both boys to leave. They refuse to leave, but not outright. Instead they begin asking questions about what they have done to deserve such ill mannered treatment, insisting that when they get their four eggs they will happily leave. The Father slaps Boy #1 in the face, only to be hit in the leg with a golf club. He is now unable to walk, and therefor unable to protect his family. We also find out the beloved dog has been killed and placed in the boot of the car, only to be found when the intruders play a game "Hot or Cold".
We soon realize that the entire situation is a game. This is perpetuated when the two boys ask the audience, breaking the fourth wall, who they think will win, the family or the two boys. Its here that we realize the two boys represent Cinema and the entire film industry. Of course, most will say they are rooting for the family to survive, to gain the upper hand and somehow get out of the situation unharmed, but what Haneke is saying here is that if it were true, that audiences root for the victims, then why are they sitting watching a movie where two men take a family hostage, torture and humiliate them and do it in such a way that turns it into a psychological game? The audience is condoning this, they are in on the joke, and apart of the violence. However, like the two boys, whose hands are clean due to the white gloves they wear so as to keep it that way, audiences rationalize the violence they see on screen as purely entertainment, so that they are not at fault for creating a market where this is not only frequently standardized, but supported.
'Plausible Plot Development'
Rewind the Horror....
Throughout the film are various acts of breaking the fourth wall. This is in order to make the audience feel like they too are apart of the scene, but also to enhance the feeling that the audience are at as much fault as the intruders for the circumstances.
But another reason is to show that all films are creations of imagination. When the mother gets a hold of the shotgun and shoots intruder #2, #1 searches frantically for the remote, only to find it and rewind the past two minutes of film, so that he can get the shotgun first. A lot of audience will want the mother to survive, but Intruder #1 makes sure she can't, because that would mean more horror and suspense. He even nods to the audience and says 'You can't break the rules like that', even though he has blatantly broken the traditional rules of plot development.
After the son is killed off camera, both Intruders leave, saying goodbye and thanks for the good time. At this point a grueling scene takes place where the mother, unable to even look at the body, attempts to get off the floor and make it to the kitchen to remove the tape from her hand and feet. She gets to the kitchen and we see the father moving, slowly. The next few minutes of the film are the parents trying to get out out of the house to look for help. The doors are locked and the phone broken. After the mother leaves the father while she runs for help, she is found again by the two boys who bring her back to the house. They say that they must allow for 'plausible plot development', so it wouldn't make sense that they would simply leave with two parents alive, they would have to come back to finish the job. They probably only left to create suspense in the first place, as with most horror films, there has to be a small bit of hope, for the desperation to make any real impact.
You Shouldn't Forget The Importance of Entertainment'
So now that the film has imposed on our morals, and invaded our minds by showing us the terrifying reality behind home invasions, its time to look at how exactly Haneke makes his point and whether or not it has any bearing.
We have now seen the family humiliated, tied up, and scared for the lives. The camera always carefully watching their faces for responses to the action. When Intruder #1 puts a bag over the child's face and asks the mother to undress, she doesn't follow his instruction. The father is then told to persuade her to remove her clothes. When he turns away, we hear the young son screaming, but we are never actually shown what's happening to the boy. Instead we see the fear in the fathers face, he doesn't want to tell his wife to remove her clothes, but he can't bear to hear his son screaming in pain.After the father eventually tells the mother to take her clothes off, she does so. For this the camera stays stationary above her shoulders. In one take, she looks at both the husband and then the boys (almost to say that he is as to blame for this humiliation as the two intruders are). Tears stream down her face, while the camera never leaves.
That is the magic of 'Funny Games', it forces us to look at the victims, at all victims of horror films, and not to see the normally graphic torture they are receiving, or their screaming for help, but rather, the absolute and black hole like fear they are experiencing from a situation where they don't even know whether they will survive. Its the desperation and the despondency in their faces that makes this film truly a horror story. Nor does it waver in its opinions of the sexualisation of women in this genre. Most horror films perpetuate the idea that there is always an attractive, busty female victim, who will more or less be assaulted for the pleasure of the viewers. 'Funny Games' refuse to do this, it does not condone that violent opinion of women, and in the scene where the Mother strips, slowly and terrified, Haneke makes sure that we acknowledge her pain in doing so.
When the family ask the boys why they are doing this, Intruder #1 responds "You Shouldn't forget the Importance of Entertainment", and this is essence of Haneke's argument. Everything cinema does is for the purpose of entertainment, the goriest of films that show torture and rape, suffering and fear, desperation and pure dread. Its all for our entertainment, thus we, as a mass audience find these things entertaining. Now, we can say that it is for the purging of emotions, or to know what it feels like to be afraid for your life, or simply just to be scared, but what lies beneath that rationalization of such violence, is the fact that we still find it all exciting, amusing, even fascinating.
The Death of The Mother
The death of the mother holds a lot of importance. She is, of course the last to be killed. She is nothing but a shell of previous self as she has lost everything, including her will to live. The boys take her on a small boat, and while they discuss the complexities of deep space the black holes, they throw her overboard, hands and feet tied. And that's that, she's gone without a second thought. One boy asks the other why he did it, and he simply replies 'Im hungry'. This is cinema, wholly. It will always get bored of its victim and move on to the next. Not only that, but it will throw out its victims like they were yesterday's take out once they stop being entertaining. And since Cinema's purpose is entertainment, then we can be assured that things will only get worse, more graphic, more taboo.
The Patronization of Cinema
Overall , the film is highly patronizing of mainstream cinema's use of graphic, violent imagery. The difference between this film and other films of the horror/thriller torture porn genre is that while it depicts violence and horror, it refuses to show it. The son's death was off camera, as well as the husbands. The mothers stripping was left off screen too, to keep her integrity intact, but also so that the scene wouldn't allow the audience to sexualize her, or treat her in a way that was anything other than sympathetic. In fact, the camera staying on her face brings audiences closer to show she felt at that moment, rather than how the intruders felt (which is why we saw her from the shoulders up, we weren't seeing her from the intruders Point of view, it wasn't their gaze we were following, it was our own).
And this is a very new way of experiencing horror films. We are so used to watching the gore that the characters emotions mean nothing to us, we are awestruck, by the knife wielding, by the imminent death we are all expecting and by the torture. Just like the family had never before experienced this type of terror, nor have audiences had to watch the terror they were inflicting on their characters before. We are being asked to take responsibility for what we watch. Films that show rape, or sexual assault in graphic detail, do it because it will fascinate audiences, and sometimes because it wants to sicken audiences, a feeling closely related to fascination and shock when looked at from the horror film point of view. Audiences want to be sickened, and film will always find new ways of sickening its audiences. But this film doesn't do it in such a way that the characters are reduced to simple bags of blood and guts, instead it turns that around to the Intruders. Neither have names, and we know nothing about them, other then the contradictory statements made at the beginning by intruder #1. They aren't real people, or even real characters, they are simulacra of every Horror villain, of the Film Industry itself and are simply automatons of the horror genre. They are the ones reduced to nothing.
The film was controversial for its unashamed portrayal of a family taken hostage by two young men, yet, it is nothing compared to films like 'The Last House on the Left' which shows a graphic rape scene which victimizes and degrades its character, or 'Battle Royale' which depicts children mercilessly massacring children, or even 'Snuff' which appears to condone and promote the creation of snuff films. I don't see how a film made with this much emotion and care for its victim characters can be considered violent for the sake of violence, instead, I applaud Haneke for making sure I felt responsible for what I was watching, for forcing me to see what lies behind the face of thriller films and horror's, the reality that violence is not and should never be considered entertaining.