Monday, October 15, 2007
Surviving The Funny Games PTSD
The utterly fantastic Jason (he of the plaid pants, which are new) was kind enough to bring me along to the Michael Haneke screening and Q&A at the Museum of Modern Art tonight, and since he totally called me out, I have to write about it. Which is a good thing, so thanks, J.
So anyway, afterwards, I told this very lovely young woman that this film, 1997's Funny Games, was my first ever foray into Haneke, she looked at me, very concerned, and asked if I was doing okay. Like she was worried that I'd been harmed by it, not having been adequately prepared for its artful cruelty. Her concern was sweet, and shared by quite a few who heard that this would be my first Haneke, but afterwards I found my psyche still in one piece. I've seen Straw Dogs -- I'm well versed in extreme, filmmaker-endorsed cruelty towards middle-class placidity. I'm also not a stranger to being manipulated by a filmmaker, which is the second major theme of the film.
In a way, Haneke almost outsmarts himself -- the audience is so clearly aware of the film's manipulations from such an early stage that it instinctively resists it. Luckily, Haneke's a strong enough filmmaker that he's able to pull you back and fool you, in spite of yourself. There's a moment -- the climax of the film, really -- where the protagonist at long last gains the upper hand, after an entire film's worth of punishment and degradation, and at that moment, the ultra-sophisticated MOMA audience I was with applauded, just like you'd cheer Laurie Strode finally felling Michael Myers. Despite the fact that I, too, found myself rejoicing on the inside, as soon as I heard the audience vocalize it, I thought You fools! You fell for it. And you are so getting punished for it.
And do they ever get punished for it. What Haneke does after coaxing a sporting-event reaction out of his audience isn't just a violation against the characters in the film; it's a violation of film itself. I am in no way exaggerating. At the Q&A, one audience member dogged Haneke with charges of "cheating" the medium of film, a deadly serious accusation that was nonetheless humorous to me. But it was at least devoid of the "Look at how smart I am!" posturing of most of the questioners, the best of whom managed to ask Haneke a question about Bergman that had no point other than to allow the questioner to tick off how many Bergman films he'd seen. God, a month and a half in New York and I'm already railing against the intelligentsia. I've become all I despise.
ANYway, Haneke acquitted himself well enough in the Q&A. He wasn't overly explainy, but only once did he give an answer I found disingeuous (after being asked why he decided to make the villain in the film the most charismatic character in this or any Haneke movie, the director smirked that maybe some people find villains more charismatic; not quite -- the villain in Funny Games was clearly charismatic by design, why not just admit as much?).
All in all, this was a good and worthy film. At times I felt like I was engaging the film in combat rather than simply watching it, but I'm glad I did. I'll even be able to sleep at night and experience the full gamut of human emotions in the morning.
Oh, and about the shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games Haneke has made (set for release in February), I can only say that 1) I can't believe they let him make it in this country, and 2) people are going to HATE it. Here's the trailer:
Okay, now head over to Jason's blog and watch him bitch about Michael Pitt. Yay!