How Funny Games (1997) Plays Games

This Monday is my birthday! My SO and I have an extremely hard time waiting until birthdays to gift each other, so I ended up getting my presents a week early. Among those, was the Criterion Collection’s Spine #975, otherwise known as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997). I’ve recently started to collect the Criterion Blu-rays, and while this specific edition lacks in the supplements department, it makes up for it in terms of sheer quality. Funny Games is one of the great, if not the greatest, hot takes on the thriller/horror genre. It’s an unusual story. There are no underdogs. There is no reasoning. There isn’t even really any violence on-screen. Saw is more satisfactory in the sense that there is at least a reason for these heinous actions being done to the characters.

Haneke takes a different approach, and its the reason why this film stands the test of time and even got it’s 2007 remake. The original film supersedes it’s predecessor because the film is foreign and that itself makes it more believable (sorry Naomi and Tim). In his interview included with the Blu Ray, Haneke states that the whole point of this film is to point out how easy it is to manipulate audiences. Manipulation seems to be the only thing that you can truly feel or count on during this film. We don’t get vindication, reasoning, or even an actual murder on screen, aside from the one that was undone by a television remote. Our idyllic family is being tortured because its what we want. As mentioned before, most Hollywood big-budget thrillers make sense. We get revenge at the end. We watch blood and gore spurt from some low-life’s neck. In Funny Games, everything takes place off-screen. The violence and sex. Haneke refuses to give us satisfaction. He is playing some sort of funny games with us. There are more overt references to the fact that these games are being played, with constant fourth-wall breaking including a wink at the camera and the aforementioned infamous rewind scene. All of these coincide to show us that this is just a movie, and what we want, in this case, revenge, isn’t always what we get.

Aside from those extremely obvious notions of games being played, i.e. the wall-breaking, the largest instance in this film that proves the point of manipulation, at about the hour-mark, is where essentially nothing happens for thirty minutes. This part may seem long, annoying, or pointless, but that’s the point. When these two middle-class psychopaths begin to torture this family, we internally scream at them to ‘leave them alone!’. When they get left alone, we become disinterested. It begs the question, do we want them to win? Do we want them not to get hurt? This just goes to further the argument that we truly are an all-guns-blazing and violent group of movie-goers. The husband and wife sluggishly roam around, almost begging them to come back and kill them off. This overt commentary on movie-goers and their need for violence is only reinforced by the fact that the only on-screen death, is that of one of the tennis-short psychos. We love violence, especially if someone deserves it and if we get a happy ending. The murder gets erased, therefore the happy ending gets erased. We don’t get a happy ending. Haneke’s still playing his games with us.

There’s also a definite sub commentary in this film on our obsession of weight. The short-shorts king consistently calls his partner-in-crime fatty and critiques the wife’s body as she strips down nude in front of her son, although we don’t see that nudity. Again, keep it off-screen, and keep us unsatisfied. Aside from that though, This cat-and-mouse type of control that Haneke plays with us is the reason why this film has become such a celebrated work in its field. It’s frustrating, and you could essentially understand the entire point of the movie from the beginning egg-scene alone. Haneke’s ability to craft such a unique way of telling this traditional story is unmatched and has yet to see a worthy opponent in nearly 25 years. You are helpless. They are helpless. This is all just a movie. After all, you want a real ending, with plausible plot development, don’t you?

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