Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hanake Horror

What does one do when another person infringes on your own rights? If you think about it, your right to privacy is a vague cloud that is prescribed by a law or regulation pre-agreed to by a couple of men around a table a few hundred years ago. If we take away the consequences (punishment and death) born from the act of harassing others, is there really anything that is stopping us? We are not physically but morally restrained to not carry out the act of walking down that aisle in Firestone and bashing someone’s head open with the Encyclopedia Britannica. Think about it. Nothing is really stopping you, apart from your fear of the repercussions. From the perspective of the person who has the potential of being bashed on the head by a perpetrator (anyone in the same room in fact, could likely walk up to you now and slap you on the face), is it not a scary thought that YOUR right is actually under the dominion of others?

Among many other things, “Funny Games” by Michael Hanake (a remake of his 1997 Austrian movie of the same name) intends to provoke this realization within its viewers. Extending beyond that, the movie also explores and downright condemns the Hollywood horror genre and its manipulation of the viewer’s emotions to provide entertainment. Yes. This movie is all about manipulation. Before I get ahead of myself, let me introduce the players.

The premise is simple. A nuclear family comprised of doting parents, Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) and their son, arrive in their vacation home, only to be disturbed by two clean-cut youths (the ever cherub-like-and-yet-still-creepy Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) wearing crisp white golf attire and matching gloves. They terrorize the family, to the point that they may or may not survive the night (why should I tell you their fate and rob away your pleasure of suspenseful movie watching experience which is clearly the director’s intention?). No frills, but loads of thrills.

I personally did not enjoy this movie. Because of this, Hanake was successful in the presentation of the movie as a didactic commentary on the Hollywood horror genre that feeds on sado-masochistic enjoyment. It is very clear that Hanake’s intention is to manipulate the viewers to be thoroughly entertained (or forcing them to have to buy new pants later) and then place them in a situation where the viewers realize their own sadistic tendencies. The director then berates the viewers with guilt, by employing Michael Pitt’s character as a vehicle that questions the audience’s morality. Pitt’s antagonistic character directly addresses the camera in the middle of gruesome acts, asking the audience: “Do you want plausible plot structure or entertainment?” and then reverts back to interrogating his victims. This breaking of the fourth wall that happens intermittently causes an unsettling moral questioning of the audience’s attitude when viewing horrific scenes on the screen. Are we aroused? Do we cheer and hope that the fictional protagonist would survive to see another day?

Watch this film (or its original) once in your life to understand the mental processes of Michael Hanake. And then never watch it ever again. It is thoroughly worth it and equally disturbing.

P.S. – Watch his other film “Cache”, a film that illustrates the paranoia surrounding the omniscient presence of surveillance cameras in our modern society and the misuse of this power, which carries the potential to instill fear instead of the intended comfort in our lives.