The entire time I was observing the villains in Haneke’s remake of “Funny Games,” I could only ironically think back to the monologue Tim Roth gave in the opening of “Pulp Fiction.” His story about a man who robbed a bank over the phone by claiming he’d shoot a child, while the bank was never sure if there was ever actually a child was reminiscent of the two young men who could have posed a threat to the couple and their child here. There’s never an actual indication that they’re harmful in the beginning, nor is there an indication of their deadly capability until coerced with difficulty by their victims, there’s only the possibility, and sometimes that’s all people need to incite petrifying fear in a stranger.
Often you don’t need to know that someone can harm you, you just have to think it’s probable that they’re willing to harm you. With the right manipulation, and insistence of sociopathic tendencies, anyone can be controlled. “Funny Games” has been, without a doubt, the most controversial movie of the year. People who love it, absolutely love what it brings to the table, while people who hate it, despise everything it is, and what it tries to be. Why are these two young men engaging in such sadistic acts with a family they’ve never met? We’re never completely sure. Haneke knows we want logic and reasoning for this seemingly senseless acts of violence. Is it revenge, perhaps?
An approach toward blackmail? Just plain sexual perversion? No, it’s for the fun. They’re doing it for their own pleasure, they’re doing it for the games, and they’re doing it for us to people we’re more than likely prone to dislike. In many instances, Pitt’s character breaks the fourth wall and verifies that they’re both very aware that we’re watching and haven’t bothered to turn away, and this gives them a thrill. So, he and his friend engage us rather than leave us as spectators. They want us to play, and they know we want to see how it ends. Haneke exercises ludicrous acts of self-deprecating behavior on the part of both his villains and his victims, leaving us to despise pretty much everyone in this unfolding of folly and farce.
Our villains are just as self-assured and self-important as our victims, while they pretty much demonstrate every wrong move you can imagine as one being held hostage. They’re too comfortable, and the duo here wants to ensure that they never feel that way again, particularly when they demoralize and dehumanize all three of these people at every turn and display a torture that rarely involves bodily harm. All they have to do is play along, and after a bet is made, there’s the definite assurance that the bet Pitt’s character places to his captives, and to us, will be lost by the time the film is over.
The breaking of the fourth wall is one of the most unorthodox devices Haneke enlists for his thriller, but then “Funny Games” aspires to be the pure antithesis of a thriller. While we root for the escape and salvation of these innocent bystanders, it’s made painfully clear time and time again that Haneke is on the side of our two maniacal villains. We want retribution, we want reparations, we want revenge, but Haneke refuses to submit to our pleas, because he’s the storyteller, and he’s the one playing the games. Magnefique. Haneke’s thriller is not an easy take to take. It’s despicable, self-aware, and woefully painful to sit through, but the show he and his characters put on for us is awe-inspiring, challenging, and probably one of the most engrossing movies of 2008. I’ll have to see the original, now.