FAMILY TOGETHERNESS REVISITED: FUNNY GAMES U.S.

This entry was posted on July 8th, 2019

By Claudia Siefen-Leitich

The first scene also remains the strongest: the small family (mum, dad, son and dog) drives in the family car towards the holiday home in Long Island. The car offers safety, is hermetically sealed, no sound from the outside world penetrates the vehicle, which literally pours itself into the landscape at high speed and routinely moves towards its destination. The sun glitters through the windows and Mama pushes a punk CD into the system. They’re moving from one family stronghold (at home) to the next (holiday home), in order not to “move” a millimeter from place to place within the change of location. Stagnation as a factor of security which will surely end in a deadly way. In 1997, Michael Haneke produced the story, which was made to critic the faith of the audience at mass media, an accusation of Austrian production, and as a German-language production. In his opinion, the film did not reach the audience he actually wanted: the English-speaking world and above all, Americans. In 2007 Haneke re-shot scene after scene in the American middle-class idyllic countryside, with American actors. And again he missed his audience, this time with the American distribution company, the art house label Warner Independent, and last but not least with his character constructions, which completely miss the contemporary way of life.

The content remains the same: two young boys (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), thanks to polite masks and good manners, gain access to the holiday cottage of Ann and George (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), which lies remotely close to a lake. The inhabitants of the other houses, which are also lonely, know each other and, sailing across the dark lake in small sailing boats, visit each other but otherwise have their peace and quiet intact. The first inconsistency has paved its way: the two teenagers are foreign objects in this world, particularly noticeable by their clothes (white polo shirts and shorts, white wool gloves on their hands), yet they are immediately integrated: one invites each other to play golf and have dinner. In the bright daylight on the sun-drenched meadow, the boys do what adults expect them to do: they are polite and speak submissive sentences with a penchant for Oscar Wilde’s joy of phrasing, which the adults bemusedly take note of. The two,  Peter and Paul,  soon stand at Ann’s door, who is hectically and lovelessly preparing lunch. In the house itself there is no fixed telephone connection, the mother has the only mobile phone in the house, while the father prepares the boat at the lake and has left his mobile in the car. Why does the 10-year-old son Georgie, please, has none in his trouser pocket?

In Funny Games U.S. (2007), the communication in the family doesn’t work purely technically in the truest sense of the word; the little one acts as a messenger of mummy’s messages, which are mildly smiled at by daddy in the boat. And Peter is already standing in the door, smiling through the fly screen and asking for four eggs. Ann lets him in, is quickly annoyed and also outraged that she can’t get this young man leave the house again with friendliness alone, while Peter continues to insist on the eggs in friendly monotonous sentences. Ann soon becomes uncomfortable in her skin when Paul joins her, showing interest in the eggs as well as in the golf clubs of the house. Meanwhile father George (Tim Roth) has been brought in by son Georgie and the next crack in the family shows up: dad tries his best appealing to male loyalty, and with a shoulder-beating command tone wants to compliment the boys out of his house, but the murderous “game” has already begun.

Non-communication in the family construct should be the major theme in the remake, which was garnished with accusations of violence in films, whether on film or television. Violence is not cool and casual, but painful in the first place, but Peter and Paul seem so brutal above all because they extend their violent construct over several hours, with constant serenity and absolute hopelessness for their arbitrarily chosen victims. From the outset, they make it clear that no one will escape death here, but the murders in question are primarily meant to be entertaining. The resistance to them is fast, too fast, broken. Several times the two of them speak directly into the camera and the audience is asked: What do you think, who should die first? or are you still sitting there? If the two perpetrators know about their observers, the cinema, what about the victims? We now live in a social structure that condemns every form of outbreak of violence. Of course, nobody should become a murderer, social coexistence is based on respect for the other life. But where should this violent potential go? That’s why man invented “sports” to be physically unleashed. Sexuality is also already under public observation and is subject to standards that primarily serve oppression. The two boys have no sexual interest whatsoever: Ann has to undress before her eyes, the boys look tired and only notice that she has no fat pads at all for her age. Then she is allowed to dress again. George’s leg has been shattered in the meantime and the boys ask him to ask his wife to do this involuntary strip (“Take off your clothes, darling”). From then on George is destroyed. It is thanks to Roth’s grandiose ability to recognize the father in his face, who has completely failed in his protective function, from now on: he sees himself more offended in showing his wife in front of other male eyes than himself. The boys are serious and shoot the son right at the beginning. In the evening they take a break and leave the house. The woman wants to get help while the father helplessly handles the mobile: “battery low”.

The search for help fails, and George will be next, because of course the boys come back: Don’t you forget the importance of entertainment! All this doesn’t work anymore, as it did twelve years ago; the viewer has long since come of age in his assessment of the depiction of violence in the media. Haneke probably hasn’t noticed that and lets the blood of Georgie, who was shot by a little girl, splash on the oversized TV. But if you prefer, you can give the film a much deeper structure, which it might not have intended at all: its deep discomfort towards women. Or rather the insecurity towards the female sex that men have meanwhile been forced upon them by the media: it is the women who make the appointments here and discuss all sorts of things, cook the food, open the front door; step into action and have to protect man and child. The woman will find the dead dog, and the woman will comfort the husband and try to look ahead and organize help.

The absolute action comes from the women (Ann and the briefly appearing neighbors), and Haneke lets them fail mercilessly. The men are helpless, even the murderers. They resign themselves to Ann’s naked body and wear thick white gloves. It’s the son who dies first, and at the beginning of the film he’s still whining because his best friend hasn’t arrived at the resort yet. That would be the contemporary reading of the film: it can no longer be about the old-fashioned warning against dealing with the media, with the supposed manipulation of the consumer, coming from a power elite or industry which only wants to gain the upper hand over the people. Panic-mongering! What is at stake here is the imbalance of the sexes, the inability to talk to one another and really listen to one another and actually take care of the other, the crumbling of family togetherness and responsibility and what that actually means. But if one once again encourages the viewer to think, the oh so simple “media criticism”, the deportation of one’s own responsibility towards one’s neighbor, would be completely absurd and a comfortable black sheep would be lost.




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