More often than you think. The story imposes itself as a challenge for the viewer to deconstruct, constantly alienating while manipulating them simultaneously. The film is drawn into its own self-awareness, as if giving criticism of the story within the story itself.

Of the two characters interchangebly called "Peter and Paul", "Tom and Jerry" or "Beavis and Butt-Head" (I can't remember who's called what), I will refer to them as "the tall one" and "the fat one" based on Haneke's own explanation that they are modelled off a stereotypical clown duo.


The opening titles at the very beginning contains a visceral moment of immediate alienation. The family are enjoying a road game of "Guess the Opera" when all of a sudden Haneke deploys non-diegetic music with no warning whatsoever. It is a very loud, brutal and dissonant type of art/noise-thrash (by New York art/jazz musician John Zorn) purely designed to shock and put you into discomfort. Even for a lover of abrasive noise music like myself, it's the juxtaposition of the sound against the smiling, loving faces of the family that conveys the sense of bother.

The brilliance of this moment is only realised much later in the film; the scene when the boy escapes to their neighbour's house to hide. The tall one chases after him and plays a sort of "Hide and Seek" game in the house. Here he puts on a CD and once again it is John Zorn, only this time it's diegetic. The first logical question to ask is "where did this CD come from?" Certainly a burgeois household of this sort wouldn't have anything of such taste in their collection? It's not impossible, but it is extremely out of character. The answer might be that the tall one (who has by now physically looked past the fourth wall and spoken words to the viewer) must have brought the CD with him. One could even say that Haneke passed it over from behind the camera while we were looking somewhere else. Thinking back to the opening title sequence, and even the ending credits, perhaps the tall one has some control over the film's output from behind the fourth wall the whole time?


FUNNY GAMES is so full of blatant narrative conventions it almost feels like Haneke's great big inside joke. I won't be able to discuss all of them here, but there are a few subtle examples that stick out in my mind more than any others.

Firstly there is the boat's knife.

Although it has already been established that the boy has borrowed a knife and taken it to the boat, Haneke wanted us to make sure we notice that knife by giving it its own insert-shot. In fictional analysis this is referred to as "Chekhov's Gun" (Chekhov says that if you introduce a rifle in the first chapter it must absolutely go off in the second or third chapter, otherwise don't introduce it at all). If it's not obvious enough that we see the knife, when the rope pulls it in the boat we get an exaggerated whooshing sound which indicates about the same amount of power as Xena: Warrior Princess waving around her broad-sword. The knife turns out to be a Red Herring (when "Chekhov's Gun" turns out to be completely useless) but we do see the real gun at another point in the movie.

So anyway, why does the dog bark so much at these two guys?

We saw it just earlier when it was much more playful and obedient. It doesn't seem like the vicious protective type, but then it goes berserk as soon as--oh.. oh right, they're the bad guys.

Then there's the golf ball.

The same could be said about the eggs, but what does the golf ball represent? It seems to come off as being significant as it makes pivitol appearances in the story. Is it a symbol of anxiety? The every-day noose around the neck one is trying to escape from in this sport, or rather luxury, designed for the upper-middle class? But really, I think it's just a McGuffin. It pretends to signify something important but its only use is to say "here I am! Time to move the plot forward." It's a kind of device that stares at you directly, and silently, so in reality it's not directly criticising you, it makes you resort to criticising yourself.

The golf ball is one of many psychological effects this movie has on the viewer. My favourite scene is also the most difficult scene for me to sit through. It is when the fat one is innocently asking for some eggs on behalf of the neighbour. Although the characters are polite and well adjusted, there is an incredible tension building increasingly as the scene goes on, and it's always there no matter how many times I watch it. You know the plot of the film - two intruders enter a family's vacation house and terrorise them until they are all slaughtered by the morning - so the eggs scene is the obvious build-up before the terror; we only came to see this movie for the terror. But the scene, it is drawn out for an excruciatingly long time, in my head I'm screaming "TAKE ME TO THE VIOLENCE ALREADY!!!" It is here when Haneke shows you who you really are. He says so himself in an interview:

Basically, you have the option to sit there and take it, or just walk away.

Just walk away...


(more to come)

1 comment:

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