In recent decades, there has been an increase of violence in the media. Portraying such ‘violent’ information has become a way of entertaining and fascinating people. Therefore, the way that violence is represented has shaped the way that people see and define this term. At the same time, through the representation of violence as entertainment comes the spectacle. People’s lives have become large spectacles where they simply like to watch, and in some cases even be voyeurs. It can be argued that this constant exposure to violence has resulted in the desensitization to violence itself. The issues with voyeurism should be introduced and embedded in violent films using various techniques so that the audience becomes aware of their voyeuristic actions. In the following essay, I will be analyzing the ethical issues represented in the modernist film Funny Games U.S. (2007) by Michael Haneke and the embedded theme of mediated violence through distanciation techniques, screenplay, and mise-en-scene.
Through the representation of violence in the film, Michael Haneke uses certain techniques in the process of distanciation such as close-ups and the breaking of the fourth wall (Nichols 51). Not only are these techniques being employed to remind the audience that they are watching a film, but are also used to distance the viewers from the film and allow them to critically think of what is happening in front of them.
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In the case of Funny Games, such techniques are also being used to make viewers feel frustrated, self-conscious and perhaps even uncomfortable with what is taking place on the screen. An example of a close-up can be spotted in a scene where Paul looks straight into the camera and then winks at the audience, thus also breaking the fourth wall. Such a scene can make people self-consciously realize that the director is doing something different than what is shown in conventional horror films.
Haneke knows his audience better than anyone else. He knows how they feel when they are watching the film, and how they feel towards the characters. He also knows that most of his audience decides to watch such a movie because deep down they are in this for the same reason as Paul and Peter; entertainment (Schumann). All in all, using such distanciation techniques allows for Haneke to take his audience on a unique adventure consequently allowing them to feel self-conscious and frustrated, which further allows for viewers to self-reflect and eventually understand the point that the filmmaker is trying to make.
Throughout the film, there are key lines and passages in the screenplay that underscore Haneke’s objectives and aims. Many of these lines are said by Paul when he breaks the fourth wall; however, many of them are also said by the victims in the film. A line that is frequently repeated by the victims is “why are you doing this”. Essentially, the audience is also asking themselves this question (Laine). As mentioned earlier, it seems as if the only reason that Paul, Peter and the audience keep watching violence is simply because they see it as a form of entertainment. Yet, Paul and Peter carry on with their plans of giving the viewers what they initially wanted which creates a great deal of frustration since the audience now wants the family to escape out of empathy. As a modernist, Haneke doesn’t want this to be an average film and thus knows not to give the audience what they want. Through identification, he wants the audience to feel for the characters, and go through the pain with them as if they were the victims.
Later in the movie, Paul directly confronts the audience about this idea of entertainment and the audience’s voyeuristic ways when he asks “what do you think? Think they stand a chance? You’re on their side aren’t you, so who are you betting on?”. The filmmaker aims to provoke the audience, by having the actors say these lines, consequently making them question the act of watching violence. Even if many people want to watch such movies to be entertained and not feel for the victims, this film forces individuals to feel their pain and identify with them. At first, the audience is confused on the nature of the bet that is being proposed by Paul. However, when Paul turns to the camera and break the fourth wall, the audience can finally understand what this whole bet is about. This is simply a literal representation of the bet that every story has. In other words, every story has this kind of bet where viewers wonder who’s going to ‘win’ the game, despite everything being in the hands of the “creator” (Taxxon, 00:16:15 – 00:16:55). In fact, Paul and Peter can kill the victims whenever they please, they don’t need a bet, however, they must continue this violent game so that the audience can be ‘entertained’. The audience gets a confirmation of this idea when Paul says, “we’re not up to feature film length yet. You want a real ending with plausible plot development”. Through such original and innovative screenplay, the director challenges horror movie conventions.
Michael Haneke is a master of mise-en-scene. He presents the elements in a very controlled manner to manipulate his audience. The fact that he could make a one on one replica of the film in a different language, just further proves his control over such elements (“Funny Games Funny Games”). Many of the aspects of the mise-en-scene and how they interact are what make the film feel so incredibly real, despite being a modernist film. The fragmented nature of reality in this film, allows for the audience to decode deeper meaning hidden below the surface (Nichols 193).
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n terms of costume, Paul and Peter wear matching all-white golfing clothes. This is quite ironic because white is often associated with purity and after seeing the movie, most people can agree that both Paul and Peter are far from being pure. White is also a color that can get dirty very easily. Despite all the blood and mess that they create, their clothes remain intact throughout the whole film. This can refer to the idea of voyeurism, where people watch violence, but never come to contact with the mess. In addition, the setting, lighting and performance are very naturalistic. This allows for the movie to feel realistic all while making sure that the audience is aware that they are watching a film.
Throughout the film, the audience is never presented with any direct violence, thus viewers only get to see the aftermath of what happened and are left to use their imagination to fill in the gaps (Ignoramous). In one scene, Anne is being demanded by the two boys to strip off her clothes. However, the audience is never presented with any nudity or visual violence, they only get to see the pain on the victim’s face. This may be a form of criticism by the director towards our porn obsessed society, which is filled with violence, especially towards women. The very natural and realistic mise-en-scene allows for the viewers to identify with the character, which is quite unusual for a horror movie.
Another instance of indirect violence is in the scene after the two young men kill George Jr and then decide to leave the house. In fact, the audience never saw the child being killed. It can be argued that Haneke purposely did this to not show any direct violence (Ignoramous). Instead, viewers are presented with an 11 minute long-take that shows the parents mourning over their loss. According to Nichols, long-takes allow for the viewers to truly sink into the film and identify with the characters (51).
In both examples, the not so dramatized acting and psychologically impenetrable characters force the audience to focus on their actions and essentially provokes their intellect. The naturalistic lighting, setting, performance and use of costume allows for the voyeurs to empathies for the family as they feel their ‘real’ pain and understand the evil behind violent entertainment. To sum up, for a horror movie, Funny Games uses highly naturalistic mise-en-scene, which further pushes the audience to identify with the victims instead of being voyeurs. This is presented to the audience all while being aware that they are watching a film by incorporating various technics, which ultimately places the line between the fictional and the real world. The frustrated audience is forced to feel the victim’s pain and not be amused or desensitized by violence.
To conclude, the modernist film Funny Game U.S. (2007) by Michael Haneke uses distanciation techniques, screenplay, and mise-en-scene to communicate ideas about the nature of violence, or more specifically, mediated violence in films. It can be argued that being exposed to a high level of violence in the media has caused for many people to become desensitized to it and potentially act as natural and unaffected by violence as the two psychopaths. The use of such spheres in the movie has potentially allowed for the audience to feel the victims pain through identification. It also allows for the audience to understand how mediated violence is used as a form of entertainment by showing a clear contrast between the real and the fictional world, which can allow for people to self-consciously realize what the director is trying to do. On the other hand, it would be comprehensible to why some people wouldn’t like this film as a horror movie, as it goes against all conventions and rarely confirms the audience’s expectation of what is going to happen next. However, that is the goal of the film, and by doing so it drives viewers to question the act of watching and essentially allowing for them to feel guilty for being voyeurs. Therefore, the act of voyeurism should be acknowledged in films that portray violence to make people aware of the act of simply watching.
- “Funny Games Funny Games.” Spectacular Attractions, 15 Oct. 2009, drnorth.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/funny-games-funny-games/.
- Ignoramous, Lamos. “Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and the Lie of Reality.” Films Lie, 21 Apr. 2016, filmslie.com/michael-hanekes-funny-games-lie-reality/.
- Laine, Tarja. “‘What Are You Looking at and Why?”.” Kinoeye, 8 Mar. 2004, www.kinoeye.org/04/01/laine01.php.
- Nichols, Bill. Engaging Cinema: An Introduction to Film Studies (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010).
- Schumann, Desmond. “‘An Analysis of Film Violence’ [1997’s Funny Games].” Way-Station Pictures, 21 Jan. 2013, pdesmondschumann.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/micheal-hanekes-funny-games-an-analyses-of-film-violence/.
- Taxxon, Eric. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=F75kUaNJJxU&t=1430s.
- “What’s the Deal with the Rewind?” Stack Exchange, movies.stackexchange.com/questions/26787/whats-the-deal-with-the-rewind.
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