Sundance Diary: Michael Haneke, I'm sending you my shrink bill

Funnygames_lI had a rough night last night, PopWatchers. Against my better judgment, I went to a midnight screening of Funny Games. I’m still in shock and probably will be for some time to come.

I really have no one to blame but myself. I knew what I was in for. A few years ago, my husband was watching Michael Haneke’s original German-language Funny Games, in which two young men terrorize a family in their country home. He suggested I stay away from the film, since I have a very low tolerance for brutality and cruelty in entertainment (and, of course, in real life, too). So I never watched it. But here at Sundance, I somehow convinced myself that I would be able to handle Haneke’s new, shot-for-shot remake of his own movie, this time starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth (watch the trailer here). Honestly, I was curious. So I joined Greg Kirschling and Christine Spines at the Egyptian Theater. I took an aisle seat, in case I needed to leave without disturbing the rest of the audience. I wish I had.

After the Sundance rep introduced the film, saying he hoped the movie would “f— us up” as much as the original did him, the audience fell completely still, presumably feeling the same wave of anxious nausea wash over them as I was. I won’t go into details about what happens in the film, but I will say that it is the most disturbing movie I’ve seen in recent memory — if not ever. As those of you who are familiar with the original know, Haneke’s goal in making both Funny Games is to challenge us to reexamine how we consume violence as entertainment — particularly the Hollywood variety. None of the violence happens on camera. But trust me, this does not soften the blow one bit. On the contrary. I’m not sure I’ll ever again be able to see Michael Pitt — an actor who creeped me out to begin with — as anything but the insidiously sadistic psychopath he plays here.

I’m not usually one to succumb to drama, but after the credits rolled, I left the theater in tears. (Which freaked out poor Greg and Christine. Sorry, friends.) The horror of what had just unfolded on screen, combined with the fact that I sat there and watched the entire thing, just appalled me. At the same time, the movie is extremely well made. I’m grappling with how I feel about Haneke’s position as filmmaker in this matter: Do I want to be told how I should or should not be consuming “entertainment”? And how is he any bit different than the rest of us? How does he get to take the moral high ground here, when his movie uses a lot of the same shock tactics he is criticizing?

This may be the most depressing PopWatch item ever. So I hope I’m not totally bumming you out. But if you’ve seen the film — either the original or the remake — please share your thoughts. Hell, even if you haven’t seen it, I’d appreciate any and all suggestions for coping. In the meantime, I’m calling my shrink.

Comments (44 total) Add your comment
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  • Raven_Moon

    Wow! That movie sounds awful. I think it’s strange when a film tries to be preachy, but only end up using the same tactics they criticize. I won’t be seeing this film.

  • Alyk

    I haven’t seen the remake, but I have seen the original. Although it was tough to watch, it wasn’t even NEARLY as disturbing as Haneke’s “The Pianist.” I kind of wanted to die after watching that movie.

  • donner

    I just watched the trailer…there are people who suffer thru this in real life and its not entertaining whatsoever…two Dartmouth university professors were killed after inviting two young men into their homes…I wont be watching this movie and I think I might need to string up a can of paint over my front door, just in case some hick comes a callin’…yeehaw…

  • T-Rex

    Haven’t seen the movie. I did watch the trailer. I feel that in remaking the movie shot-for-shot, the film-maker loses all credibility vis-a-vis his position regarding the consumption of violence. Clearly he’s putting it out there to be consumed. By remaking it in english he’s just demonstrating his willingness to be exploitative of the public’s willingness to consume. But hey, film-makers gotta eat too.

  • actingup

    I just do not find violence and cruelty entertaining at all. This world is so horrific and violent – just read the news : people planting bombs, blowing themselves up in a crowded marketplace, killing in name of Jesus or Allah or whoever, driving drunk and killing people, rapists, murder-suicides, parents killing their children, men killing their wives, the list goes on and on.
    Why in the world would I want to sit throught a violent film? Especially when it seems there are so many films that WANT you to be titilated by the violence and turned on – instead of being repulsed. I think it is truly frightening and reflects what is going on in our society. We have all become so blase and numb to the violence. Another school shooting? Shrug. Another shooting at a mall? Another workplace murder? It is sickening.
    It makes me think of those two men who held that entire family captive, raped the daughter and the mother and then set them on fire. I don’t want to see anything like that..

  • B

    The original is a total mind %@!& It never backs down and constantly pushes the envelope. A great commentary on violence both on the screen and in real life. I am glad to hear that the director didn’t soften his American version.

  • dan

    this movie’s been on my radar for awhile, and rightfully declared it the best trailer of 2007.
    i want to see this movie, and i have no idea why.

  • Rose Tyler

    Micheal Pitt has always freaked me out too. I’m certain I will avoid this movie like the plague.

  • Ceballos

    I’ve been intrigued about this movie since I heard about the original and especially when I saw the Kubrick-like trailer for the American remake.
    Not really sure what that says about me that I’m anticipating something that, by all accounts, is awful and abhorrent to look at. All I can say is that I like seeing talented artists work and I especially love to see someone push the boundaries and produce challenging work.

  • Rose Tyler

    Micheal Pitt has always freaked me out too. I’m certain I will avoid this movie like the plague.

  • Jen

    Man, the trailer for this film is the creepiest thing I’ve seen in ages…but honestly, I am looking forward to seeing it for pretty much the same reasons Ceballos mentioned. Plus, psychopath or not, Michael Pitt is extremely watchable.

  • James

    “Moment of Truth” and “Funny Games” – yep, keep driving those nails in the coffin.

  • Nix

    After considering the possible arguments, pondering the accuracy, or lack thereof, of equation abhorrent = challenging = good, and passing into a rumination on various theories of aesthetics, with a passing thought as to violence in art vis a vis violence in real life, I have decided I do not want to see this movie, because that actor on the right is not cute.

  • tyler

    If the remake is exactly like the original, I just don’t understand how do you not get that it’s completely tongue-in-cheek. Haneke may be a misanthrope, but he’s a brilliant film-maker and categorizing his movie among the rest “violent trash” is just wrong. That’s exactly what this movie was ironically commenting on, a full decade before the “genre” became Hollywood’s goose with the golden eggs.

  • Anonymous

    I watched the original film as a film studies student in college. This is first and only film I have ever walked out on. I can not believe they are remaking the movie. I will not see it.

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