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