Bored Silly

By Hampton, Howard | Artforum International, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Bored Silly


Hampton, Howard, Artforum International


An excruciating compendium of banalities posing as "radical" filmmaking, the Austrian movie Funny Games suggests that celluloid serial killers have grown bored with murder sprees, necrophilic rape, and ritual sex mutilations. No longer content with violence-for-violation's sake, they feel the need to place their acts in the larger context of media representation: using torture and slaughter for educational purposes, homicidal maniacs must now not only kill but comment on the whole death-making process. Indeed, the movie's cherubic duo, Peter and Paul - suggesting a pair of run-amok camp counselors for the mentally challenged - from time to time refer to each other as Beavis or Butt-head. These smug twits are meant to propel us onto what the production notes call "a rollercoaster of emotion and analysis." In a stroke of triumphal displacement, we don't have a frustrated intelligentsia who yearn to become killing machines, but video-bred killers who aspire to be cultural theorists.

Leaving no stone of cartoon violence unturned, Funny Games also references Tom and Jerry, though I can't help thinking Sesame Street would be more in keeping with director Michael Haneke's maddeningly obtuse game of show-and-tell. Picture a laconic psychotic teaming up with Big Bird to teach a nice, slightly dense family (father-motherson, none of whom seems acquainted with the rules of the genre) the ABCs of agony and senseless murder. But first they must terrorize their designated victims with interminable Germanic thoroughness, as though the killers mean to bludgeon the family - and audience - to death with sheer vacuity. Archly remarking on the "entertainment value" of the pain he inflicts, Paul addresses the audience as a confidant, a coconspirator: we're meant to see the mixture of stale shock and alienation effects as a rejection of conventional rationales for violence, not how it regurgitates undigested chunks of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer along with Peter Greenaway, Man Bites Dog, and untold faux snuff films. Hence the title's deadly poststructuralist irony, which befits a work that seeks to fuse the stylized, hyper-detached realism of Henry with the Brechtian intertextuality of Beavis and Butt-head.

The director claims he wants to "find ways of representing violence as that which it always is: as inconsumable." Perhaps Funny Games might work like this if it sought to implicate Haneke's own attitudes along with those of the gore-consuming public. …

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