Under the impression that tonight was my last chance to see Haneke does Haneke in Funny Games American style in the theater, I shuffled into the Lagoon on probably the nicest afternoon we've had in six months. (Not to worry, Funny Games' didacticism will play out just as well, if not better, on DVD.) Surprisingly there were six other people up for the martyrdom in the theater, and based on the fact that no one walked out or was vocally appalled, I'm assuming most were conscious martyrs, like myself. It is within these limited statistical confines where Michael Haneke's experiment fails the most: playing to a handful of people who, like Tim Roth's character, "gets it."
This film was never going to get wide release, and if someone promised that to Haneke, they lied and Haneke was stupid. It is too bad that Funny Games couldn't have gotten at least a little bit of an update from it's 1997 original. It's almost like everyone (well, the seven of us) was waiting for the rewind scene, and that is the last thing you want for a gimmick that is meant to provoke. Much has happened in ten years and I think the climate has changed as our complicit involvement in torture is not only more than evident, but absurdly passé. Torture in films is nothing new and perhaps torture as a tool for the military is nothing new either, but there seems to be something a little more systematic about the Saw films, for example, (although I judge them without having seen them) and the blatantly vague policies of interrogation.
I am not a fan of the original Funny Games and found it's patronization totally distasteful. (Ha. The joke's on me!) This viewing was much different. I knew exactly what was going to happen and actually found some sort of kinship with Haneke as an omniscient patron. The US version is reportedly a shot-by-shot remake, and my memory of the original is not clear enough to prove that wrong. However, I did make note of more audience engagement where the lead antagonist either looks at or speaks to the camera: lead bad boy Paul not only speaks to the camera directly twice, but we also get two wink-wink looks for approval. This may be nit-picky, but I really only remember one time in the original when the character speaks directly to the camera, and one wink-wink. Or perhaps I was just looking for it, which is a problem within itself. You can't really compare the two versions without bringing up the familiarity of the actors. At the very least, three of the actors are going to be recognizable (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt) further distancing the audience from any sort of visceral response. All of the sudden it becomes a well-acted movie with stars.
Nathan Lee has an interesting article in the new Film Comment about horror film remakes and how they actually work, or in the case of Funny Games, they don't work. (My only reason to take issue with Lee's lambasting of Funny Games is his perplexing appraisal of Rob Zombie's Halloween.) The truly regrettable part about this whole Funny Games remake hullabaloo is that Michael Haneke has sold out as a filmmaker to some sort of juvenile need to make a point. Haneke seemed to be moving toward ever more sophisticated subject matter with The Time of the Wolf and Caché, and as a result Funny Games is nothing more than a movie we saw ten years ago.