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March 24, 2008
RATING: 7.5/10
The most humorous thing about Funny Games is how spitting mad it made Roger Ebert. Ebert is one of my favorite movie critics - he's concise, he's passionate, and he judges big budget movies and independent movies by the same criteria (although sometimes I wish those criteria were a little more harsh). On average he finds nice things to say about more movies than anyone else, but this particular film prodded the little fellow with a red hot poker. The venom that pours from this man's pen regarding Funny Games is actually a reason why I, Susan Howson, self-proclaimed peer of Ebert himself, feel as if you should see it.

Of course, I will tell you why. Michael Haneke is an Austrian director who made this exact film (in German) ten years ago. When I say exact, I mean shot-for-shot exactly the same, with the same props and set material, so if you've seen the original, you already know the deal and it's probably not worth your time or $9 or sanity to sit through it again. The fact that the guy makes the exact same movie twice just to be able to show it in a fully appreciable manner to multiple audiences is a perfect example of both the scientific manner in which Haneke is performing experiments on filmgoers but also the smug and self-satisfying nature of the filmmaking that caused Ebert to turn red, shriek like a train whistle, and smash his glass coffee table with his bare hands in a fit of rage.*

"I felt disgusting after seeing Funny Games," said Naomi Watts of her role in the film, which she says left her traumatized.

The funny game, you see, is not only the psychopathic torture game that two young men in pristine white golf clothes play with a wealthy, vacationing family, it is also the game that Haneke plays with his audience. The latter is what prompted Ebert to get so feisty. As might be expected, a film critic can resent the fact that they are the lab rat in such a situation. And who wouldn't? Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, of whom clean-cut torturers Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt) are certainly reminiscent, we're being punished for our own sick fascination with violence by having our eyes pried open to view scenes wrought with the painfully tense anticipation of graphic horror, with very little actual payoff. Blood and guts blue-balls, if you will. Sure, dastardly deeds happen, but they are almost completely off-screen. Haneke instead lingers endlessly on the faces of Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, who go from obstinate to angry to terrified to determined to defeated and back again. If you get uncomfortable, you can always ruminate on the fact that only excellent actors could have pulled this off, and thank goodness Naomi Watts was having one of her good days (let's not talk about The Ring), because facial expressiveness drives this film. As a result, we spend a good amount of our viewing time aware of ourselves as watchers, wondering why we are disappointed when people die at times we don't expect.

This is just what Haneke wants. The huge Ebert-enraging flaw, though, is that HE KEEPS TELLING YOU ABOUT IT. It's like looking at a beautiful painting, wondering what it's about and forming your own connotations and opinions and interpretations, only to notice that "IT'S ABOUT MY MOTHER" is written across the bottom of the canvas. It is the balance between telling instead of showing, and it separates good art from bad art a lot of the time. Unfortunately, Haneke chooses to tell us all about his plans, via Paul, who breaks the fourth wall and looks directly into the camera to tell the audience how they want the film to end. Well, jeez, I was coming to that conclusion myself - you don't need to spell it out for me. The worst part about this ridiculous device, besides the fact that without it the film would be near-perfect, is that having already done it once - the guy had ten years to mull over the film - Haneke makes the same move twice. That's double obnoxious.

Anyway, I believe Haneke's artistic flaws can be swept aside. At least, the rest of the film is powerful enough that I think you'll be able to forget about these moments as soon as they happen and dwell instead on the effect that Funny Games will most certainly have on you. I sure as hell have double-checked my apartment's deadbolts about fifty times since I saw this film, because the worst part of it all is that this sort of unsolicited, unmotivated, illogical violence seems the most realistic.

NOTE: After a closer look at rogerebert.com, it appears Ebert's editor, Jim Emerson, is writing the reviews while Ebert is recuperating from some surgery. I tried and tried to make this review work without the hilarious Ebert Going Insane theme, but I couldn't give it up. So I left it there, but let's assume that as Ebert's official representative, Emerson reflects the critic's views. But hopefully not his fashion sense.
---

*Conjecture, but my new favorite mental video.

SEE ALSO: www.funnygames-themovie.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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