Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Funny Thing About Funny Games

I saw No Country For Old Men a few nights ago at the Lammle theater in Santa Monica. This is an excellent film which recurs the word "nihilist" in people's reviews. Bleak, yes, but nihilist, no. One could argue all noir and neo-noir is nihilist, but one would be wrong. Even Double Indemnity has a moral center in Edward G. Robinson's character - it's just that the center is off to the side.

Nihilism in films is not the dearth of likable characters or lack of a happy ending but the deliberate absence of a moral standard from the filmmakers themselves: the unashamed depiction of evil for entertainment in of itself. Even a film like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer takes pause to reflect Henry's evil, on an innocent girl who has fallen in love with him, and on himself, when he stares long and hard into his own reflection. What does he see? The truly nihilist approach doesn't bother with questions, it takes evil at superficial face value and as unironic entertainment.

Imagine my surprise when the trailer for Michael Haneke's American remake of his own Funny Games came up before the feature presentation.

Seemingly a shot for shot and word for word recreation of the original from 11 years ago. I caught it on video around that time, and was gripped by the post-modernism (not evident in this trailer) which the film finds it's center in. Without giving too much away, we eventually come to realize early on that the bad guys are aware of their existence as bad guys in a thriller film.

The satire of the film is directed outward at the audience: why did you choose to watch a film such as this? Do you hope the family lives, or dies? Is this entertainment? The film's title and it's villains self-referentialism are cleverly deconstructionist to these matters. The film is nihilist, but the plot is a Macguffin and the subject matter is really nihilism itself in films.

Well, maybe it's a little guiltier of sincere sadism than I remember.

What struck me was that Haneke's original movie preceded Saw and Hostel, sincerely nihilist horror franchises in which there are no good guys, every "victim" is capable of equally sadistic villainy, and the aesthetic function is to linger on viscera for as long as possible. The original Games cannot be classified as "torture porn" since it contains no gore or protracted violence, only paced outbursts of the latter. The rest is genuine suspense, and satirizing the anticipation of violence is the meat of the content.

I didn't realize the film was so prescient, because the M.O. of the two killers whose raison d'ĂȘtre is the same as the audience has more or less gone mainstream through the recent "torture porn" bubble. However many more Saw sequels they make is our best indication for how much cruder people's tastes will become before hitting rock bottom.

Then again, I've got a friend who thinks Roman-style gladiator fights and live lion feedings are going to come back in a big way.

The funny thing is, the trailer went over pretty bad with the crowd that night. One guy actually booed. Maybe seeing a child in sadistic danger is what pushes most people's final button.

Funny Games satirized a coming trend. The trailer of remake is now indistinguishable from that trend. I can understand why Haneke wanted to do it again.

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