The “Funny Games” Hollywood Plays
Monday, December 10, 2007
Author: Bryan Ghingold
When watching and analyzing the film Funny Games, perhaps the first thing to wrap your head around, once you’ve had some time to breathe fresh air and settle your stomach, is the title. Why would Haneke name this film Funny Games? Was he referring to the silly game the disillusioned yuppies were playing during the opening sequence? Guessing who composed which piece of classical music? Was he referring to the queer “games” played by Peter and Paul? Certainly only they, and people of similar demented villainy would ever call what they do “games.” Or is it more abstract than that? Is the term “funny games” not referring to anything in the film itself, but perhaps the target of Haneke’s social commentary: the Hollywood film system? I think it is a little bit of all three. As we discussed in class, films are a fluid, living entity. While the director may have only meant a very specific interpretation, personal interpretation, and analytical classes such as World Film History keep films alive and changing.
I think that the title “Funny Games” could refer to the yuppie characters we are meant to (initially, at least) identify with. They seem to be from the upper middle class; they own a fishing boat, they rent or own a lake house, the language they use and the values they seem to embody are those of the average, educated, upper middle class American family. It is very important that in the opening scene, the first thing Haneke shows us is this family on the highway, listening to classical music. From a story perspective, this establishes them as educated, perhaps wealthy, with enough money and time to memorize classical composers and songs. On a deeper level however, Haneke is showing us that “who among the upper middle class ever thinks something bad will happen to them?” The family represents the proverbial teenager who thinks he is invincible, so he goes out in the rain without a jacket. When we cut to the interior of their car, we see that the husband and wife are playing a funny little game… they alternate playing classical music on a CD, and try to guess who the composer is, and which song it is. They are so unconcerned with the world around them, and the dangers it holds, that they can afford to play a guessing game about classical music.
Of course, that is not the only occurrence of “funny games” throughout the movie. The antagonists Peter and Paul play a series of games, particularly with human lives at stake. One such example is when they tell Anna, one of their captives, to pick a number, based on her age. They then play a game of “eenie meenie mynie mo” using that number. When they land on Anna’s young son, the gunman, Peter, shoots and kills him. Paul gets upset and they argue over the rules of the game, completely desensitized to the dead child whose blood is splattered over everything. Another example of their “funny games” is the bet they make with George, Anna’s husband. They bet him that by 9 am the next day, George’s family will be dead, and they will be alive. Obviously these antagonizing characters were written not to have a sympathetic bone in their body, but what kind of human being makes such a bet! At the end of the film, when Peter and Paul have won, they move on to the next house and begin their game of terrorizing and killing all over again.
Both of those explanations of the title require only a literal analysis of the film. My third argument is that Haneke chose the title Funny Games as a commentary of the American Hollywood film system. How ironic is it that we are told by the media to be moral; that stealing is bad, killing is bad, mayhem is bad, and then the same media gives us a movie where the hero steals a car, kills hundreds of people (all bad guys and bad henchmen, of course), and then blows up the car, causing unimaginable mayhem? We discussed in class the ironic notion of a moral economy: it is ok for a hero to kill hundreds of henchmen and brutally kill the antagonist in a creative way befitting of a James Bond film, as long as he is avenging his dead family, or rescuing a trolley full of orphans. That concept of the moral economy is so absurd, yet we accept it without a second thought. In every American or Hollywood action film, the villains do something bad to the hero first, to justify the hero’s revenge. Imagine sitting in on the trial of John McClane, or John Rambo, or any of the action heroes that have come since.
“Your honor, my defendant pleads not guilty to the murders of henchman A through ZZZ and throwing the evil Dr. BadGuy into an industrial meat grinder, on the grounds that they kidnapped his family, and killed his dog.”
“Did he get his family back in the end?”
“Yes your honor, but the dog is irreplaceable. Though, they did adopt Dr. BadGuy’s dog after his death, and even though Dr. BadGuy abused him, he was wagging his tail and very enthusiastic to be adopted.”
This would only happen in the fantasy land of Hollywood’s moral economy, and that is what I think Haneke was trying to say with Funny Games. Violence, no matter what the justification, is never acceptable, and should never be a commodity. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood, a market whose cornerstone is the commodity of marketable violence, has to say to Michael Haneke.
Images taken from the internet used without permission for illustrative effect and not for profit