[This article, and the slideshow itself, contains spoilers about both versions of Funny Games.]
When Michael Haneke said he was going to remake Funny Games in English shot by shot, you knew he was going to keep his promise, but you might have been surprised at exactly how closely he stuck to his original storyboards. This week I watched them both together, i.e. one on the TV, one on the laptop, and some of the matches between shots in each are quite remarkable. On the one hand, this is a diverting little exercise that proves (as if such proof were necessary) the strict control that Haneke maintains over his mise-en-scene and editing, almost to the point of constricting his actors within rigid frameworks.
That element of control may be part of the point, racking up considerable tension by emphasising not the random terrors of violent assault, but its careful and manipulative deployment by a non-interventionist film-maker. Haneke’s portrayal of the escalation of a murderous home invasion is as calm and indefatigable as the young men who carry it out, and this is clearly demonstrated by his ability to stick to the script and produce the same effects in both films. When asked why he decided to repeat every single shot of his 1997 Funny Games for an American remake, Haneke replied:
Because I have nothing to add. I already did the first film for an American audience, for an audience consuming violence. And it only didn’t reach that audience because it was in German. And so when I got the offer of the remake I said sure. After all, the subject became only more up to date. I mean, the world is only more violent. I wanted to give myself a certain challenge, I wanted to make it a little bit more demanding for myself. And so, I decided to do it shot-by-shot again.
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the didactic nature of the film, but I admire its commitment to unsettling its viewer. It’s still possible, if so inclined, to enjoy it as another extreme thrill ride (I’m often amazed by the ability of horror fans to shrug off even the most gruelling of movies or to compartmentalise them as compendia of bodily destruction in all its variations), though you can see Haneke trying to thwart such attempts at complacency. Funny Games doesn’t play fair – the divisive moment where one of the killers uses a remote control to rewind the film to make it replay in his favour breaks a contract with the spectator that their involvement in the fiction can have an influence on it. We like to believe that because we’re on the side of the innocents, the filmmaker will at least reward us with some relief, some catharsis or vengeance, but there is no comfort here: in this place of carefully applied violence, dogs and children die first. Why? Because they’re not supposed to, and thus is highlighted the artifice of the conventions that usually govern film violence.
This slideshow makes pairs of shots from the 1997 and 2007 versions. Feel free to scroll through and fastforward, because the full version might take a long time to view. Alternatively, you can see the whole set here:
In putting together a slide show of comparisons of shots from both versions of Funny Games, I was struck by how, in combination, the pair of films show how reliant the film is, in either version, on repeated shots of its own. The recurrence of a golf ball as an object of menace, close-ups of knives, eggs, golf clubs, and the remote control itself – the family use a remote to open and close the gates to their property, and one of the killers uses a remote to resurrect his friend. The gates are shown closing all the way behind the family (the gates in the 2007 version move much more slowly, but the shot carries on nevertheless), completing the symbolic image of the security system that is both a protection and a threat: the family effectively incarcerate themselves as they seek isolation and separation from other people inside their holiday retreat. All of those implements of their leisure and domesticity (sports equipment, kitchen knives, the boat, television) are used against them. Even the codes of polite society are turned into an aggravating weapon – the attackers initially pass off their assault as a failure of manners on the part of a family who refuse to share their space or pay them proper respect.
There are differences between the two versions. Anne’s dress and make-up in 1997 mark her out as a little more tight and prim than Naomi Watts’ warmer, smilier version, and the colour palette in 2007 is darker, more muted. But when Haneke even goes to the trouble of ensuring that the same subjects are playing on the bloodstained TV (and one of the thugs is seen channel-hopping through footage of hurricane destruction to alight on racing cars in both versions, too), you know that he’s serious about each and every component of his work, and that you’ve already lost this particular game: you have no say in how things are going to turn out. Unless, of course, you switch it off.