Saturday, March 15, 2008

Funny, "Ha, ha," or funny "Call 9-1-1?"

When I was in college, lo these many aeons past, I decided that I enjoyed writing stories, but that I really sucked at it. So, I did the intelligent thing, and blew a few credit-hours on a creative-writing class, where the instructor made it pretty clear to me that I didn't know much about how to write a story. But by the end of the quarter, I was doing much better - enough to know that I was never going to be a storyteller. Part of the reason for this was that the audience that I was writing for was myself, and that really makes it hard to be successful, unless what YOU like is also what a lot of other people like. Which in my case, wasn't true. I'd had enough of common tropes like stories should have happy endings or that the audience should be able to identify with the main characters. I found myself wanting something that struck me as a little more realistic, and my instructor agreed that my stories were in line with the real world, but he couldn't really understand what anyone would get out of reading them. Once I decided that I wasn't going to keep up with fiction writing, I sort of put all of this aside and forgot about it, until I read a review of "Funny Games." And another and then another. While my own stories didn't set out to be shockingly violent or break the fourth wall (a device in which the characters address the audience directly, and in doing so, acknowledge that they're characters in a story) I did have kind of the same antipathy to catharsis that Michael Haneke is described as having.

Funny Games, is, from what I understand, a run of the mill home-invasion, battle-against-psychopaths movie, with one major exception - it doesn't have a happy ending. The tormented family doesn't turn the tables on their captors and come out of their ordeal stronger and with a renewed commitment to each other. No heroic law-enforcer defies the odds, bursts onto the scene just when things seem darkest, and meeting violence with violence, saves the day. No one finds some inner reserve of strength that they tap into to become a hero. In other words, there's nothing that vindicates the unrelenting violence. No stranger risks everything to rescue people out of a sense of social obligation.

From reading the reviews, I'm given to understand that Funny Games is meant to be a critique of the way in which violence is used as, rather than in, entertainment. It's also described as a shame-the-viewer piece. This is a hard sell, and I suppose its why none of the reviewers that I've read really liked it - who wants to watch a movie whose primary message is critical of its audience? People's aversion to criticism makes many social messages fall on deaf ears. Of course, when people can see the message as being critical of someone other than themselves, it loses a lot of its punch.

Part of me wants to see this movie, to understand the message, even if it is that I'm a sicko for watching the movie. But I'm not really a fan of gratuitous violence in movies (When I saw the Ninjas attacking Speed in the Speed Racer trailer, I immediately resolved never to watch it - I mean seriously - Ninjas?), and tend to see it for what it commonly is: car chases, explosions, gunfights and random beatings, especially when they have no consequences, are easier to write then an engaging plot or compelling character development. So I'm not really sure why I'd want to see a movie whose whole premise is that both plot and character development are ignored, in favor of constant violence.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

For what it's worth, in most writers' interviews I've read, their motivation to finally put pen to page is to write the stories they'd rather be reading, very often out of a dissatisfaction of how other authors would handle the stories. (Evidently, none of these folks had anything against character epiphanies.)

I haven't even read the review of this one, but it sounds like he's abusing the characters, too, a real misanthrope. Yeah, it's interesting that I react more uncomfortably to character abuse for the principal of catharsis (though I agree there's too much of this too), than to challenge myself. Still, I'd say there are better ways to make these points.