Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Was muss ich tun?

By remaining in the theater, we are willing them to die. Their deaths happen by our seeing them, so if we were to leave the theater, they would in fact survive. Haneke practically begs us to walk out. Staying forces us to realize our full moral bankrupcty.


t. said...
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t. said...
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wolves for breakfast said...

why were these comments deleted? what did they say?

t. said...

And yet all of the actual deaths (the dying, if not the actions that cause the death, though that for the first two) happen off-screen...

For an easy answer, we participate in this film and make excuses for that participation because we're terrorized ourselves. Even the most violent and disturbing of other sensationalized 'thrillers' are impersonalized and cause no empathy -- for the victims or the perpetrator. This one makes you empathize (and not) with both sides at some point.

Another, more satisfying answer? Haneke’s screenplay and direction convince us to objectify the family from the very beginning of the film, first shot included. The movie quietly opens with horror-film silence until the commercial-ness of their lives are paraded before us the style of, well, parody. We watch them play their musical guessing game, having already made a handful of assumptions about them, until the heavy metal (another parody, of death metal) interrupts us looking closely at their faces: suddenly we’re told that it’s okay to inspect their satisfied lives. We’re alienated from them and told that all of those assumptions we made, well, we were supposed to do just that. We’re to see them as objects, not sympathetic victims. Objects with product placement – Handel & Vivaldi, Soymilk & Fresh Olives, Nokia phone.

The objectification continues with traditional, even regal camera angles much more classically Hollywood than (what less than five years ago would have been) rebelliously hand-held and voyeuristic. Distant participation is, after all, the new voyeurism. Less transgressive, and more satisfying (perhaps), is our complicity in daily updates, not terrifying but certainly invading of another's space, even if that person released the update and wanted their space accompanied. Participation is what we’re used to. It’s in our home too. In our home with us right now.

These things can’t make us not empathize, obviously. But the point is that we’re being led with a carrot over our heads, so it’s not surprising that we don’t take the alternative path out of the theater.

I'm a huge Haneke fan, particularly The Piano Teacher, so I've been waiting for this for a while. Who would've guessed it would be shot-for-shot – down to the same crew, dollies, cameras? Haneke claims (but only with the release of the new version) that his screenplay was initially a remark on the specifically American fascination with horror films.

But maybe he wanted to make it here for a different reason? Almost half of the cast is not American born, for instance. Maybe he had something else in mind. The most interesting experiment, if you will, is not so much on each full theater but on each full cast. New actors play word-for-word (minus translation) roles under the exact same lighting and within the exact same camera angles. Their own interpretation of the torture on display -- how's that for a good movie?

Haneke is infamous for keeping secrets and inside jokes for years and often, I imagine and he suggests, forever. Maybe he breaks the movie open a couple of times to walk in and look at the audience with his own face from behind the red curtain (awkward cutting, the remote scene), but the most subtle game is being played on the actors. His own personal study, his own personal terrorism, his own personal film. A film that he literally paused, rewound and played anew all over again.

I think Haneke’s suggestion that the viewer could (and importantly, would) at any time leave the theater is still true, but only in an ambiguous and idealistic sort of way. I can turn on cnn or log into yahoo news any time of the day and watch a video of, for instance, Saddam Hussein being executed. That's also a choice, and that really happened. Is happening. Like a video of a car chase between the police, bystanders and a couple of teenagers.

When Haneke says that the viewer is able to leave at any minute, the man knows better. He chooses his words wisely and almost always is playing with the interviewer. It’s worked. Ninety-percent of all reviews and criticism of this movie include his “Those who need to see it will; those who don’t, won’t,” quote.

He claims that the best compliment he can get is to have someone walk out on his movie. In interviews his retelling of these episodes of 'walking out' are detailed and repeated with pride, the slam of the door remembered and recalculated, more as if that person fell through his trapdoor with the loudest thud.

“Never trust the teller, trust the tale.”
– d.h. lawrence

Sorry for the rambling...
Apparently I have a lot to say about this movie.

current exchange said...

William Faulkner was once asked about his favorite character in his novels. His reply: corncob. I'm certain Haneke is doing a similar thing. And yet, read Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech- some of the most beautiful and honest prose in America.

For me, understanding the purpose of Haneke's remake has everything to do with Michael Pitt's gesture as he twice looks at his audience. His is a very nuanced smile. If there is any reason to remake the film, it's to capture his face in that moment.

One possibility: his smile says "I'm enjoying your pain, too". Haneke withholds the spirit of "enjoyment" from the audience, keeping it always with (two of) the film's characters. He will never allow us to have it (see, the aforementioned rewinding of the scene, etc.). We have, as an American audience, achieved enjoyment in horror primarily through the revenge fantasy, that which Haneke presents us & redacts instantly. See both Hostel films. See also Slumber Party Massacre, where revenge is appropriately feminized as the male is symbolically castrated. I think Haneke is reacting against the new crop of Hostel-esque films specifically. And in presenting violence offscreen & perpetually distancing us from both pro & antagonists, Haneke shows the utmost respect for at least one of his subjects- violence.

So, this is basically a repetition of brilliant comments already made by those on the site. Just thought I'd chime in for posterity. Besides, most of what Haneke is doing is not particularly new. See Deodato's House on the Edge of the Park.

Anyone wanna post about Sokurov's Alexandra? OK.