Funny Games (2007)

The Treatment of Violence in European Art Films. Part#1

The theatrical set up in A Clockwork Orange during the rape scene

The theatrical set up in A Clockwork Orange during the rape scene

We may enjoy, as viewers, hearing the music of Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie during the fight in the theatre with Billy Boy’s droogs. The visual information, however, acts as a counterpoint with the piece of music, for we are going looking at a rape act.

It is interesting to point out the extreme difference that has a certain action according to the way it is presented. The director’s choices have a lot to do in the way we experiment viewing a violent act such as rape.  We could take for instance Gaspar Noe’s rape scene in Irreversible and analyse the formal differences between them and see how they affect an audience.

Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible rape scene

Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible rape scene

The fact that the director Gaspar Noe decided to reveal the violence in the rape scene with a static shot in one take –no extra diegetic sound effects or music– clearly makes the scene become almost unbearable. In the interview Time destroys all things with David Sterret, Gaspar explains his motivation to shoot it this way:

DS: I’d still like to hear more about why you made the rape scene that incredibly brutal–so long, so close, so anal. It’s a painful scene!

GN: That’s the thing. I could not think of doing a rape scene that would not be painful. Otherwise, you’re not [thinking about] what you’re shooting, what you’re representing. The thing is, you really are emotionally linked to the victim, and not the rapist. In many movies, you get linked to the rapist, because it’s shot from a subjective point of view, the guy coming at the girl with a knife, and so on. But in this case, it’s evident that you are linked to the victim, and not for one second to the aggressor.

Gaspar Noe needs to refer to the emotional link between the spectator and the image in order to explain the power of that scene. The article written by Timothy Nicodemo “Cinematography and Sensorial Assault in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible” refers to the results of a research to measure the reactions of the audience to watching sexual violence onscreen, and points out that Martin Barker lists a number of aspects that he believes constitute the dangers of filmic rape, one of which would appear to support this notion: “There is a belief that to show, for in­stance, a rape on screen is… almost to enact the rape for real. The line between the represented and the real is seen to be particularly fragile in this case”. In Timothy’s words: “such an erasure of the boundary between reality and representation occurs in a number of ways: just as Alex is trapped on the ground, so are we; just as she is trapped within the confines of a small tunnel, so too do we feel the claustrophobic confines; and most importantly, just as Alex must endure the violence for nine unbroken minutes, the spectator must also withstand the event for its entire duration”. And continues: “describing the camerawork in this sequence as “cru­cially static” and committing to an “excruciating . . . sin­gle-shot, emphasizes the “punishing” nature that temporality enacts. Other critics have noted the anti­pathetic nature elicited from the unbroken gaze: the audi­ence must “sit in anguish through a solitary shot” and that “the nastiness lasts eight minutes but feels far longer”.

The painful act of becoming the hopeless witness of violence is in that directorial choice, in the similar way that we were forced to look in the living room at the murder consequences in Funny Games.

In terms of directing, the power within the frame is not only due to its stillness and the long duration. In Haneke’s Funny Games, it definitely has a lot to do with the previous sequence and the shift between the expectations of the audience.

As mentioned before, Haneke wants the audience to be part of the game interpreting the story in the framework of the suspense genre, therefore the viewer feels safe since he thinks he knows what to expect.

As Catherine Wheatley puts it in her book The Ethics of the Image, “the spectator falls into a false sense of security” and Haneke states that: “elements from the history of the suspense thriller appear as quotes -the classical opening, the scene when the boy escapes to the villa- very classical, like Hitchcock.  And the audience only engages with the film when they don’t know what’s going to happen, when they allow themselves hope”.

As Whatley sees it, this statement underlines the necessity to rely on generic conventions, in terms of narrative and formality. She believes that “it also serves as a guideline for what emotional response the spectator will take to that film”. And continues “by stablishing Anna, George and Georgie as a family group who are under threat from two outsiders, Haneke places us on their side. We may draw a sadistic pleasure in watching their struggle, but we are positioned in such a way that we want them to triumph over their captors, at the time and in the manner that comforts to the spectator’s expectations of the suspense thriller’s narrative trajectory.”

Alex de Large breaking the forth wall looking straight to the audience in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Alex de Large breaking the forth wall looking straight to the audience in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Direct interpelation to the audience in Funny Games (1997)

Direct interpelation to the audience in Funny Games (1997)

The participation of the audience is crucial to determine how this films work. They all provide a direct emotional implication from the audience, and in the cases of Funny Games and A Clockwork Orange, they assume that their relationship is one of complicity, highlighting the sense of disturbance in the viewer.

Wheatley highlights that in this sense, in Funny Games the antagonist Paul “does not merely acknowledge the audience as spectators, but he also accuses them being their reason to exist: “the cinematic violence in Funny Games exists only because the audience expects it”.

If these films portray an explicit and verbal demand from the spectator, Dogtooth on its side needs the spectator to exist but this demand happens in a much more internal level.

If Funny Games is completely decontextualized from the time and social background in the story -it only gives hints of the characters that they belong to high social class- Dogtooth completely wipes any trace of evidence of the reality that the characters live outside the walls of their home.

Dogtooth enters the world of the human psyche, perhaps in a more intense -intrusive- way than the other films, since it bases its violence mainly through the manipulation of the meaning of language, proving that a stronger barrier than the one build inside the mind doesn’t exist.

Culture is arbitrary; depending on the place we are born and the people who raise us we understand life in a different way from the rest of human beings. We are DNA completely conditioned by our culture, our education, our family. Everything that has been put in our minds since the very beginning of our existence it’s a perspective from which we understand the world. Our education, our relationships, our trips… All of it contributes to enlarge our knowledge of the realty in front of us. We expose ourselves to reality in order to get in contact with what’s “real” with “truth”. But again, everything has to go through the filter of our mind and everything it has accumulated.