In the Cabin in the Woods thread, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games came up, and the conversation helped me articulate the reason I found that film annoying. There were two reasons for this: 1) Haneke seems to treat viewers as if they’re idiots—that is, completely unaware about the questionable nature of “enjoying” horror films; 2) Haneke subjects viewers to his chastisement, while pretending to give them a horror film. Thinking about my reaction to FG lead me to some of the questions and issues I want to explore in this thread:
Are viewers of horror and action films aware that “enjoying” the graphic violence is questionable to some degree? Do they enjoy the violence or is there some thing else going on?Is there a value to escapist movies that have a lot of violence?
When an average movie goer sees a Saw film it’s the violence they want as well as the twists. I was 14 or so when I saw the first, and yes everybody would see it for the torture, and that’s all that was talked about. I think I purged myself of this morbid curiosity and serious horror cine(necro)philia with Flowers of Flesh and Blood and August Underground’s Mordum. I think yes, absolutely, it’s the violence, but nobody cares.
Hehe, the only time I felt unnecessarily assaulted by a film was when I recently glanced at Haneke’s Benny’s Video on youtube. The pig. More annoyed than disturbed I think. Annoyed at his gall.
I don’t like when I’m supposed to enjoy it. I don’t remember Funny Games so well, though I remember I seeked it out anticipating a horror film! So there, I was one of them, seekers of depravity. I’m an expert!
I feel no remorse in enjoying Kill Bill Vol. 1, and as a direct result I have no use for Professor Haneke’s lectures.
But then again, I feel like I’m confident enough in my own judgments to know when the violence I’m watching is meant to be taken seriously and when it’s not. Most scenes of violence do not make me smile from ear to ear.
I think there is a key distinction between entertaining violence and violence as entertainment.
The line sometimes gets blurred but I would say Kill Bill and Cabin in the Woods have entertaining violence while something like Hostel is just violence as entertainment. However, it’s completely subjective. For example, I think Saw (the first one) is an effective and creative horror movie. I consider it as a legitimate use of violence, but it gets a bad wrap since it basically spurred a horrific, immoral genre (including its sequels).
I guess the distinction is between movies with substance that are entertaining and violent, opposed to movies that use the human urge to see horrific images and watch people get tortured as the key reason to see the film. I think Haneke is criticizing the later not the former.
When an average movie goer sees a Saw film it’s the violence they want as well as the twists. I was 14 or so when I saw the first, and yes everybody would see it for the torture, and that’s all that was talked about.
Right, but I’m wondering if there is something positive about this. My thoughts on the subject are really muddled, so bear with me. (I’m hoping this thread can clarify some of my thoughts.) I’m wondering if young people see these films as a way to conquer their fears, to test themselves in a way. Up until high school, horror movies could really freak me out. If there were a horror film on TV, just catching a glimpse of it at night could terrify me, and I remember that as teenager I felt like I wanted to overcome this fear—partly by exposing myself to horror films. Of course, thrills and a sense of titillation accompanied this desire to overcome my childhood fears—and that was part of the enjoyment. (The fact that a fictious creation could evoke terror was also appealing and impressive to me.)
In my older age, I lost all interest in horror movies. I no longer feel the need to challenge myself or confront fears—as I’m not really that fearful of horror movies. The gore and violence can be disturbing and sometimes repugnant, but the terror isn’t the same.
But then again, I feel like I’m confident enough in my own judgments to know when the violence I’m watching is meant to be taken seriously and when it’s not.
But just to play Devil’s Advocate here, is enjoying violence problematic—even, or especially, when it’s not meant to be taken seriously? How would define “seriously?” The violence in action films can be cartoonish, so does that mean they’re not meant to be taken seriously? The violence in something like Robocop seems to be mostly satirical, so that might be an example when it’s not supposed to be enjoyed in the convetional sense.
Most scenes of violence do not make me smile from ear to ear.
Right—not smile ear to ear, but what about giving you a thrill that is enjoyable?
I think Haneke is criticizing the later not the former.
I’m not so sure about that—in fact, if I had to guess, I’d say he’s criticizing both forms.
I’m still not sure about the distinction you’re trying to make. Aren’t both types using violence to entertain viewers. “Entertaining violence” maybe less objectionable because there is more creativity involved—e.g., skillfully integrating the violence into a solid story. But if the story is essentially escapist fare, is this really so different from “violence as entertainment?”
Yeah man. My curiosity with horror films was an urge to push my limits. It’s necessary, we all do it here when challenging ourselves with difficult films. Pushin’ limits. Now I don’t think I’m afraid of anything. Yes. Anxious as hell, more than ever, but not afraid. The violence isn’t real and it doesn’t affect us the way real violence would, and I can’t suspend that kind of disbelief anymore. Godard said that Pierrot Le Fou was banned from young people not because of blood but because of red. I’m like that now.
But I think most movie goers just see whatever’s popular, and not out of any personal interest or need to stretch themselves. A morbid curiosity is always independent from popularity as is all curiosity.
EDIT- Even if the violence was real we’d assume it wasn’t.
Let’s go back to The Cabin in the Woods.
(END OF SPOILERS)
I was not entertained by the later scene because I was watching someone suffer, someone who the movie was invested in. A movie like Hostel introduces characters only to find entertainment in their suffering. There is nothing else to grasp.
I might be making a distinction to defend my innate love of violence that I don’t want to admit to, but I really do see a difference between the two types of portrayals.
Somewhere there are some points to be made about violence in films and a number of them, ranging from Straw Dogs to Cabin in the Woods, have been thought provoking. What they do not do, but Haneke does in Funny Games, is lecture. Lecturing is non-cinematic and has the effect of, as Jazz indicated, treating the audience like idiots.
Onto film violence itself. I think cartoon violence, from actual cartoons to Die Hard to the Evil Dead is harmless for those not already disturbed. Realistic violence I suspect is also relatively harmless for those who can distinguish fiction from non-fiction. There is a strong visceral reaction though, that’s hard to ignore and affect people in different ways. I have my own limits and refuse to watch torture porn, for instance. For some though, The Human Centipede is their version of Friday the 13th. I think we all pretty much need to determine our own comfort level, but I don’t want others determining mine for me.
But even if the violence is justified most people don’t think about this. Like a kid’s TV show, they spell out the message for them at the end, but they never think about it. All they see are the funny images. All most people see is the violence. Intent matters little in cinematic sardoodledom.
On Michael Haneke:
The big problem with him is that while he chastises his audience through his message that everything is wrong in society and all that, I don’t feel that he’s generous enough to even chastise himself. This is why I think he may be the most infuriating of all filmmakers today, even in his good movies. People like Luis Bunuel or Jean Renoir had at least the balls to even point the finger at themselves; Haneke seems to think of himself as a larger-than-life figure that’s immune to society’s flaws. Hence, a sense of dishonesty pervades every one of his movies.
More on violence at some point.
I tend like violent / escapist films.
Aren’t we enjoying FEAR more than violence? Isn’t it the heightened sensation (that adrenaline produces) that makes these films pleasurable? FEAR experienced in total safety. like a roller coaster. (unless it is a roller coaster from a horror movie)
When an “art” director portrays violence as dull, cruel and blunt- that is usually when I am repulsed. (thanks for lesson, Mr. director. I didn’t know sadism was like… ummm sadism. Wow, what you can learn in art cinema.)
I think you guys are being too hard on Haneke. This is a bigger issue. But I have a real problem with people being called self-righteous for discussing important human issues. I don’t feel like Haneke lectures. I feel like he asks questions. Watching Funny Games I found myself wondering about my own reactions and having moments of self-reflection. I did not feel a self-righteous God judging me.
“Haneke seems to treat viewers as if they’re idiots—that is, completely unaware about the questionable nature of “enjoying” horror films”
I disagree. Of course everyone (or almost everyone) is aware of the nature of enjoyment of horror films—this awareness is part of what makes the experience enjoyable , after all—but there’s sort of an unspoken agreement in films (with the occasional exception) to only allude to this or imply it, but to not actually insert it into the text of the film. Haneke’s actually bringing this into the text of his film, not because he thought the audience was dumb, but because he wanted to frustrate the “enjoyment” of the film by drawing your attention to the ways in which the film is manipulating you, so that the viewer “goes home unhappy and discontented.”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fantasizing about doing violent or immoral things. Fantasizing doesn’t hurt anybody. As long as you can tell the difference between reality and fantasy and you don’t let your violent/immoral impulses spill over into reality then go ahead and fantasize all you want, I say. I like Funny Games, and I appreciate how it subverts the genre, but at the same time I think it’s a little bit absurd to chastise the audience for getting some sadistic pleasure out of some movie violence because (Hello!) it’s not real! It’s a fucking movie! Are we not allowed to have violent thoughts now? Give me a break.
But there’s some evidence that suggests that prolonged exposure to images of graphic violence leads to an increased likelihood of actual violent behavior. That’s where the hand-wringing and moralizing comes in.
Well, screw that. Just because a few unstable individuals saw some violence on the TV and then went on a rampage doesn’t mean we should start censoring stuff; (not that that’s what you are suggesting). Most people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality and playing some violent video games or watching horror movies isn’t going to turn them into violent sociopaths.
“Are viewers of horror and action films aware that “enjoying” the graphic violence is questionable to some degree? "
Generally speaking, probably not. But that’s because on a much larger scale, people generally are not very aware of anything. Most people are pretty oblivious, actually.
Having said that, the problem with Funny Games is that Haneke is preaching to the choir. The people he is wagging his finger at would never see his film. The majority of people that went to see Funny Games (either version) probably hold the same disdain for audiences as Haneke does. And that was the problem with Funny Games; if Haneke really wanted to reach a mass audience, he would’ve packaged his treatise in a superhero movie or big budget action film.
“Do they enjoy the violence or is there some thing else going on?”
I think mass audience just enjoy the ride. I wouldn’t presume to think it’s strictly about violence (a lot of war films have violence and yet don’t make $500 million at the box office); I think it’s just fantasy, escape, etc.
“Is there a value to escapist movies that have a lot of violence?”
Yes. But it’s all about context and how it’s done. Cinema has endless possibilities and trying to limit or restrict those possibilities seems misguided to me.
And btw – what kind of violence are we talking about? Strictly physical torture ala Saw? Or emotional violence ala Blue Valentine? It seems we Americans like to get caught up in physical violence but mental violence is really what screws us up in the long term.
The only thoughts I had coming out of Funny Games were on the director. He didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know and instead made the film about him.
I gotta say, I love a lot of his other films but Funny Games makes Lars von Trier look like the most unnarcissistic filmmaker out there.
“But there’s some evidence that suggests that prolonged exposure to images of graphic violence leads to an increased likelihood of actual violent behavior.”
Ahhh yes, the “Hollywood-is-responsible-for-Columbine” defense.
Good point. I do think fear might be the bigger issue—especially experiencing fear in a safe situation. But why was this pleasurable when I was younger (and horror seems to appeal to younger viewers), and not so much now?
Also, I feel like the experiencing or dealing with fear is the key issue with horror films, but not so much with action films. If the action involves suspense, then I think fear is an issue—but, off the top of my head, if it’s just some guy beating up or shooting at another person, that involves aggression and desire to see violence.
I see a very distinct difference between the jock’s motorcycle crash or a unicorn stabbing a guy through his chest and when Dana is on the dock desperate and crying for her life (when the workers are celebrating).
I was not entertained by the later scene because I was watching someone suffer, someone who the movie was invested in.
I don’t mean to be annoying, but I’m confused by this example. Are you saying that the scene with Dana is somehow more acceptable than the other situations because it is unenjoyable? It’s important to remember that the scene is largely satirical or at least self-consciously commenting on the horror genre (recall that the people in the control room are celebrating)—which makes the scene funny, in a satirical, wink-wink sort of way.
What makes the motorcycle and unicorn scenes less acceptable to you?
Haneke’s actually bringing this into the text of his film, not because he thought the audience was dumb, but because he wanted to frustrate the “enjoyment” of the film by drawing your attention to the ways in which the film is manipulating you, so that the viewer “goes home unhappy and discontented.”
But what’s the purpose of this, Matt? Isn’t it to get viewers to reflect on their enjoyment of these type of horror/suspense movies and cause us to question our enjoyment of them. In other words, he seems to be chiding viewers for enjoying these types of movies, for wanting to see the villains get their just desserts.
Btw, I’m partly trying to see if we can provide justification for enjoying horror and action films. Should we feel guilty about enjoying these films or can we make a case for enjoying them without any guilt?
@Westley and Brad
Let’s agree that high exposure to violent films doesn’t cause violent behavior (at least not killing other people). Is that the only reason for objection to watching and enjoying a lot of violent movies? I’m not so comfortable (or at least I’m ambivalent) with the idea of a society that celebrates the type of violence depicted in the typical horror and action movies.
Having said that, the problem with Funny Games is that Haneke is preaching to the choir. The people he is wagging his finger at would never see his film. The majority of people that went to see Funny Games (either version) probably hold the same disdain for audiences as Haneke does.
I don’t know. You might be overstating your case just a bit. I could see the film getting decent word of mouth and attracting horror/suspense fans. At the same time, I could understand if the films got bad word of mouth because of it’s chiding quality.
Well, violence alone won’t make a successful movie. You have to have a serviceable story and characters that provide a context for the violence. (This reminds me of that Eddie Murphy joke where he mentioned being criticized for profanity by Bill Cosby. Murphy says something like: “I took offense to those criticisms because it’s not like my whole act was swearing. I can’t get up here and say, ‘F**k, s**t, p***y, good night.’:”)
Yes. But it’s all about context and how it’s done.
OK, so how do escapist films have to be made in a way that we can defend watching them?
Well, I think this is an interesting question. Some thoughts:
>I would imagine that emotional violence accompanies horror and action films as well…well, I guess it depends what you mean by emotional violence. (You’re talking strictly about abusive relationships?)
>Are films that deal with emotional violence manipulative and gratuitous like they often are in horror and action? Do people watch films for the emotional violence? I guess if we count some of the lifetime network films that involve abusive relationships, those films might apply.
“But there’s some evidence that suggests that prolonged exposure to images of graphic violence leads to an increased likelihood of actual violent behavior. That’s where the hand-wringing and moralizing comes in.”
This is utter nonsense. I’m sure prolonged exposure to internet forms is more likely to lead to an increased likelihood of actual violent behavior. Or why hasn’t violence drastically increased in the past decades but actually decreased in most parts of the world?
Isn’t this genre on the wane? You can push it just so far and it becomes self parody.
Is there a value to escapist movies that have a lot of violence?
Escapist movies are bad for you whether they have violence or not. It’s not the violence that matters, it’s the shallow vision of the world. It is dangerous to be surrounded by Hollywood visions. They create a simple understanding of people and the world that it can take years to break out of.
They have no artistic value. If they serve a purpose, it is as a life support for the average person who feels deeply engaged with them.
I think you’re overanalyzing this a little. The appeal of horror films for most people I think is getting emotionally invested in characters and then watching them try to survive. Is fictitious violence caused by supernatural monsters and made up serial killers really less validly artistic than the fucktillion of war movies that come out? Does actual war = valid art, and made up war = escapism?
They can create false expectations for the real world. Actually I think romantic comedies are more guilty of this than horror films because it’s a lot easier to see horror films as fantasy. But people who have actual problems in their own life are immune to this. So I wouldn’t call it “Dangerous”. Yeah, it can have that effect, but ultimately, people are responsible for their own filtering.
Is it that horrible to watch films as a vacation from your real situation?
^ Lol no escapist movies have any artistic value? Okayyy…
I love it when we start talking about “most viewers!” I think that “most viewers” do realize that there’s something questionable about watching extreme violence in movies – but that’s the whole point. It’s about testing and pushing boundaries – both cultural and personal. It’s exciting when you see a movie that goes further than other movies have – whether it’s with violence or any other kind of technique. And it’s exciting and thrilling to push your own gross-out boundaries. And I think that’s really all the defense of escapist violent films that we need.
Westley – I think it’s a little bit absurd to chastise the audience for getting some sadistic pleasure out of some movie violence because (Hello!) it’s not real! It’s a fucking movie!
I think Prof. Haneke disagrees. :) (I tried to find a link to the ending conversation from Funny Games between Peter and Paul, but couldn’t…)
“Escapist movies are bad for you whether they have violence or not. It’s not the violence that matters, it’s the shallow vision of the world. It is dangerous to be surrounded by Hollywood visions. They create a simple understanding of people and the world that it can take years to break out of.
They have no artistic value. If they serve a purpose, it is as a life support for the average person who feels deeply engaged with them."
And most people wouldn’t watch a war movie if there was no violence in it.
“I’m sure prolonged exposure to internet forums is more likely to lead to an increased likelihood of actual violent behavior.”
I can get behind this.
Sometimes Mubi makes me want to kill.
>>Isn’t this genre on the wane? You can push it just so far and it becomes self parody.<<
If you’re talking about horror, it has been on the rise and wane from the beginning. It does play itself out on occasion, but always comes back with a new twist. It’s too primal to ever truly go away.
@Michael – You have the right to your opinion, but I have have rarely seen such a broad generalization. To dismiss all escapism is dismissing huge chunks of film history that is a varied as can be.
“They can create false expectations for the real world. Actually I think romantic comedies are more guilty of this than horror films because it’s a lot easier to see horror films as fantasy.”
Exactly. I’d be much more cautious to show my kid a romantic comedy than a horror film.