Depicting beauty gets a free pass compared to depicting violence. Mankind's history of brutality indicates that violence is as much -- if not more -- a determining factor in the creation of what now constitutes civilized self than our love for beautiful things. Why, then, no "that portrait of the beautiful Contessa is pure exploitation?" Accusations of exploitation only enter when there's a gaping wound involved (or prurient nudity, which is objected to on the grounds that it does violence to its subject -- an objection that is, in practice, limited to pornography for heterosexual men). It's assumed that there's something wrong with you for taking any sort of pleasure in the the depiction of the violent side of our cultural constitution. Despite that, I had a real enjoyable time the other day at the moving picture show thanks to Michael Haneke. Funny Games is a good, psychological thriller that's no more gruesome than Psycho, largely due to Haneke's mastery of Hitchockian prestidigitation. Just like Morrison in Florida, the meat of the matter is more suggested than shown. Many critics were distraught over Haneke's hooks-on-the-eyelids sadism anyway, referring to his film as another instance of "torture porn" and/or that it's nothing but a misery to sit through (at least for right-thinking folk):
- The “Hostel” pictures and their ilk revel in the pornography of blood and pain, which Mr. Haneke addresses with mandarin distaste, even as he feeds the appetite for it. -- A. O. Scott
- To a healthy human mind, however, it’s one of the most repugnant, unpleasant, sadistic movies ever made. No matter what virtues of craft one can find within, no matter what themes lie beneath, Funny Games is aesthetically indefensible. -- Andy Klein
- Professional obligations required that I endure it, but there's no reason why you should. -- J. Hoberman
- The joke is on arthouse audiences who show up for Funny Games, which is basically torture porn every bit as manipulative and reprehensible as Hostel, even if it's tricked out with intellectual pretension. -- Lou Lumenick
- [T]he film itself inched close to the sort of exploitational detail that it was supposed to abhor—a proximity that only gets worse in this later version, which adds a definite carnal kick to the sight of the heroine being forced to strip to her underwear. -- Anthony Lane
In truth, Haneke brings much of that kind of moralizing on himself. In an interview with Scott Foundas, he gives his reason for remaking his German-language film in English, namely to better address its target audience: "For the consumers of violence — in other words, Americans." Evidently, Germans and other Europeans aren't the ones who come first to his mind when it comes to enjoying the representational infliction of pain on others. Maybe he believes his countrymen don't consume specular violence when they have a recent history with the real thing ... but I doubt it. Rather, it's due to a moralizing European arthouse pretension, as can be read in an interview he did with Jim Wray: "Funny Games['s] subject is Hollywood’s attitude toward violence. And nothing has changed about that attitude since the first version of my film was released — just the opposite, in fact." He'd probably suggest turd-munching served a real aesthetic purpose when Pasolini used it, but not so much when John Waters did -- if Haneke ever contemplated the aesthetics of coprophagia, that is. Not to be outdone by the Europeans -- and as a function of their culture-envy -- the middlebrow American critics attempt to prove their highbrow bona fides by turning the table on Haneke, dismissing his film as another instance of the (sub-)genre he was himself purportedly condemning (cf. the video above). Haneke isn't above the Americans, say they, he's just as bad.