Benny's Video is a smug, contemptuous, passive-aggressive attack on the dehumanizing effects of media, without even the common decency to offer shrill sensationalism to punch up its subsequently feckless, reactionary, pomo assertions. Benny is a young, slate-faced neo-Nazi-to-be who checks out at least one violent video from the corner rental outlet every day. The desk in his room (in his parents' swank high-rise condo) is so completely covered with a makeshift video-editing bay that he does his homework lying in bed while blankly watching Hollywood carnage. His favorite video, though, is a nasty piece of piggy snuff he shot himself while on holiday with his parents at their country ranch: a jumpy one-shot affair in which farmhands lead a hog out into the open and terminate it with what seems to be a .30 caliber pellet gun.
Maybe it's the cold-blooded efficiency of the slaughter that appeals to Benny and causes him to hypnotically rewind the footage over and over again, and maybe it's the blunt force of the murder instrument that gives him a case of sticky fingers, but eventually the time comes for him to film a sequel. Having no pigs available back in the city, he invites a pudgy, pink young girl he often spies frequenting the video store up to his room, trains the camera on a master shot and shows her the losing end of the tube-shaped gun's barrel. Haneke films the scene as he subsequently would most of Caché and The Time of the Wolf, both infinitely more intriguing films that tiptoe tipsily along the eschatological line between nihilism and a liberating sort of insane hope. That is to say, he films it with the sort of poker face that Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote about observing in Brian De Palma as he watched an audience ride out Dressed to Kill's museum chase scene. It's a face that keeps its composure even as it all but gushes, "My, aren't we amused!" (Preferably in the voice of latter day Vincent Price, with "aren't" coming out as two syllables.)
I know that I wrestle with the question of being amused against being abused constantly when trying to reconcile my affection for the likes of De Palma (or, more to the point, Cannibal Holocaust), but Haneke's early works, climaxing with the utterly reprehensible albeit cathartic Funny Games, deploy both amusement and abuse in one-two fashion, usually at the precise moment where a little bit of the opposite effect would've gone a long way. What the fuck are we supposed to do with a polemical screed against the numbing effects of violence-saturated media that insistently keeps its captive audience as numb as its characters? Are they expected to learn from Benny's example? Probably not. More than likely they're expected to empathize with Benny's shell-shocked parents as they attempt to clean up their pathological son's mess. Which, in the film's final scenes, reveals Haneke's undiluted bad faith in anyone stupid enough to take Benny's Video seriously. My advice to those up for the challenge is to repeatedly knock on your own skull and exclaim, "Think, McFly, think!" Otherwise risk a thousand paper cuts from the binding of Haneke's antiseptic dissertation.
IMAGE / SOUND:
Colorless in the way that Haneke usually intends for his films. If Ed likes Time of the Wolf best of Haneke's films for allowing France's reigning ice queen the chance to melt, then I daresay I like it the best because when the naked kid stood in front of the fire, it allowed a warm color into Haneke's otherwise arctic color palate. It's hardly surprising that the murdered girl's blood runs almost purple. The sound mix is as stunted as the main character, though the shrillness of the pipe organ during Benny and his mother's vacation through the cradle of civilization is appropriately unnerving. I gather it's supposed to be, since Haneke (in this era) would've advocated giving civilization's cradle one massive abortion.
I hate to admit that, in modern interview, Haneke's intentions seem at least marginally less hostile. Maybe it's just residue from whatever extenuating circumstances have also refined his recent films, but he comes off as a reasonably well-balanced, reasonably smart guy who used to make films to hurt people in reaction to the fact that people hurt people. His "blame the parents" angle is as annoying in conversation as it is in the film, but then again I love my parents.
When Eric Cartman grows older and goes to film school, his student films will resemble the early works of Michael Haneke.