Saturday, February 11, 2012

Benny's Video: Teenage killer with a camera


105 min 

Director: Michael Haneke

Benny (Arno Frisch) is obsessed with violent imagery and his bedroom is a shrine of screens and video equipment, his instruments of contact with the world. We see enjoying playing back the scene of a pig being shot dead on the farm where the family spends holidays. Using the stolen weapon to kill the pig Benny (accidentally?) emulates the scene with a school girl he brings back home, creating the tragedy that is the moral crux of the film.

Haneke (director of The Piano teacher, Funny Games, White Ribbon, Cache, and more)  alludes to theories of hypereality formulated by the late philosopher Jean Baudrillard who said that media imagery has replaced reality. This is the theory that explains the gruesome main action in this film, a murder by a teenage boy who's been desentitised to real life by overexposure to electronic images. Benny is the child of an affluent couple living in a loft decorated with Pop art somewhere in the German part of Western affluence. It is a clinical vision of the post-industrial world in the information age, which Haneke captures well with a controlled, polished and bleak mise-en-scene. The characters in the film look as if they are not quite alive, no longer sentient beings.

One of the most revealing, strong moments in the film is not the murder itself, which is presented in almost banal fashion, but the sequence when the boy confesses his crime to his parents by showing them, deadpan, the video footage of the murder. Seeing the film go back on itself to a diegetic audience makes the crime scene almost unbearable when it is replayed. Sharing images gives them more power, it seems. In fact, some of the sequences shot on video, which work as 'films within the film', especially the elegiac Egyptian scenes, are very haunting and gloomy. They are like watching humanity at the end of its journey. Haneke plays well with the contrast between celluloid and electronic imagery and uses the latter to great effect.

Benny's Video brings up some pertinent questions to our media-saturated world even though it belongs to the pre-Internet age. But one thing remains the same: the need to experience reality. Haneke has Benny say that he did what he did 'to see what it was like'. In a world where reality is experienced more often than not through representation, the instinct to 'experience the real' may come out very distorted in the process, with no moral bearings to guide it. Benny, with his cold, mask-like face, is a frightening visualisation of techno-numbness...

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