Looking for some light-hearted critical fun this morning? You know, the kind of movie review you can just sit back and enjoy, maybe eating some popcorn — one that's entertaining and not all difficult or upsetting? Well, maybe you should read the reviews of Horton Hears a Who! — "Not one of the worst movies ever made," says the Times! What you won't enjoy is reading the reviews for Michael Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games. The film is clinically brutalized by not one, not two, but the four big names of New York movie criticism: New York's own David Edelstein, The Village Voice's J. Hoberman, The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, and the Times' A.O. Scott. The reviews are gruesome and horrifying, but once you start reading, you can't look away.
The reviews begin with the sheen of civility. "Funny Games is not without a certain artistry," Hoberman says, and several reviewers make note of the handsomeness of the film and the potential worthiness of Haneke's goals — to confront the moviegoing audience with their own bloodlust, to subvert the catharsis of Hollywood violence. But soon the politesse disappears, and the reviewers begin having their way with Haneke and his movie. "I started out by calling Mr. Haneke a sadist," writes Scott, "but it seems to me that he may be too naïve, too delicate, to merit that designation, which should be reserved only for the greatest filmmakers." A shocking burst of critical violence comes from Edelstein, discussing his response to a screener of the first Funny Games: "I watched to the end, removed the DVD from the player, and snapped it over my knee."
By now we, the readers, are disquieted, unhappy, brutalized by our own desire to read awful reviews. But just when we think the critics might stay their hands, might ease up a tiny bit, they go in for the kill. "We don’t feel nearly as chastened or ashamed as Haneke would like," Lane writes. "We feel patronized." Scott growls, "What a clever, tricky game! What fun! What a fraud." Edelstein crushes the director even harder: "I picture Haneke laughing, having once again succeeded in shocking the bourgeoisie. That’s the thing about vapid provocateurs. No matter how wretched their work, they think the joke is always on us." And with a shocking splash of red, Hoberman exercises the killing stroke: "Professional obligations required that I endure it," he sniffs, "but there's no reason why you should."