Title: Benny’s Video (1992)
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Cast: Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ulrich Muhle
How many movies do you watch in a week? In a month? This is something that serious movie buffs out there sometimes don’t even consider, we just watch movies, sometimes not even realizing exactly how much time we spend watching them. There was a time when I watched two movies a day. And on weekends, Id even watch 3 a day! Something started to happen. Though sometimes I watched movies with friends and family, a lot of the times I was alone. Then I started realizing how disconnected from society I was becoming because of my movie watching. I made a conscious effort to change that a bit.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching my movies. I still watch movies like a mad man. But I’ve cut down my movie watching a bit because I started to realize that I wanted to experience life. I couldn’t spend so much time sitting on front of a television, locked up in a room, no matter how good the movie was. I came to the realization that I had to live my life, talk to other people, actually do things as opposed to watching others do them. And I have. I still watch a lot of movies, but I do it on a more controlled manner. Balancing my real life, with my cinematic escapism, cause that’s essentially what seeing a good movie is. Escaping from the real world. But what happens when you stay in the fantasy world for too long? You forget about your real life, which you should be out there living and enjoy as much as possible. So balance is important when it comes to watching movies. Just like anything else in life, balance is of the essence.
Benny’s Video is a film that plays with these themes. Benny is a teenager who lives his life locked up in his room, hiding away from the sunlight, watching movies and listening to music. He doesn’t even look out his window, instead, he has a video camera that tapes the front of his home and looks at that. He regularly visits his local video club and rents violent and gory and violent films like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg (1989) and The Toxic Avenger (1984) which we see him watching at one point before he goes to sleep. One day, Benny apparently looses it and decides he wants to kill someone for real “just to see what its like”. So he goes about making it happen.
This is a movie about a boy who watches a lot of violent movies, he watches regular films too, proof of this is the poster for Another 48 Hours (1990) he has hanging on his bedroom wall, but he mostly watches violent stuff. Not only that, Benny's also amused by watching real life footage of violent acts, for example, he constantly re-watches a home video of a pig being killed with a bolt gun, same way Anton Chigurh would kill his victims in No Country for Old Men (2007). He is obsessed with that thrill of watching something forbidden. After a while, Benny's watched so much that everything he lives through is filtered through media, movies, and music. Now, Benny's tired of watching, now, Benny wants to live it. Sadly, what he wants to experience is what's he has seen in all those violent movies he loves to watch: taking another human life.
I haven’t seen many Haneke films (only seen this one and Cache (2005) so far) but I can already see a repetition of themes. He constantly addresses how the constant bombardment of media affects our psyche and our behavior. On Benny’s Video, Haneke is basically addressing how a person can be influenced by constantly watching violent images. I don’t know if I fully agree with this because I have seen thousands of violent gory horror images, yet I don’t feel the urge to pick up a chainsaw and dismember my neighbor with it. Because like many out there, I know how to differentiate between reality, and fiction. But we are all different, and I’m sure watching horror films or violent images can definitely affect each of us in different ways. I might watch a film like Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and see it as an interesting character study of a psycho, but somebody else might watch it and see Henry as his role model, someone he or she might want to emulate. I guess only mature individuals who know how to tell the difference between fact and fiction should watch these types of films. They are definitely not for everybody.
But life is violent, and no matter how much you want to hide from it, violence and horror is everywhere you look. In Benny’s Video this issue is also addressed for example when the family is in the house together, there’s news footage on the t.v. about a war that’s going on. This is violence in real life, doesn’t matter if you want it or not, there it is in regular every day television. So maybe Haneke is addressing this as well.
Problem for me with this movie is that it got really slow paced after its second half. When Benny and his mom go to Egypt on a vacation, the film gets sloooow. Haneke likes to show his characters doing regular every day things. Sometimes he focuses so long on something which is apparently going nowhere, that it kind of tests your patience. I was watching a scene where Benny gets a hair cut and I thought about how an American film would have already cut to something else, yet there was Haneke lingering on the moment, as if he wants you to really absorb what’s happening so that it feels more like real life. Which is a commendable thing, something that Werner Herzog does a lot too. But this technique can produce some really slow moments where a film can crawl to a complete stop. Some feel as if this is Haneke’s way of taking away any violence or blood shed, any fast paced action, just to see if you can take it. Kind of giving a "fuck you" to people who have become desensitized by fast paced violent films and the fast pace of our every day lives. My advice is, if you can’t take slower paced movies, don’t bother with this one. If on the other hand you enjoy films that feel like you are experiencing real life, then indulge.
I’ve now seen Cache and Benny’s Video and my impression of Haneke films is that they are kind of devoid of all emotion. The characters are all so deadly serious, almost as if all life was sucked out of them. Read somewhere that this one is part of a series of films that purposely show little emotion through their characters, which I find interesting. Benny himself is devoid of emotion, as are his parents, who's cold reaction to Benny's acts is an indication that Haneke was purposely going for an emtional void with this movie. People who are so connected to their fast paced lives, and their entertainment, that they forget what it is to feel, to be human. I’ll be watching more Haneke films so look out for those reviews in the near future.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5