Michael Haneke 1992
I happened to watch this after the Allois film, and it seemed weirdly relevant to the same ideas about the relation of discourse and imagery to crime and violence, etc. Haneke’s disturbing film opens with a sequence of handheld video footage that shows (and repeats) a pig being slaughtered with a pellet gun – footage that is shot, it turns out, by the main character Benny. It becomes clear that the isolated teenager’s existence is surrounded by or mediated through imagery – his darkened room is constantly awash with signals, movies and TV, just as the rest of his parents apartment is covered art prints to the extent that no wall shows through. When Benny is in his room, screens flicker ceaselessly in the background, his phone conversations overlay and overlap news reports of foreign wars; there is a constant mash up of speech and image, feeding into a morass where it is difficult to discern any edges to experience. There is even a live video feed of the view from the window being piped into the dark room, running on a single monitor – the life of the street digested onto a small panel, linked to a board that can switch, edit and manipulate it.
Benny ends up taking a girl he has met outside the video store (herself staring into a hidden screen no less) back to his apartment when his parents are away. They watch the footage of the pig being killed together. Remarks are made about the fakery of violence in movies – within minutes, Benny has taken out the pellet gun used to kill the pig. It is deliberately ambiguous as to how deliberate the act is, but Benny shoots the girl in the midriff. It is only after this shot that the girl falls out of the main shot and the unfolding incident is mirrored / substituted by the recording camera/monitor set up in the room. A horrific aural aftermath then dominates, as two further shots, which eventually generate silence, always take place outside the relaying frame. Benny continues to film the clean up operation he undertakes, which he revisits, begins to edit. After the incident, Benny remains disturbingly impassive – he calmly eats, goes for walks and out with his friends, everything remaining latent, or struggling to make any impression. He shaves his head, yet this too is a gesture that remains neutral, or at least unclear as to its aggressive or recalcitrant charge. Although he comes close, he tells no one about what he has done.
When his parents return, Benny finds a way to make his confession – and this was what I was thinking about in relation to the discourse of Pierre Rivière and its relation to the ‘visibility’ of the crime. Benny, sitting with his parents, switches the feed on his monitor set up to play back the entire murder. His parents both watch the sequence of film, fascinated – Haneke stays with their expressions, as if they mirrored our own, watching these people having to react to what they are being shown. Benny’s discourse and his confession, at least initially, is made through images – but how eloquent is it? Could its strangeness, even its ‘style’ (as if we can correlate Benny’s recording to a kind of written statement), somehow make the crime disappear like Foucault claims in relation to Rivière? What kind of eloquence could be delivered by this fuzzy imagery, the static camera, monochrome peephole confessional? How could it contribute to the distancing of the crime, or fame it in such a way to prepare its effacement? In a strange way, this is exactly what happens – with the revelation that they bear responsibility for what has happened when a minor was left alone, for what they’ve been shown (like their own nightmare TV show, an episode of Family Collapse), the parents begin to devise ways out, clinically going over the options open to them with an odd mix of giggling shock and cold efficiency. Throughout the film few words are spoken, especially in relation to the details of the crime – when his father asks him why he did it, Benny responds, “I wanted to know what it was like…” He has no answer to the follow up question. After the decision is made, Benny and his mother immediately go to Egypt and the father takes on the grim responsibility for clearing the apartment of any evidence. When they return home, it is as if nothing has happened – there is still nothing in the press, there are no witnesses. Benny’s room has been opened to the light, the view from the window now hovering above the dead monitor screen (Benny had found it difficult to sleep during the trip because it was “so light”). Yet an ambiguous guilt persists – perhaps the inability to have continued possession of those images, which won’t not be supplemented by further confessions, further contributions of discourse. Unable to reconcile any exchange between raw and mediated worlds, Benny again lets his videotape to speak for him – he goes to the police and shows them the murder, together with the recording he had surreptitiously made of his parents planning to cover it up.