A story about a boy called Benny, who watches violent movies, including a home-made video of a pig being slaughtered. Soon after, Benny loses his mind and kills a girl and films the murder with his video camera.
Starring: Arno Frisch, Angela Winkler, Ulrich Muhe
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
In this the second of Michael Haneke’s “Glaciation Trilogy”, Benny’s Video is a fascinating and disturbing portrayal of a young boy and his descent into psychosis through family dysfunction and the media. Benny’s cold, detach demeanor is played out quite well here. Underneath the upper class background and seemingly decent upbringing lies a family with a very weak structure. As abundant as the material and financial support is, there is a clear lack of the emotional or paternal support. Because of this Benny loses himself in his video camera and television.
The television actually becomes the closest emotional connection Benny’s has. He is in some type of purgatory between reality and the camera. And because the media spends most of it’s time reveling in the violence and the crime of the day, Benny develops an intense interest in death. One of the interesting traits I like about “Benny’s Video” is your not entirely sure his true motivation. Is Benny a deranged child warp by the ills of the media or is he using it as an excuse to delve into his violent nature.
It’s hinted at, but never really addressed which is a good thing. This is only pulled off by the tremendous acting by Frisch, Winkler, and Muhe. Through the performances you get a glimpse at their emotional distance and their inability to bond with each other on a human level. There is a scene where Benny’s mother breaks down into tears and hysterical sobbing. You see Benny is unequip to comfort her or even relate to the pain. There’s another scene where Benny’s father tells him, very uncomfortably, that he loves him and Benny’s facial expression in that of complete confusion. As though the very emotion itself is foreign to him. Another positive is the setup of intertwining home video and news footage throughout the film. Sometimes these things can divert your attention from the main story, but here it only serves to assist it. The only one real flaw I found with this movie was I felt the sequence where Benny and his mother go to Cairo was a little too drawn out. I would have like some hint as too what Benny’s father exactly did while they were gone. I’m sure that was Haneke’s plan and what played out in my head was much worse that what they could have shown.
Benny’s Video is a thought provoking and penetrating character study. Whether you agree with every point made or not, they are still questions worth asking. I agree that financial support alone doesn’t equate to good parenting and that physical, psychological, and emotional involvement in a child’s life are the truly important building blocks. You see with Benny that left to his own devices, he falls deeper and deeper into his psychosis. There are times where his parents sense something amiss and just don’t confront it. Where I don’t necessarily agree is with the responsibility of the media in all this. I grew up watching rated R films at a young age. Whether it was Jason Voorhees dismembering a horny teen at Camp Crystal Lake or Rambo shooting his way through Vietnamese troops, I’ve seen many a violent thing with these eyes. I can say at the age of 28 I don’t feel those movies have influence me in any negative way. Now, that could be credited to good, stable upbringing that instilled a strong and clear line of morality. I’ll give you that.
But, I believe that there is something ingrained maybe in the DNA, or maybe the frontal lobe from birth that makes said killer, rapist, etc receptive to violent imagery without being able to process the gravity of the real thing. Where as most of us can watch a violent movie and understand that the line between celluloid and reality is bold and carries many consequences. I do agree at times the evening news deals in fear mongering.
But, I also believe that many a violent story needs to be covered to shine a light on the criminals that commit them. Nothing gets resolved by turning a blind eye. Long story short, I’m of the theory that society influences media not the other way around. Now, if you’ll allow me to hop off this soap box. This movie is dark, chilling, and pulls no punches whatsoever. I think it’s best achievement is almost everything that happens in the movie seems plausible, a sad statement on society. I think this is a really compelling watch for anyone who has a hankering for something a little more heady than usual horror film. And worth your 105 minutes.
Benny’s Video (1992)