Benny’s Video is available to rent or buy now.
Michael Haneke is well known for films that reflect and challenge our notions of social development, taking audiences on uncomfortable journeys into some of the darkest corners of human behaviour. His films have ranged from The Piano Teacher to The White Ribbon, each wrapping audiences in themes of isolation and estrangement. However, Haneke’s ‘glaciation trilogy’ still provides us with some of his most provocative work. Starting with The Seventh Continent, a cutting dissection of social progress, wealth and unhappiness, he followed this in 1992 with Benny’s Video before 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance in 1994, an exposé of internal and external violence amid social isolation.
However, many, rightly, in my opinion, argue his 1997 feature Funny Games provided us with the epilogue of the trilogy as Haneke placed the audience in the role of both the instigators and owners of onscreen violence. Within each film in his ‘glaciation trilogy,’ Haneke held a mirror to modern society’s most uncomfortable realities, his camera challenging our perceptions of progress by embracing multiple descents into alienation, loneliness and self-obsession.
READ MORE: THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
In my opinion, Benny’s Video remains one of his most powerful features while only growing in its compelling themes as our smartphones become a fixed part of our identity. In this sense, Benny’s Video provided a warning from the VHS era that preceded our current on-demand world by dissecting the relationship between youth, media and parenting. Its themes reflect many contemporary discussions on mental health, reality versus fiction and 24/7 social media.
READ MORE: THE YOUNG AND THE DAMNED
At the heart of Benny’s Video sits one teenage boy’s obsession with media, in particular scenes of animal slaughter. Benny’s life is a mix of school, video consumption and self-isolation while his middle-class parents go about their own lives, oblivious to his viewing habits. In fact, their only genuine concern is Benny’s need to achieve at school and continue the middle-class life they value. Here Haneke plays with a fascinating and emerging trait of 1990s family culture, where the teenage bedroom slowly became a haven of isolation and technology, with parents willingly ensuring teenagers could access a world of visual stimulation from the comfort of their own beds. This, in turn, allowed parents to live their own lives free from the need to entertain or engage with their teenage offspring.
However, on meeting a girl at the local video store, Benny’s world suddenly changes as he invites her into his home. Here his disconnected sense of reality will lead to an event that he cannot rewind or pause. Meanwhile, his parents remain oblivious to the events in their son’s bedroom until his guilt surfaces through a video of his actions. Benny’s Video remains a profoundly uncomfortable viewing experience, as Benny realises that life can not be rewound or edited. Here Haneke asks pertinent, uncomfortable, but essential questions about our modern world and the desire of parents to protect their children at any cost.
Director: Michael Haneke