As a director, Michael Haneke is well known for producing films that reflect and challenge our notions of social development. In turn, polarising audiences and critics alike with challenging and often uncomfortable reflections of our humanity. His films have ranged from The Piano Teacher to The White Ribbon, each wrapping audiences in isolation and estrangement. Never allowing viewers to grow comfortable or complacent in the journeys he brings to film. 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 and an exploration of adolescence, media and parental guilt. Finally leading to 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance in 1994; an exposé of internal and external violence amid social isolation.
However, it could be argued his 1997 feature Funny Games provided the final appraisal of the trilogy proceeding it. Here, Haneke ultimately placed the audience in the role of both the instigators and owners of onscreen violence. With each film in the ‘glaciation trilogy,’ Haneke held a mirror to modern society’s most uncomfortable realities. The camera challenging our perceptions of progress by embracing our descent into alienation, loneliness and self-obsession. While in turn, asking us all to reflect on the role media output played in furthering our disconnected reality.
However, while each film in the trilogy continues to hold great power in reflecting the uncomfortable truth beneath our veneer of social progress, it is, in my opinion, Benny’s Video that has grown in its power. The films meaning tying to our modern obsession with media as it continues to consume our daily lives. Our smartphones becoming a fixed part of our identity while we binge-watch box sets and scroll through Tik Tok.
In this sense, Benny’s Video provided a warning from the VHS era that proceeded our current on-demand world. In dissecting the relationship between youth, media and parenting. Its themes playing heavily to recent discussions on mental health, reality versus fiction and 24/7 social media. Alongside broader debates on declining mental health within our younger generation. Their inability to cope with a tech-driven society coupled with lives wrapped in cotton wool.
At the heart of Benny’s Video sits one teenage boy’s obsession with media, in particular scenes of animal slaughter. His life a mix of school, video consumption and self-isolation. At the same time, his middle-class parents go about their own lives, oblivious to his viewing habits—their only real concern 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. One where the teenage bedroom 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. While, in turn, enabling those very parents to live their own lives free from the need to entertain or engage 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. His disconnected reality leading to an event that he cannot rewind or pause. His parents oblivious to the events unfolding until his guilt surfaces through a video of his actions. Their solution the protection of their son at all costs. Here, Haneke reflects the modern-day need to treat teenagers as mini-adults, while in turn, wrapping them in an impenetrable shield of protection. The result a confused teenager with mixed messages on adult accountability and eternal childhood safety.
Benny’s Video is a profoundly uncomfortable viewing experience, one where a young man’s view of life sits in a landscape of consumed film. His belief that life can be rewound and edited, leading to family disaster. Asking us all how our obsession with 24/7 media ultimately impacts our sense of reality and fiction.
Director: Michael Haneke