Benny’s Video is available to rent or buy now.
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. 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.
Many argue his 1997 feature Funny Games provided the final appraisal of the trilogy proceeding as Haneke finally placed the audience in the role of both the instigators and owners of onscreen violence. However, 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. While, in turn, asking us all to reflect on the role media output played in furthering our disconnected reality.
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In my opinion, Benny’s Video remains one of his most potent features while only growing in its compelling themes as our smartphones become 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 preceded our current on-demand world by dissecting the relationship between youth, media and parenting. Its themes play heavily in many contemporary discussions on mental health, reality versus fiction and 24/7 social media. Meanwhile, broader debates on declining mental health within our younger generation and their inability to cope with our tech-driven society also find a clear and compelling voice.
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At the heart of Benny’s Video sits one teenage boy’s obsession with media, in particular scenes of animal slaughter. His 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. 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. But 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, one where a young man’s view of life sits in a bubble of fiction. Benny’s belief that life can be rewound and edited leads to family disaster. But Benny’s Video asks us, the audience, far more pertinent and uncomfortable questions about our modern world.
Director: Michael Haneke