As a director, Michael Haneke is well known for producing films that reflect and challenge our notions of social development. While in turn, polarising audiences and critics alike with tough and often uncomfortable reflections of our own humanity. His films have ranged from the Piano Teacher to The White Ribbon, each one wrapping audiences in themes of 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. While following this in 1992 with Benny’s Video and its exploration of adolescence, media and parental guilt. Finally leading to 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance in 1994; an expose of internal and external violence in the midst of social isolation.
However, it could also be argued that his 1997 feature Funny Games provided the final appraisal of the trilogy proceeding it. Ultimately placing 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 the most uncomfortable realities of modern society. 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 venire of social progress. It is, in my opinion, Benny’s Video that has grown in its power. As our obsession with media has continued to invade and consume our daily lives. With our smartphones becoming a fixed part of our individual identity. As we all spend time binge-watching box sets and scrolling through YouTube and 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 current discussions on mental health, reality versus fiction and 24/7 social media. Alongside wider debates on declining mental health within our younger generation. And their inability to cope with an apparently progressive society where we wrap them 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. While his middle-class parents go about their own lives oblivious to his viewing habits. Their only real concern being the need for Benny 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. While his parents remain oblivious to the events unfolding until Benny’s guilt surfaces through a video of his actions. His parent’s solution to the events before them centring on the need to protect their son at all costs. With Haneke reflecting the modern-day need to treat teenagers as mini-adults, while in turn wrapping them in an impenetrable shield of protection. Confusing the individual teenager with mixed messages on adult accountability and eternal childhood safety.
Ultimately the result 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 on our sense of reality and fiction.
Director: Michael Haneke