“My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.” —Film as Catharsis, Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke is a filmmaker whose name alone can evoke a plethora of emotions in me that are impossible to quantify into words. Discovering his cinema has been a turning point in my journey as a cinephile; moving me, scarring me and essentially changing me for better or for worse. Arguably the greatest auteur working today, Haneke is one of those rare filmmakers who cinema burns itself into your psyche, slowing tightening its hold on you until you are unable to breathe. To me, his movies are horrifying – almost all of them have been traumatizing and have kept me awake at nights. I certainly don’t enjoy his cinema – his movies aren’t meant to be enjoyed, they are intended to awaken your conscience and show you the mirror to your own ugly reality.
A film critic himself before he turned to film-making, Haneke is a fiercely opinionated man, someone who doesn’t shy away from baring his thoughts on his contemporaries and their cinema. He has publicly expressed his disregard for the brain-dead consumerism of Hollywood and has critiqued the glorification of violence. His ire has particularly targeted American filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino who he accuses of turning despicable violence into a comedic device and for making the abhorrent consumable. I find his opinions quite interesting, more so because they are especially revealing with regards to the moral compass of his cinema and their portrayal of violence.Michael Haneke’s Exploration of Violence, Explained
While Tarantino is regarded as the master of portraying violence on screen, it is his vocal detractor Haneke who does it better. His portrayal of violence isn’t restricted to particular scenes or shots, they are present throughout his movies; in a way, I perceive all his movies to be an exploration of violence – the philosophy, the psychology and the morality of it. And it is this exploration of violence that weaves all his films together, as he grapples with its transgressive nature and how it can slowly envelop you like a blanket of poisonous air.
Haneke’s violence isn’t physical – it is emotional, psychological and more disturbing, and that is what makes it so compelling. And here, I have attempted to scratch the surface beneath six of his greatest films and how each of them are, in essence, a study of violence, evil and brutality.
Violence in a Quotidian Existence – The Seventh Continent (1989)