Benny's Video Movie Review
We're bombarded almost daily with disturbing news snippets about teens run amok, filming their attacks gloatingly and enjoying them at parties. Forget Girls Gone Wild, nowadays it's Teens Gone Wilding. Is this the end result of a violent movie culture? Bad parenting? Terrible genetics? All of the above? If I watched Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles enough times (I know, I know, it's a PG movie with puppets, but still...) would I be transformed into the sociopathic killer at the heart of Michael Haneke's Benny's Video?
Haneke, the incredibly gifted filmmaker who wowed audiences with The Piano Teacher and Caché, might say yes. And while it isn't surprising that Haneke condemns Hollywood and horror movies for dulling the sense of children who watch violent movies, the casual, almost hackneyed, mode in which he makes his argument is.
Benny's Video is the second film in Haneke's "Glaciation Trilogy", so called for the "emotional glaciation" of humanity explored in the films. (The first is The Seventh Continent (1989).) The film follows the slow but inevitable trajectory of violence in the life of Benny (Arno Frisch), an alienated but bright kid obsessed with violent images. He watches gory horror films in his bedroom, left to his own devices by parents who pride themselves on making sure he has his freedom. Benny's most prized clip is the slaughter of a pig that he filmed himself. Benny watches it repeatedly, playing it in slow motion, studying the pixels of violent death. He meets a girl at the local video store and invites her back to his place and shows her some of his films including the pig killing. He shows her the weapon used to kill the pig (he's smuggled it home) and then, with the camera trained on the girl, he kills her. Without any emotional response, Benny watches the murder of the girl repetitively, robotically. His parents then fret about how to cover it up.
The message here is simple and the moral couldn't be any plainer. And that's the problem with Benny's Video. For Haneke no explanation is needed, Benny has been turned into a sociopath by his consumption of violent images and his parent's non-disciplinary approach to rearing him. It's black and white. The audience cannot come to any other conclusion. Haneke has decided for us. Fittingly, we are also never given insight into Benny. He remains a machine, remote and inert. And in the end, with a character that repellent and a message so heavy handed, there is no need to commit ourselves to this bitter, merciless film.