Rage … Rage, O world and quake
Here I stand and sing
In perfect calm
– “Jesu, mon Freude” by J. S. Bach
* * *
Consider the pig.
Benny certainly does.
Isn’t that what Benny (Arno Frisch) is doing, we discover, at the moment it’s revealed that the image of the pig’s death is actually an intra-diegetic artifact – a film within a film? A film Benny himself has made, presumably, at his family’s farm/country estate and is now rewatching, now revisiting the very instant the pig’s life is taken. The instant, not insignificantly, that marks the transition from the pig as a sentient being that must be “raised” and cared for to a commodity that will be “processed” before consumption. A moment that also marks the ontological transition from Benny’s video to Benny’s Video. In both of these transitory developments, an exposure occurs – a revelatory shock in which artifice cracks, mystique dissolves, illusion shatters. A reification. The abstract suddenly becomes radiantly concrete: pig and film suddenly revealed as process-derived “products” betraying none of the more obscene elements behind their creation. In casual conversation we speak metaphorically of such messy work both in filmic terms (“left on the cutting-room floor”) and through language that simultaneously obscures and evokes the more grotesque elements of food production (“sausage making”). In both cases – assembling a film and manufacturing sausages – ignorance of the concealed action is meant to protect the consumer from knowledge and information that otherwise may thwart eager consumption.
Rather than merely a zombified consumer of disparate ultraviolent images pathetically unable to discern the Real from the Imaginary due to his self-exiled entombment in a darkened bedroom lair, a burgeoning supervillain peeping the world through techno-prosthetic, sociopathic, alienated eyes battered by a lifetime of emotionless, mediated simulacra … isn’t Benny just a lot like many other teenage boys: aloof, awkward, eager to impress via performative masculinity and antisocial behaviorisms, gothy, vehemently death obsessed? Isn’t he, dare I say, an artist of sorts, a filmmaker like Haneke himself? More baby Scorsese than baby skinhead. And, seen in the light of our current era’s guiltless and adult-sanctioned phenomenon of “Netflix and Chill,” which is merely a glamorization of the passive consumption of popular entertainment – isn’t 1992 Benny just ahead of the curve? A Gen X slacker, a creep, a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here? I’m not giving Benny a pass. He did a bad, bad thing. However, what I am suggesting is that Haneke’s critique – which certainly contains a reading of technology and mass media as damaging in the way it disguises, sublimates, and re-presents actual human tragedy in decontextualized info-bits and catchy sound bites speedily consumed and digested – involves and implicates the audience more than we’ve previously imagined. Haneke’s work – specifically Benny’s Video – positions the viewer as a Kantian moral agent forced to confront the violence of creation and consumption in an industrial society both on a basic biological level (our nourishment and livelihood sustained by the eating of “re-purposed,” slaughtered animals), and in the violent re-purposing of human lives and experiences that are, like the animals slaughtered, “lost” or “disappeared” in the process of creative reimagining and re-presentation.1 But let’s not stop there. This network of ravenous consumption generated by an economic system that puts bodies into the service of capital … well, it’s an enormously expansive project entangling not only the audience, but also the apparatus of mass media (including cinema) and its producers and creators all at once, all together. No one comes away from this cleanly, as Benny will demonstrate in his own demented way.
The name Michael Haneke has become synonymous with a particular mode of social critique. One that effectively jams a wooden stake through the vampiric, allegorical black heart found smack dab in the center of a cozy, sanitized, bourgeois comfort zone. If you’re watching European art films, chances are pretty good you’re implicated in his critique. It’s a class-based commentary that often aims high by looking low. Two of the three storylines (Benny’s Video the exception) from his early Austrian “glaciation trilogy” – which includes (English titles) The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny’s Video (1992), and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) – were adapted from actual news events. The trilogy so named for its depiction of “society’s broad-based descent into indifference, isolation, and lethal coldness – a state that has been called ‘glaciation’” (Grundmann 6). The fact that these stories originate from actual events strengthens the blow, because let’s face it, it’s a difficult sell. Who among us wants to believe a well-to-do family of three would commit collective suicide for no “apparent” reason – after literally flushing their entire life savings down the toilet? (If you don’t gasp at that scene from The Seventh Continent, then congratulations – perhaps you’ve discovered a way to survive on this planet without money.) Where Haneke shines, though, where he reveals his genius and solidifies his place among the pantheon of cinematic royalty is the way he intertwines his social critique to include not only the narrative content (the “story” being told), but also the formal mechanism delivering that story (the medium of cinema itself).2 It’s a balancing act that few, if any, have performed as deftly as Haneke. His work not only blends two discrete critical modes into art films that imitate and therefore subvert genre, but also engenders a sense of moral awakening/responsibility in the viewer through a presentation of thematic concerns intersecting the personal and the universal. In other words, the river is both deep and wide.
Although examples of Haneke’s multifaceted moralism and his anti-cinematic formalism run throughout his entire oeuvre, I choose to focus on Benny’s Video for a particular reason. We see throughout Haneke’s films an intense fascination with food and eating – especially throughout his “glaciation trilogy,” and none more so than in Benny’s Video. According to Steve Zimmerman, although the 1980s gave birth to a new star gracing the silver screen – food, finally cast in leading roles – an earlier example of “people actually eating on screen” occurs in A Life of Her Own (1950), during a scene in which two powerful, wealthy individuals (a model played by Lana Turner and a copper mine owner played by Ray Milland) eat hamburgers (27). Of course, sometimes a burger isn’t just a burger, and this was the case here as the hamburger symbolizes moral virtue, “a working-class victual (shown in a close-up shot), which conveys the message that both of these people, despite their wealth, possess honest, down-to-earth values” (27). Other notable examples include Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), in which mealtime scenes of father (Dustin Hoffman) and son (Justin Henry) signify their evolving relationship dynamics, and The Godfather (1972), with a plate of lasagna symbolizing Michael’s (Al Pacino) secretive life and family business in the way that the dish’s superficial layers conceal “dangerously rich ingredients” below the surface (29). Another scene from the film has Clemenza (Richard Castellano) sharing a family recipe for tomato sauce with ingredients metaphorically representing important elements of the Italian-American mafia: “tradition, loyalty, religion, and murder” (29). Of course no filmmaker so readily incorporates food as a thematic and symbolic motif as much as Alfred Hitchcock – whose classic horror Psycho (1960) Haneke listed as one of his favorite films of all time (Lane). What we see in Hitchcock is a way that food and/or meals not only are used to “probe relationships,” as Michael Walker puts it, but also function as correlatives to sex, death, and murder (180). For Hitchcock, a filmmaker who depicts “a moral problem” in each of his films, food-related conceptual and thematic links are most frequently forged via conversation during a meal (Wheatley 6). Haneke, like Hitchcock, also frequently depicts moral problems and incorporates food in a similar way – especially in Benny’s Video. However, in Haneke’s films, eating is often undertaken as a solemn or solitary activity, which is almost never the case in Hitchcock.
In Benny’s Video, Haneke connects food and murder through associative and figurative language (though not in dinner conversation), as well as editing cues. As mentioned, the film begins with Benny’s own video capturing the slaughter of a pig with his parents, Georg and Anna (Ulrich Mühe and Angela Winkler), onlooking. As the camera (operated by Benny) follows the pig and moves from darkness into light, we see the pig being held by tail and led by rope to a group of men Benny later describes as the “farmers who rent the place to us.” The pig continues to squeal intensely until we see a hand place a pneumatic bolt gun – later referred to as a “butcher’s gun” by Benny’s father – on the mid-line of the pig’s forehead and fires. The sound mimics that of a firearm blast, and the pig immediately drops to the ground and quivers before being dragged slightly along the cracked asphalt, leaving behind a trail of blood (not ketchup) for us to contemplate. The viewer is then “stunned” as the frame suddenly halts and we recognize additional image noise indicating a paused video. The paused image then slowly rewinds to the moment before the kill shot. The pig reanimates briefly before the tape plays forward again, this time in slow motion, commencing a protracted death scene enacted with snowflakes buffeting about in the foreground, Nature’s own glaciation adding to the dismal scene and gloomy tone. Suddenly another visual jolt as the image abruptly shifts to video static or digital, artificial “snow.” Haneke then overlays the opening credits of the film, simplified to include only the film’s title followed by his own authorial/auteurial credit. Another abrupt cut to an initially disorienting scene we eventually discern to be Benny’s apartment during some kind of social gathering, a party – replete with trays of cold cuts for sandwiches – organized by his sister, Evi (Stephanie Brehme), to promote a pyramid scheme. We switch back and forth between “the film” shot by Haneke to Benny’s shaky, handheld recording of the party until we ultimately land squarely in Benny’s bedroom, Haneke’s film now, a view of Benny securely perched within his safe space, his command station equipped with multiple screens, various tech controllers and gadgets, and stacks of videotapes. The voice we hear belongs to his mother, who seems to be positioned behind the viewer, speaking to Benny over our shoulder. Now we know. It was Benny controlling the image. It was one of his tapes. Benny’s mother asks him to stop what he’s doing (reviewing the tape of his sister’s pyramid scheme party) and put on the TV news. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the film’s audience is still reeling a bit, still contemplating the footage of the pig’s death. Yes, it was real. Just as real as the death tolls and tragedies recounted during the news broadcast and referred to as “nothing” by Benny’s mother when Georg pops his head in and asks what the news is about.
Benny’s parents leave for the weekend. Benny is meant to stay behind in Vienna and study math with his buddy, Ricci (Stefan Polasek). Benny, as routine seems to demand, heads to the video store, samples some goodies and spies a young girl (Ingrid Stassner) roughly his age, standing outside, watching cartoons playing on the TV screens in the storefront vitrine. Although the camera remains positioned inside the store, the girl is the one who seems behind glass, as it were. Effectively not a part of the circulation of violent, meaningless slop that gets bandied about inside. Haneke includes ads for Tango & Cash (1989) and Graveyard Shift (1990) in his framing of the store’s interior – so let’s be honest, Benny’s not going to find Benny’s Video in a place like that. The girl (like the pig), Haneke seems to be telling us, is morally innocent. Benny talks her into coming back to his place to check out his vids, presumably. (Although we don’t hear the conversation between Benny and the girl, as Haneke’s long take keeps us stuck inside the video store looking out toward the street, the scene does remind one of a similar occurrence in a record store with Alex DeLarge and the two young girls in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971): “What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little, say, pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper!”) The two make it back to Benny’s place and after a bit of small talk, they eat. Benny serves up a microwaveable pizza, which by the way, looks to be topped with sausage. As they wait for the pizza to cool, we learn that the girl commutes into the city, which along with her disheveled appearance and large family (that she doesn’t want to discuss), seems to class-identify her. They eat their sausage pizza and drink their milk. Cut to the pig’s death scene.
Benny narrates this time as the video plays. He complains of boredom at the farm, at his frustration at having to travel every weekend. This, of course, after the girl has told him she’s forced to commute an hour into Vienna every day. The class identity and differential is key. Benny is clearly positioned in an economic ruling class and by extension seems to feel entitled to the sadistic pleasure of expressing power through the “ownership” or manipulation of another’s body – a reality that plays out both in the handling and destruction of the pig as well as in Benny’s “handling” and destruction of the girl. Just after the pig is shot with the bolt gun, Haneke cuts to the girl’s face. It’s a reaction shot, sure. But a link is also set in place – one that will connect the pig and the girl as well as the video of the pig’s death and the video of the girl’s murder. Concepts and activities involving creation, destruction, and consumption lie at the heart of these connections, which literally and figuratively associate not only food production, but the production of art, with death (both the pig’s and the girl’s deaths are filmed by Benny – and Haneke). The girl’s death, of course, is fictional. However, the “loss” of the subject is real.
Once a “subject” has been reproduced or re-presented, it has essentially been replaced. Our attention, thus, is drawn to – and our thinking and emotions influenced by – the manufactured, culturally contrived aesthetics of the new, reproducible artifact. All art is propaganda. Haneke repeatedly returns to this topic with his “stable” of character types that includes artists, photographers, actors, and filmmakers – like Benny. The reproduction of reality is not reality. As René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (1929) boldly announces, a painting of a pipe is not a pipe. This is not a new idea; even Socrates supposedly feared imitative arts for the same reasons. But Socrates didn’t plop down in a Barcalounger and flip through 57 corporate-sponsored channels of, as Anna calls it, the “nothing” of TV: talking heads providing truncated versions of very real death and pain and loss wedged between commercial advertisements selling disposable products that indeed contribute to additional death and pain and loss followed by fictional narratives that purport to encapsulate the essence of, quite often, very real death and pain and loss. And so on. And that’s just a glimpse of the TV landscape of 1992, which of course preceded the age of the Internet and social media, which now vastly intensifies the rapidity of consumption and the continuous demand for new content. Not to mention the tough stuff: the complex layers of ideology embedded within the presentation of all of that information, all that “nothing.” Economics and politics cannot be disjoined.
The crux of Haneke’s point, I would argue, is that the goods and images we consume – like Benny’s microwaveable pizza and milk, for example – do not come to us as unvarnished purities, born whole and free from political agenda, economic exploitation, institutionally generated inequality, metaphorical and literal enslavement of human beings, and all the nasty “isms” that function as pillars supporting it all. Culture is a fish tank, and just because we don’t see the water doesn’t mean we’re not surrounded by it. In many ways, our mindless (creation and) consumption quietly promotes all of the terribleness of the world – it’s merely that the majority of us have through action and/or inaction tacitly agreed that the truth of our industrialized society is better left buried. But, as Benny’s father later explains while he’s planning to conceal his son’s crime, what’s buried (repressed) can always “turn up again.” Thus, it is our postmodern schizophrenic relationship with Truth itself, a blurry-eyed moral relativism that Haneke – although himself implicated in the continued mass reproduction of culturally coded images – wants to shake us free from.
After Benny impresses the girl with all his high-techery, and reveals the bolt gun that he stole from the farm, and goes through the whole You shoot Me, no YOU shoot ME thing with the girl – once he finally does shoot her, and films it all, and has to hear her scream and crawl on the floor, reloads the bolt gun, shoots her again, still screaming, then ultimately delivers a third and final shot to her forehead – he eats. Benny grabs a quick drink of water, then heads to the refrigerator, pulls out a yogurt and nom noms away. Haneke gives us a long take here (just as he does with the murder scene) before Benny puts the yogurt down for a sec and covers the girl with a sheet, then promptly gets back to the business of eating his yogurt. Because nobody likes warm yogurt, I guess. It’s very reminiscent of a sequence in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), when Rusk takes a bite of Brenda’s apple, kills her, then continues eating the apple. “There is a quite horrible sense here that assaulting and murdering Brenda is a part of Rusk’s lunch,” as Michael Walker declares. “Eating has been displaced into murder” (189). For Benny, the murder was simply part of his 2 pm snack. For Haneke, everything is displaced into everything. Warhol prints end up hanging next to da Vinci, Punk next to Bach, whatever. It’s all just a sea of decontextualized data. We’re all just flipping through channels. Benny will have his macabre afternoon activities interrupted once more, though, when his friend Ricci telephones him to make plans for that evening. In one of the film’s more unnerving scenes, Benny, naked but with the girl’s blood smeared across his torso, sits casually and fields the call from his schoolmate in a manner as cool and detached as we might expect from a pubescent Patrick Bateman (someone who also has a fondness for videotapes).
Benny will indeed hit the club that night with Ricci and sleep over at his place. But the next day, anticipating his parents’ arrival, we will see hints of Benny’s guilty conscience manifest. He attempts to visit his sister, he hangs out in train stations, catches a film at the multiplex, shaves his head. Eventually, Benny acts out in school by “slugging” his pal in a move clearly designed to force a conversation with his parents. He skips the requisite visit to the principal’s office and heads straight home to pour himself a tall glass of milk. In his haste, though, Benny spills the milk on the countertop and half-heartedly wipes it away. Haneke gives us a lingering shot of the traces of milk – not only a vivid reminder once again of the connections between pig/girl/death/food/murder, but a profound and prophetic visual statement demonstrating that every action leaves a track, and that which has been repressed has a way of resurfacing.
Scenes of food and eating are a critical locus for Haneke in the way they present consumption in literal form, especially with Haneke’s consistent use of long takes and wide angles showing the actors actually eating the food – it might be said that eating is “presented” rather than re-presented. More often than not, this consumption includes a meat or dairy product, reminding us not only of the deaths that occur to support our lives, but our deep alienation from food production as well as many other forms of invisible labor that shore up a bourgeois lifestyle. In Haneke’s “glaciation trilogy,” we are not privy to scenes of food preparation. We see all sorts of other forms of tyrannical enslavement to daily routines, but not food/meal preparation. More often than not, the food is readymade, though it has indeed “traveled” a long way from the field and the farm. Benny films the pig’s death (and eventually eats the pig’s meat), though he does not film the additional work required to yield the meat product. Benny’s laborious cleaning of the murder scene will, however, create an associative link between the two activities. There is death, and then there is the work that comes after death. That messy work – the additional “processing” related to the girl’s death and disappearance, the “sausage making” – will be taken up by Benny’s parents.
“I’m hungry,” Benny tells his father after being interrogated not so much about his motivation to kill, but rather his association with the girl and the likelihood or possibility of her disappearance being connected to Benny. Upon this announcement, Benny’s mother removes herself from the table to, we assume, prepare a meal for him. After his belly is full and he’s tucked into bed, Georg and Anna discuss their plans to aid and abet their son – and protect their valuable “reputations” – by hiding the crime and disappearing the body. This conversation, we discover later, Benny secretly films (and volunteers to the local police). It’s a conversation colored with a spate of gruesome culinary images and associations: cutting the girl’s body, for example, “in pieces so small they can be flushed away.” Sawing, breaking, burning her bones. The images conjure not so much the figure of a madman with a hacksaw and a body in the bathtub, but a professional line cook in Hell’s actual kitchen slicing and dicing and mincing. But isn’t that what happens when we repurpose reality, when we attempt to re-produce truth? We cut what’s real into tiny pieces, we break it, we burn it, we flush it away in the service of something that fits the needs of a time slot or an audience demographic or a focus group. And if it doesn’t fit our own immediate needs or desires, then it becomes just more noise, more “nothing” on a channel we flip past in search of something “better.” The discussion between Benny’s parents is punctuated with Georg asking Anna, “Will you be able to stomach it?” – as if the crime is something to be literally ingested, consumed, eaten. It turns out that Benny’s mother, rather than “stomaching” the ghastly housework that lies ahead, would rather scurry off to Egypt with Benny for a week of sunny vacation disguised to all concerned as a trip to attend a family funeral. Just like with the pig, the girl’s body will be “processed” out of sight. Instead, we will be treated to Benny’s vacation footage from Egypt – scenes that subtly underscore exploitation and poverty as well as the remnants of colonial domination and oppression. Mom ends up buying Benny a cute hat.
The only reminder we have of the girl, and her undeserved fate, are the phone calls back home we see Anna making. However, like Benny, we’re kept at a distance and unable to hear what’s said. In these scenes too, Haneke reminds us of our alienation from the unpleasant underpinnings of convenience and consumerism in industrial society.
We see anguish registered on the face of Benny’s mother as she hears, we must assume, details of the cutting, sawing, breaking, burning undertaken by Georg. Haneke then cuts to a restaurant scene with Benny and his mother eating dinner. After finally returning home, Benny checks his closet to see what’s left of the girl’s body. Nothing, of course. Cut to Benny eating breakfast. Throughout Benny’s Video, Haneke employs these types of editing cues to formalize metaphorical cannibalism. The consumption that has become so integral to everyday life is reliant upon the destruction of other lives.
Consider the pig. Again.
In an interview with Anthony Lane, Haneke states that “You can show all the shortcomings of a society through its children, because they are on the bottom rung. So are animals. They are those who can’t defend themselves. They are predestined victims” (“Happy Haneke”). I’m not suggesting Haneke should be criticized for presenting non-simulated animal death on screen – on the contrary – I’m suggesting that perhaps we should be criticized if we dismiss the underlying social commentary. After all, isn’t Haneke’s continuous critique (more than three decades now) positioned against our society’s perpetuation of “deeply ingrained forms of social dysfunction” (Grundmann 6)? Normalized dysfunction, in other words. Dysfunction that is hidden (caché), we might say, in plain sight. In Haneke’s own words: “We have no reality, but a derivative of reality, which is extremely dangerous, most certainly from a political standpoint but also in a larger sense to our ability to have a palpable sense of the truth of everyday experience” (Sharrett 30). I think Michael Lawrence is right in the way that animal death individualizes the formerly de-individualized animal and Haneke’s repeated use of the same actors and the same character names is a way to accomplish the inverse – to de-individualize his human characters (71). There’s a critique accomplished in that contrast. However, I would also argue that we might pay more attention to the food motif in Haneke’s films operating as yet another, deeply ingrained and therefore difficult to confront, social critique of our individual position within the matrix of consumption, our callous acceptance of violence, pain, and the mistreatment of those most vulnerable – the “predestined victims.”
If we are to become moral agents in a manner akin to Stanley Cavell’s interpretation of the concept, “a model of how ethics can be experienced as a constant striving to understand the moral questions raised in any given situation; to see these clearly and to take responsibility for one’s part in that ethical situation” – then as such we are obliged to move through each and every situation fully aware of our actions and responsibilities (Wheatley 25). Haneke’s work continually demonstrates that the problematic nature of consumption – and our role in it – doesn’t end at the production and proliferation of images. “The society we live in is drenched in violence,” he explains in an interview with Karin Luisa Badt (“Family Is Hell”). The violence of creation, destruction, consumption, extends to every corner of our society, interlinked as puzzle pieces or Mikado sticks. We live without the buffer of a black screen interlude allowing a few seconds of detached contemplation. We live our lives in real time, with the consequences of our actions rippling out unpredictably, yet always already affirming their source as rooted in individual choices of moral action and/or inaction. Just as the structural design of Evi’s pyramid scheme demands the willing participation and future recruitment of “players,” the perpetuation of our society of abundance – and its attendant inhumanity, oppression, immorality – also depends on the continued participation and systematic indoctrination of others. Perhaps what Haneke demonstrates through the course of Benny’s Video is a call to individual action as the chorale suggests: “Despite the angry dragon / Despite the jaws of death / despite the fear of it all / Rage … Rage, O world, and quake / Here I stand and sing / In perfect calm.”
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance. Directed by Michael Haneke, Wega Film, 1994.
A Clockwork Orange. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Warner Bros, 1971.
Badt, Karin Luisa. “Family Is Hell and so Is the World: Talking to Michael Haneke at Cannes 2005,” Bright Lights Film Journal, 1 Nov 2005, brightlightsfilm.com/family-hell-world-talking-michael-haneke-cannes-2005/#.XwkIrihKjIV. Accessed 30 June 2020.
Benny’s Video. Directed by Michael Haneke, Wega Film, 1992.
“Food and Meals.” Hitchcock’s Motifs, by Michael Walker, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2005, pp. 179-200.
Frenzy. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Universal, 1972.
The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Paramount, 1972.
Graveyard Shift. Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, Paramount, 1990.
Grundmann, Roy. “Auteur de Force: Michael Haneke’s ‘Cinema of Glaciation.’” Cineaste, vol. 32, no. 2, 2007, pp. 6-14.
Kramer vs Kramer. Directed by Robert Benton, Columbia, 1979.
Lane, Anthony. “Happy Haneke.” The New Yorker, 28 Sept. 2009, newyorker.com/magazine/2009/10/05/happy-haneke. Accessed 30 June 2020.
Lawrence, Michael. “Haneke’s Stable: The Death of an Animal and the Figuration of the Human.” On Michael Haneke, edited by Brian Price and John David Rhodes, Wayne State UP, 2010, pp. 69-91.
A Life of Her Own. Directed by George Cukor, MGM, 1950.
Magritte, René. The Treachery Of Images. 1929, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Psycho. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount, 1960.
The Seventh Continent. Directed by Michael Haneke, Wega Film, 1989.
Sharrett, Christopher. “The World That Is Known.” Cinéaste, vol. 28, no. 3, 2003, pp. 28-31.
Tango & Cash. Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, Warner Bros., 1989.
Wheatley, Catherine. Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image. Berghahn Books, 2009.
Zimmerman, Steve. “Food In Films: A Star Is Born.” Gastronomica, vol. 9, no. 2, 2009, pp. 25-34.
* * *
All images are screenshots from the film.
- In her excellent study of Haneke, Catherine Wheatley invokes the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant as she reads Haneke’s films through a Kantian lens and introduces “Kantian ethics as a model for analysing Haneke’s critical aesthetic, in order to discuss how Haneke’s films make the underlying ethics of ideology critique explicit and primary. I argue that, above all, they bring into play the Kantian conception of the ethical agent as caught between two impulses: the impulse towards pleasurable experience and away from unpleasure on the other. The experience of these conflicting impulses is characteristic, I shall argue, of responses to Haneke’s films” (23). Where my argument differs from Wheatley’s, regarding Benny’s Video, is that I include Haneke’s food motif as well as his depiction of the actual killing of the pig as instrumental in Haneke’s critique of not only the inherent violence and death that underscores food production in industrial society, but also the violent process of commodification as it relates to technology, mass media, and the entertainment industry. By making these critiques explicit, I believe that Haneke succeeds in both a “benign” and “aggressive” form of modernist critique. [↩]
- I would again highlight Wheatley’s reading here, as she analyzes Haneke’s films from the standpoint of ethical reflexivity. In so doing she identifies and explicates two dominant modes of film criticism as being “American moralists” who are “concerned with the ethics of a film’s content” and those (mostly European) critics who engage as “apparatus theorists,” concerned with the “ethics of film form” (19). This effectively amounts to discrete forms of “aesthetic reflexivity” and “moral reflexivity” (21). Haneke’s success in an overall ethical reflexivity is dependent upon how effectively these two forms merge within a film. [↩]