16 April 2012 | Red-Barracuda
An icy look at an act of meaningless violence
The central idea of Benny's Video is whether people in western society have become so desensitised to images of violence in film and the media that they become capable of committing acts of murder themselves. It asks is the culture in the developed world such, that we are losing touch with the reality of violence. In this film a teenage boy from a privileged background kills a girl 'to see what it's like'. On discovering the crime, his parents automatically decide to cover it up. They are emotionless and discuss the problem in terms of a logic puzzle; at no point do they ever even mention the murdered girl or her family. With this in mind, it's obvious that Benny's Video is also about the banality of evil; the way that acts of horror are often committed by frighteningly calm and seemingly unremarkable people. The film emphasises this theme by having an underplayed aesthetic. The act of murder is depicted in a way as far removed from typical film violence as is possible. It's caught on video but framed such that we see virtually nothing, instead it is conveyed by sound instead of image. The thump of the bolt gun and the girl's screams are what indicate to us what is going on. It's actually quite disconcerting to have it depicted this way and in some respects it's more horrific as its clumsiness feels more authentic. Its approach is so unusual it throws you off guard somewhat making the whole thing that bit more effective.
It's a cold film. Michael Haneke has made it intentionally such as a counterbalance to the way reality is depicted in the media in general where artificial joviality is widespread. It does have to be said though that the coldness fits in with the theme of the film, it's about emotionally stunted people after all. It feels like a film that has become maybe even more relevant today too. Benny lives in an enclosed world of technology where he watches violent films and news feeds; it feels he was living a life that many others now do in the internet age. So from this point-of-view it still carries a lot of relevance and seems quite prophetic. Not that I personally think that the viewing of violent films makes a person violent themselves, I think the seed is in an individual irrespective of this but perhaps even Haneke thinks this too, as its quite obvious that Benny's parents are capable of repulsive acts while devoid of emotion. They are not so far removed from Benny, his impulses seem genetic.
This is a disturbing film but not a particularly graphic one. Although viewers should be alerted to the opening scene of a pig being killed which is not a sequence for the squeamish at all. But overall this is a film that is about the effect of violent films, as opposed to actually being one itself. It's thought-provoking but not really entertainment as such.