/ posted on 28 November 2012

The ensuing fragments of Viennese life give us glimpses of different stories, some in the news on television, others from everyday existence: a migrant boy wandering the streets; an edgy young man now contemplating jumping out of a window, now strenuously playing ping pong with a machine; an old man living alone, having a protracted and uneasy phone conversation with his daughter; a couple contacting the migrant boy after they see him on television; another couple eating at home in silence until the husband mutters to his wife that he loves her and she asks him if he’s drunk. The incessant cross-cutting from one fragment to another makes no clear connection between them – code unknown, to invoke the title of a later Haneke film which uses a similar device – yet we expect the pieces to come together in some way to throw light on the story of the killing spree. It’s the edgy young man who eventually goes berserk at the bank, but couldn’t it just as well have been the old man estranged from his daughter, who works at the bank, or the man, drunk or not, who loves his wife and is a guard there? As it is usually told, the story of a mass killer treats him as a singular case and focuses on his individual psychopathology, but by decentring the story Haneke suggests that the pathology could be anyone’s, that any of us could break under everyday stress – the film is a depiction not of individual but social pathology.

Gilberto Perez · Bourgeois Nightmares: Michael Haneke · LRB 6 December 2012


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