“Benny’s Video” is a chilling exploration of a disturbed teenager’s descent into darkness after committing a shocking act of violence, raising profound questions about the desensitizing effects of media and the blurred boundaries between reality and virtuality.
The Perceptual Continuity of Benny’s Video
The essence of an experience lies in the subject’s perception, as it seeks to authenticate itself through the viewer’s consciousness. This perception, by its inherent design, is obliged to associate itself with a particular time frame. This temporal form can repeat itself indefinitely, superimpose other realities upon it, or even create an entirely new experience. The diffusion of a momentary perception throughout the entirety of an experience gives rise to its continuity, where the instantaneous entity (the mind) that engenders the experience becomes embedded within the subject, entwined in an infinite loop. In Michael Haneke‘s 1992 film “Benny’s Video,” Benny (Arno Frisch) assumes the role of the subject who seeks to fulfill the “experience,” while the “inherent design” manifests itself in the recorded videos. A reference is made to Kôji Suzuki’s novel “The Ring,” which, like a deadly disease, spreads an image that permeates its surroundings. Benny becomes fixated on a single image, with the video’s imagery entirely engulfing his perception. This phenomenon can also be described as the utilization of objects’ senses. The intrinsic aspect of the experience is constituted by the timelessness and stillness of these objects.
Just as Marcel Proust’s madeleine opens the door to certain memories and he meticulously duplicates their keys within his mind, Benny, despite chasing after an image, aims not to reclaim lost time but to recreate it from scratch. Instead of drawing the world closer to him, he aspires to establish a world that can wage war against the existing one, a world that briefly materializes in Benny’s intuitive existence. Unaware of what will serve as a conduit from his subconscious, enabling him to ascend to the level of consciousness, Benny finds the right path amidst the mobility of memories that do not belong to him. Throughout the film, a fugitive thought dwells in the corner of the subject’s mind, attempting to learn how to depart from its abode in perfect harmony amid all the enticements laid before it. This situation is a small reflection of how something contained within a screen can never remain fixed there. Hence, Haneke fearlessly leaves a door open in the opening scene of the film for the viewer to experience what Benny experiences.
A Priori and A Posteriori: Benny’s Actions and Influences
If we were to divide the film into two parts, we could label the first part as a priori and the second part as a posteriori. In the a priori section, the subject, Benny, is associated with actions within the framework of the fundamental principles of existence. Considering the communicative objects of our time, “Benny’s Video” reflects a more distinct correlation that can be read and felt. The existential principles upon which the film is grounded serve not only to be realized but also to regulate and cleanse the mind. For this purpose, all you need is a dark room and random visuals flowing before your eyes. Although the screen, which reflects the image rather than a living being with flesh and bones, cannot directly communicate with you, it does not imply that it cannot engage with you. In this regard, Benny remains in perfect harmony with the unity of experience. Erasing bloodstains from the floor and wiping spilled milk from the table do not form two distinct actions that alienate one from the other within him. Since we are not privy to Benny’s way of life before watching the video, we are uncertain whether his actions developed and changed in his mind after watching the video or if they had always been unidirectional. While a priori is nothing more than an image, a posteriori awakens it in this manner.
In the film, Benny represents not only himself but also a collective reflection of his parents (Angela Winkler and Ulrich Mühe). The actions he takes, which are based on the video that has already influenced him, are the result of the unity of his parents’ actions. Regardless of how the images before Benny’s eyes change, the initial signifiers that affect his subconscious serve as the soldiers of his future actions. Even when the watched video ends, the weight of the displayed actions finds its presence in other forms within the consciousness. Thus, the question of whether violence begets violence suggests that as long as the primary subject continues to exist, violence does not originate from violence itself but rather continues as it did in the beginning. In Benny’s Video, action utilizes what can be repeated, leaving everything as it is without transformation.
However, what remains static for Benny does not hold the same validity for others in motion. The perpetual repetition of a fatal blow witnessed in slow motion at the beginning of the film is connected to this notion. All temporally sequential images capture a permanent visual in a state of transformation. Throughout the film, this visual repeats incessantly in Benny’s mind, representing the presence of an absence following existence. On the other hand, Benny searches for the reality of a fixed image, enchanted by the succession of images. He consistently expresses his curiosity because what has happened after watching the video remains fragmented, and the outcome is uncertain. This becomes the fundamental catalyst that activates Benny’s consciousness.
Death and Control in Benny’s Video
Benny’s Video, Michael Haneke’s second feature film, just like his first film, The Seventh Continent, captivates us with death, subtly infusing the hidden allure of death into every moment of the film. This allows us to easily digest the existence of death. The vivid aspect of death, experienced in the opening scene, seems as if it is calling out to life itself, yet in Haneke’s films, if death is making a plea to life, it means that life will somehow fall into the clutches of death and, in turn, regain life alongside death. Benny’s Video, part of the Emotional Glaciation Trilogy, which is also known as the Glaciation Trilogy, unfolds like a conceptual game that does not require adherence to any unwritten rules. The ability to fast-forward and rewind the displayed videos, the opportunity to watch them repeatedly, signifies that control in this game requires no rules. Throughout the film, although Benny holds the remote control in his hand, symbolizing his control, the true control lies within the images themselves. Benny is merely a conduit. As the images seep from the screen and are repeatedly showcased, he resists in order to validate the potential actions that may arise afterwards.
During the time when television held a significant place in our lives, it was challenging to view it solely as a utilitarian object. With its old wooden structure, it resembled more of a coffin than anything else. As getting lost within the screens has become a crucial topic even today, we can consider ourselves as individual cameras, much like Benny’s video camera. Every event we witness throughout the day or absorb through screens keeps replaying in our minds, even when we go to sleep. In this regard, although the tools used in Benny’s Video may have been replaced by other means in today’s context, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the successors continue on the same path functionally. Hence, Haneke’s satire doesn’t merely represent a specific period but rather extends its waves to the shores of today.
When Benny’s pure desires and actions fail to reflect in others as purely, the change and distortion in the fundamental position of violence begin to manifest. While pure desire remains an impetus ingrained in the mind, it finds its emotional support solely where it draws its power from. Thus, the chain of tragic events is not distanced from the audience. Benny’s Video doesn’t reveal the identity of violence; instead, it nudges the thematic patterns entrenched in the mind. Consequently, Haneke’s portrayal of violence easily triggers your impulses. On the other hand, all the visuals he employs are propositions in their own right. Hence, the expression of a recorded image, devoid of reservations, carries an innocent fragrance.
Benny’s Video as a Shared Experience and Transmitter
The silent, fresh witnessing of someone who has lost and remained completely indifferent births the experience in the eyes of another. While we may be fixated on Benny’s videos throughout the film, Benny himself is also a video. Everything he presents as the subject is a part of his own video. Therefore, we don’t see multiple videos in the film but rather just a single video, Benny’s video. In this video, Benny is the pilot. He wants to reconstruct the team he saw in the initial video. Within his subjectivity, the act of constructing his imaginary plane lies different from the series of actions that evoke the embodiment of death in people’s minds. Although he doesn’t seem successful in actualizing his thoughts entirely, he follows his plan correctly when it comes to demolishing the plane he lifted off. Death, for him, is like a served meal, and he wants everyone to benefit from it because death has become a part of a shared, delectable feast.
The banquet depicted in the introductory video is a fitting representation of this. As everyone there consumes death in their own way, they also place bets on Benny’s mind-engaging pilot-airplane mechanism. Hence, the sole focus for Benny is to lift off the plane. If we consider the world as a massive slaughterhouse throughout the film, death, which is unseen by everyone, ceases to be death. Benny, however, desires to observe this entire slaughterhouse from above and share what he sees with everyone from the same distance. Only in this way, the experienced has no obligation on the subject; it becomes a transmitter. The duration from passing through the entrance of your room to sitting next to you is very short. It swiftly arrives and merges with your bloodstream. Thus, we cannot go back from a completed event or determine what preceded it.
Last modified: June 18, 2023