The Meaning Behind Michael Haneke’s Masterpiece: Caché (2005)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Caché: the only movie I can give a perfect score that looks like it was filmed on a potato. 

Teaching anyone that “the mystery of never knowing” was the movie’s ultimate reward all along is a rough patch to explain, specifically when it comes to the brilliance of Michael Haneke’s Caché. On my second viewing of Haneke’s 2005 thriller, however, I have further obtained a more explicit understanding of it which I failed to express in my initial review of the film. Essentially, this re-review should help clarify my reasoning for why this uncommon ingredient of the movie makes it so pithy in commentary compared to most of its genre. 

The basic premise of Caché involves a husband/father named Georges and a wife/mother named Anne who one day receive this mysterious videotape that is strictly an elongated recording of their residency. After more videotapes begin arriving at their doorsteps, and even a few disturbing drawings are sent too, Georges begins investing, and eventually finds out that his ex-step-brother, Majid, could be behind these terrorizations.

Why would Majid want to do this though? Well, to Georges, it’s simple: Majid wants revenge because when they were kids, Georges got Majid kicked out from his family and sent to an orphanage because of some dirty rumors he had spread. It seems like a stretch though, considering Georges and Majid are in their forties now, and that was a long time ago, but nonetheless, Georges has conned himself into believing that there is no other answer to who sent those videotapes.

But, I don’t think Majid ever sent the tapes, or furthermore, I don’t think it truly mattered whether he sent them or not. The closest culprit to who sent those tapes in my opinion would be, in fact, God. That’s what these videotapes feel like: God punishing you, the MORAL world judging you, or both telling you to realize something you should realize in order to stay respectably humane. Or, perhaps, the videotapes are more of a hidden reflection of Georges’ subconscious of an affair that he should finally confront. There’s no doubt that Haneke never intended for there to be a physical culprit to the stalking, because in truth it’s meant to be a reflection of the guilt that someone (Georges) should feel when causing such permanent trauma to another (Majid). It’s very blurred whether or not Georges actually had guilt “hidden” from what he did to Majid, but it’s safe to say Haneke wants us to believe that Georges’ prejudices are what caused it to be reserved if it ever was. Racism is what prevents us from developing or becoming mature; it’s what restricts us from creating empathy for others because it cons you into believing some people don’t deserve your sympathy. It’s an unadulterated superior-complex that egotistically punishes those around us. 

That’s why I appreciate the ending of the movie to a vast degree because of the scene where Majid’s Son confronts Georges. Throughout their quarrel, Georges refuses to show Majid any responsibility for his Father’s suicide because he is too stubborn to admit that a “person” like Majid wasn’t “crazy” in the first place. Maybe the hidden part of his brain knows that he is someone to be blamed for where Majid went in life since he basically rumored him into an orphanage at the age of 6. However, you can tell on the surface he doesn’t actually believe that a man of his caliber or “superiority” should feel sorry for the unfortunate direction some “immigrant” went, especially after stereotyping him as the culprit to the videotape terrorizing that’s been going on. This is all a result of Georges’ misplaced ego. Majid’s Son telling Georges during their fight that he just wanted to see what someone may be like after being the cause of another’s death was just the cherry on top to dehumanizing Georges’ character. 

That’s what I think the movie represents though: the flawed nature of being primarily an egotist. Think about it this way: the videotapes are Georges’ subconscious or, better yet, his “hidden” gut telling him to confront the guilt in loose ends. The actual actions that he commits, however, through stubborn accusations and blame on Majid and his Son are the physical realism of how he deflects or handles his subconscious. Caché is giving us an allegory of how a narcissist battles truths that could possibly harm their “superior” figure; the truth in Georges’ case being that he had committed something wrong. Yet, in Georges’ nature, it became more favorable for him to allow someone from his past to suffer again than for him to admit to his own flaws and sins. This is Haneke’s mirror image of what we may find as common human behavior. Yet, there is a more specific key reason that Haneke explores this concept.

There’s a scene in Caché where we learn about Majid’s parents and how they had likely died in the Algerian War which is notoriously known for being forgotten and overlooked by the French despite there being hundreds of immigrant casualties from it. If we put one and two together, the French’s mental handling of the Algerian War is deadly similar to Georges’ mental handling of his past with Majid. Michael Haneke has ingeniously tied together a real life example with a one-man narrative. They both threw evidence of the past under the bus just like how Georges’ TV show producer destroyed the cold-hearted tape out of consideration for the future. The French didn’t care for foreigners and so didn’t Georges. It’s the inhumane habit of racism that caused their forgetting.

Close to lastly, I want to state my interpretation of what the final shot of Caché means. First off, it’s brilliantly framed with having the two sons almost hidden in the shot, but moving on… I’ve heard a lot of people, even Robert Ebert himself claiming that the scene was there to insinuate that Georges’ son, Pierrot, and Majid’s son plotted the entire scheme, or at least knew one another. Ebert even states that it’s likely Pierrot at the minimum knew about his father’s past because of what Majid could’ve possibly told him, accusing Majid’s son as the true culprit to the madness; Ebert nearly rules out the idea that Georges is at fault for these videotapes due to a physical evidence basis. While this is possible and I can respect Ebert’s interpretation, I don’t believe that any of this was the core ambition of what Haneke intended. I don’t believe we are supposed to think Georges is not responsible for the videotapes, because as established before, the videotapes may be intended to be metaphorical and not literal. The videotapes are emulations to me of the vagueness that Georges creates when talking to his wife about the past; so even in a literal standpoint it is possible that the videotapes are just solely a symbol for Georges inner want to release the hidden, especially to someone as close to you as your wife. On top of that, remember when Pierrot asks his father (Georges) why he sent the drawing of the child bleeding to him during school? I think, in a fashion, that’s just a subtle clue that Georges could’ve been at fault, and that metaphorically the drawing sent to his son represents Georges’ past trauma reflecting onto his own child from this whole videotape affair. 

So, how does that concern the final shot? I like to view Pierrot’s and Majid’s Son’s mingling as evolution. If it’s true that Pierrot knew about his father’s ignorant ambitions to forget what he did to Majid’s father, then isn’t that a sign of hope? Majid’s Son has witnessed himself a sinister individual up-close (Georges) and is likely to learn from it by avoiding the characteristics of a past generation individual. Pierrot will not become the striking image of his father if his understanding of Majid’s struggle is genuine. To see the supposedly friendly interaction between the son of an egotistical, immature racist and the son of an immigrant is evidently symbolic; it’s meant to make us realize that there’s room for improvement in the next generation; we have that ability to allow our children to avoid the neglect that the French gave to the victims in the Algerian War. Better yet, we have that ability to let the PAST teach us how to handle the present/future. Conclusion: this is why the past should never be caché/hidden.

This is a bit of a side note, or even a side theory to the movie however; it’s completely detached from everything I mentioned previously, but in a way, Caché partially predicted the rise of anonymous trolling on the internet? If there were ever to be a “legitimate” guess to who actually sent those tapes if this were a real-life situation — although, that was never Haneke’s intention to think like that and he’d probably hate that I’m doing it — I would say it was one of Georges’ hardcore fans. The affair feels even more relevant to today though if that were the case because of well… “Cancel Culture.” When you’re a celebrity, people seek to learn about you, and if you have dirt under your sleeves, people tend to expose you of that dirt since celebrities are typically held to this god-like “perfection” standard. The possibly intentional consequences that come from the mysteriously sent tapes almost emulate an angry fan that wants to push pain onto someone they used to look up to for not being the “perfect person” they maybe had initially looked at them as. 

Well, anyhow, that concludes my analysis. Are you still confused with the meaning of Caché? Do you still believe there’s more behind the curtains that we certainly missed? Is Robert Ebert an idiot? Am I an idiot? Are we all just idiots who can’t put the pieces together of something that may be more simplistic than we had read it? In any case however, that’s sort of the beauty of Haneke’s masterpiece to me: I guarantee each time I rewatch it I’m going to pick up on ideas I didn’t have initially or just completely dismiss my previous interpretation of such an open-ended mystery; it’s that magical… or downright cruel. 

Verdict: A+

The Victors of the 2000s, Disturbance in the Arts, My All-Time Favorites

“Caché” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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