A multi-layered parable dressed as a thriller, Michael Haneke’s 2005 Hidden, delves into the historical subconscious of the European colonizer, swims at the bottom of media manipulation, and when it comes up for air, with blood in its teeth, it does not offer any answers.
By the end of Hidden [Caché], after Georges has been terrorized by events which climax with the suicide of an old acquaintance, he lies in his bed and envelopes himself in a blanket, almost as if trying to recapture some womb-like comfort. He lies in there but probably does not have a clue who’s made that bed. We, instead, can fathom that this feeling of angst and dread haunting him is, in fact, self-inflicted.
Upper middle class Parisians Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne Laurent (Juliette Binoche) receive a videotape showing the front of their house and their comings and goings. Further tapes show images related to Georges’ past. Together with the footage, childish, sinister drawings are also sent. In one tape there’s the farmhouse where Georges grew up; another one, gives the ultimate clue to the whole charade. As a boy, after his Algerian activist parents were killed, Majid (Maurice Bénichou) was expected to be adopted by Georges’ parents, who changed their minds when Georges turned against him.
The terror within the story is created out of Georges’ own sense of guilt as much as it does from the fear of the unknown. Georges goes to the police, but unless a crime is committed, there is nothing they can do. The growing unease about the situation reinforces Georges’ arrogance. As days go by, he seems increasingly sure who’s behind the stupid game. The film suggests a different culprit, but Georges’ state of denial would not allow him to admit that guilt resides closer to home. Like French society, Georges refuses to take his eyes off his own navel.
..Remembrance of Things Past…
It is true that by the end of Hidden, Georges evolves as a character. Lying in his bed, hiding from the world, Georges Laurent seems to be a fraction of the self-assured, eloquent and famous intellectual, who, at the beginning of the film, seemed to have everything in life. He is a changed man – more subdued, more apathetic, shallower than ever before. But his approach to the past and its bearings on his personal life remain unchanged. Adamant of his righteous position, if he could – as he had tried before the appearance of the videotapes – he would avoid dealing with the past at all.
And who can blame Georges? To acknowledge the truth is to leave himself open and vulnerable. To face up to the past is to surrender everything that has built up his self-esteem; indeed his sense of self. Over time, Georges has been creating his own convenient narrative that gives meaning to his life. He became the TV intellectual, the smart husband and the wise father through the excellent choices he has made. He became successful, part of the elite and proud of his upper middle class existence due to his exceptional abilities. We all use such rationale… On a daily basis. Highly expected; perfectly human.
However, the basic deception which makes life bearable cannot be confused with the truth. Self-delusion serves a purpose – it protects us from psychological collapse – but it cannot be taken as a platform for life. How ironic then that Georges, the superstar intellectual, who discuss literary fiction in front of a national audience, seems satisfied to avoid exploring deeper truths pertinent to the most important character of them all: himself. He willingly ignores the painful fact that today’s privilege is the result of past exploitation. By avoiding a deeper understanding – like every colonizing power in world history – Georges absolves himself from any responsibility.
At one point he tries to defend himself – and by extension, his own country and colonization per se – against such accusations. Georges tells Majis’s son Hashem (Walid Afkir) that he ‘cannot be blamed for your father’s sad and wrecked life.’ To a certain extent, he is right: anyone’s life is surely more than the consequence of a single event – even if that event is as significant as the denial of adoption in childhood. However, only someone who’s disingenuous would refuse to recognise how life-changing that episode is in Majid’s future.
How does one measure the material benefit a country gets from the looting of another nation? It is impossible, off course. Should we even dwell in talks of material reparations, concerning past injustices, if we can’t effectively quantify the evil that it has caused? What is important here though – and Georges should know that! – is recognising the link between one nation’s subjection to another and the former colony’s present lack of effective geopolitical influence. As a literary critic, Georges should strive to exercise his imagination…
The beauty of Hidden is that it does not force its messages down our throat. It is all very subtle and elliptical. The film really deserves its place as one of the great thrillers of the last decade.