Watching Carnage is like watching a car crash in slow motion: you know what is about to happen but you just can’t look away. In this sense, the film is an interesting watch, but then you begin to feel that you are watching that car crash over and over.
Watching Carnage is
like watching a car crash in slow motion:
you know what is about to happen but you just can’t look away. In this sense, the film is an interesting
watch, but then you begin to feel that you are watching that car crash over and
All the action takes place in the New York apartment of Penelope
(Jodie Foster) and Michael
Longstreet (John C. Reilly). They meet with parents Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) to discuss an
altercation between their two sons which has resulted in one of them losing
teeth. At first the meeting
is tense, but civilised. But, as
differences in parental opinions emerge, it soon descends into chaos as tempers
fray, truths surface and prejudices come to light.
With Carnage, Roman
Polanski has taken the action from Yasmina
Reza’s Olivier-award winning play God
of Carnage and shifted it to the middle class realm of west-side New York. The story plays out like an Ibsen play
with its uncovering of façades or a Pinter play with its strong sense of
claustrophobia and increasing unease.
Fascinated by people in conflict in claustrophobic environments, with
Carnage Polanski takes apart the politeness and pretension of the
middle-classes. However, from the
title, obviously you expect absolute mayhem but instead what you get is more
like a riot at a PTA meeting. The
characters never seem to be able to escape one another, with Nancy and Alan
only getting as far as the lifts each time they try. The roles of all four switch around as each one of them
slowly shifts from polite, but forced conversation into senseless arguing and
eventually in to hysteria and drunkenness.
Foster takes on a very different kind of role with Penelope,
an advocate of human rights and a woman who likes to see herself as pro-active
and just, but spends the majority of the film as an emotional wreck. C. Reilly’s portrayal of Michael,
although reminiscent of many of his previous roles, is interesting to watch as
he moves from the soft husband and accommodating host to a man holding his own
and spouting truths about his marriage.
‘My wife dressed me up as a liberal, but I am a short-tempered son of a
bitch.’ Both the Longstreets are
clearly Bourgeois wannabes with not much of an idea of how to achieve this.
Their coffee table is adorned with various limited edition art books (displayed
for all to see), they use an old bottle of cologne to disguise bad smells and
call one another Darjeeling as a pet name. Penelope openly displays an obsession
with cleanliness, yet when we see her bathroom, it is a cluttered mess. Michael is made to come across as more
of a working class type as he describes his sales job, yet he boasts as he
pulls out cigars and his precious bottle of 18 year old single malt.
Winslet’s Nancy is kind of fun to watch, starting out as
polite and sedate before descending into a loud drunk. Waltz’s Alan, although he also is a
flawed character, is the most engaging of the bunch. He holds the group together in a way as they seem to fall in
to uncomfortable silences when he goes off on one of his many mobile phone
calls at the most inopportune moments.
Alan is not afraid to actually voice what is happening around him: ‘Caring parent crap and the bickering
that goes along with it.’
As well as each character being intriguing in their own odd
way, there are some pretty funny moments in Carnage, particularly when Nancy
vomits over Penelope’s precious books.
Despite these moments however, the film lacks the sharp, continuous
comedy in say Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery or Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. It
feels like more is needed to keep you engaged and as Nancy actually says: ‘This is getting to be like who
cares.’ The irony is that for this
story, an actual stage adaptation would come across much better.