By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) -
In a park somewhere in New York, two children have a confrontation, one is injured. John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster play Michael and Penelope Longstreet, whose child was injured. They invite the other child’s parents Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) over. Being enlightened and civil adults, they want to have a good natured discussion on how they are going to resolve their children’s conflict.
From the beginning, both couples attempt politeness, but this is a very thin veil. One which is prodded and probed at every available moment. It starts with small passive-aggressive jibes. But Alan overhears Michael and Penelope speaking making fun of a pet name Alan uses for his wife, the conversation becomes more overt. Through a blackly comic series of arguments, culminating in alcohol-fueled catharsis, the Cowans and Longstreets unload their burdens on each other, for better and a lot worse.
Take this, make it personal, and extend it to 75 minutes.
Based on the play God of Carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza, nearly the entire film takes place within a single apartment. This kind of restriction is normally something which hampers theatre-to-film adaptations. Instead, Director Roman Polanski uses this claustrophobic sensation to comment on the situation. ”People aren’t supposed to be this bluntly honest with each other” the audience thinks as they are forced to watch as these couples argue. Then the dynamic changes, as the husbands find themselves relating to each other more than their own wives, and gender arguments begin.
The argument is a bit more involved than this… but you get the idea.
Finally, Penelope (Kate Winslet) finds herself alone in an argument over the purpose of caring for others. She feels the need to explain her compassion for other people. While her husband Michael teams up against her in an argument about self-interest.
This is the kind of film that will divide audiences. If you are the kind of person who thinks that people are by nature “good”, this is probably not your kind of movie. Carnage makes the bold assertion that civility is a just a way of avoiding honest discussion. Ultimately “getting together to talk things out” has little to no impact on the actual outcome of a conflict, which didn’t include any of them to begin with. A concept which it takes more than an hour for the adults to realize.
All this shouting and the answer was right under their nose… I think.
My only real issue with the film is Jodie Foster’s performance towards the end, when she is being ganged up on by the others. I can’t shake the feeling that that they stretched it on too long, beating a dead horse over the issue. Foster does what she can, but ultimately begins overacting in a big way. Then again, I can see how someone in her cornered position may go over-the-top as a natural reaction… but it was the only part of the entire film that felt like it strayed into artificiality. I plan on re-watching Carnage sometime soon, perhaps the second time around I’ll be more able to make sense out of this scene.
Carnage is cynical, hateful, self-loathing, and hilarious. My kind of movie.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Alan’s phone rings.
Take a Drink: each time Alan or Nancy tells the other they need to leave.
Drink a Shot: whenever someone brings up the Hamster incident.