Carnage (2012) – directed by Roman Polanski
I won’t go into the politics surrounding Roman Polanski and his dubious past … suffice to say that it always feels a little bit like an elephant in the room when his name flashes up in the opening credits. There’s no doubting that he is a talented director and I do, for the most part, enjoy his films … and Carnage is no exception.
Carnage is based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony-Award winning play God of Carnage. I have not seen this play, but from what I’ve read Polanski’s version is very true to the original. All the same it could have so easily have been based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, where its characters are motivationally stuck in a room together and cannot (or will not) leave. Within this room the protagonists, much to their disgust, discover what lies just beyond the thin veneer that is part of every human masquerade. In Carnage two sets of parents come together to “discuss” an incident surrounding a school ground incident between their respective sons. As you can guess from the title things do not go well. What first starts out as a civil discussion becomes a heated and passionate exchange defending their child’s actions and then spirals out of control becoming an ironically hilarious exploration into Sartre’s original adage that “Hell is other people”. Alliances come and go between each of the four protagonists as they flesh each other out. It doesn’t take long before the leaky tub that holds in their inner-most opinions bursts open.
At times Carnage did feel like a stage-play rather than a feature film. Understandable I suppose, but there were some motivational shifts that perhaps swung a little too swiftly to feel authentic. Fine for the stage where there is a palpable sense of performance but a little out of place on film. Despite this, Carnage is a film that appears to be well aware of itself. You get a sense that it knows it’s based on a play as evidenced through a complete lack of filmic trickery, cleaver cutting, expressionist lighting, and visual coercion. It really is a film based upon performance and a very witty script. Although, one astute movie goer behind me did notice that the more the film explored a character the closer the camera shot them. Well done that person for noticing … maybe a second viewing is warranted. The adapted screenplay is a veritable goldmine that was too much to take in a single sitting. An abundance of interpersonal dynamics, allegories, metaphors, and hidden comic gems, all sewn up into 80 minutes, meant it was a little too much to digest fully. It must be noted the very solid performances by all four actors, particularly Alan’s (Christoph Waltz) calm and clinically assured derailing of Penelope (Jodie Foster), culminating in her tour-de-force of pure vein popping rage … this was something special.
Carnage, while not a revolutionary film, has some memorable moments and is different enough to stand out. It is, in essence, a light hearted glance into the chasm.