Being a parent is no easy task – when your child acts out or does something wrong, it’s hard not to take it as a personal reflection on yourself. In Carnage, after a playground altercation turns violent, the parents of the two boys involved decide to come together to try and come to a reasonable agreement on how to rectify the situation. What starts out as a civil conversation between the two parties quickly devolves into an honest and bitterly funny examination of not only each others’ parenting skills, but their marriages and even themselves as people.
Based on Yasmina Reza‘s play, God of Carnage, director Roman Polanski takes the story to the big screen with four powerhouse performers who make being trapped in an apartment an engaging look at human nature you want to run away from, but at the same time are unable to tear your eyes from. After Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan’s (Christoph Waltz) son hits Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet’s (John C. Reilly) son in the face with a stick, the parents decide to try and settle things like adults, but how they each think that should happen differs from person to person and those differences are eventually revealed when the Cowan’s (despite repeated efforts) find themselves unable to simply leave the Longstreet’s apartment.
On the surface, the story seems like a simple idea of four people who may have never interacted if not for this situation, but the question becomes what would make them continue to stay in the apartment even though they are clearly at odds with one another? The film quickly shows true human nature and how (when threatened) people always end up looking out for themselves and identifying with those who are like-minded, not necessarily who they are “supposed” to agree with.
Penelope wants to be politically correct and see the world as a community looking out for each other, but cannot help bringing up exactly what physical damage the Cowans’ son did to her son’s teeth. Michael is dressed up “as a liberal,” but eventually gives up his role as peacekeeper when his short fuse finally runs out. Nancy can only apologize for her husband’s constant phone call interruptions for so long before she starts revealing the real cracks in their relationship and it takes potentially losing his phone for Alan to show any real emotion.
Much as the boys’ simple argument suddenly escalated into a violent incident, their parents go from seemingly polite restraint to all-out chaos after one person’s guard is finally let down. It is an interesting look at people’s emotions and how things can quickly turn on a dime when (to quote the Real World) people, “stop being polite and start getting real.” It is clear that the four do not want to be in their situation interacting with each other, but once their individual façades are off the table their roles change and the couples start breaking away from each other to bond with the person who may in fact share their view on the situation. By the end, the couples are no longer standing together, and it becomes a battle of sexes as the men bond over cigars and gangs and the women laugh when Nancy finally puts an end to the constant interruption of Alan’s Blackberry.
From mocking nick names to world views, the four end up laying everything out on the table and although they never physically harm one another like their children, the same cannot be said for any tangible items in their path. (Cue sad trombone for those irreplaceable art books.) In the end it leaves you wondering, maybe the boys had it right. Maybe the easiest solution to an argument comes down to who is carrying the bigger stick.
The Upside: Even though the idea of being trapped in an apartment with four warring people sounds down right claustrophobic, Winslet, Reilly, Foster, and Waltz’s performances leave you knowing you probably should leave, but never really wanting to step out the door.
The Downside: If you have a weak stomach for watching others lose their cookies, this may not be the film for you.
On the Side: The film begins with the Longstreets finishing up a letter about the incident for the Cowans and leading them out of the apartment which made me wonder what took place before they decided to type up the letter and how long the Cowans had already been there.