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Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

February 4, 2012

Adapted from the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski’s latest film makes a strong commitment to its source material’s stage-bound properties. Bar bookend scenes set in a park, the narrative is confined to a single set comprised of an apartment and the corridor outside it, and a single block of real time, the result being an insular, claustrophobic watch in which both characters and the viewer feel trapped. Gathering to discuss the issue of a feud between their young sons, two sets of parents meet under a veneer of civility, only for things to descend into verbal deconstructions of personal and bourgeois values, exchanges becoming increasingly contemptuous, farcical and infantile.

The film’s exposure of contempt hidden by social convention is certainly not an original concept, and the failings Carnage does have relate to this. While some of its points have bite with their specificity, others prove too broad to leave much of a devastating impact. Perhaps a result of the play’s restraints, the film also seems to be lacking in a satisfying third act in that a sense of dread and chaos is never really heightened by the time of its conclusion; the end provides jarring abruptness rather than a sense of closure. Nonetheless, Carnage is so consistently amusing, and to such frequently strong degrees, that its underwhelming attributes can generally be forgiven. Much of the fun stems from watching the strong quartet of stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz verbally spar with each other with increasing bile and hysteria. The farcical nature of the piece brings to mind, in a positive way, some of Luis Buñuel’s work, even if the punch of those films’ satire is a bit more potent. There’s even an amusing allusion to the concept of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel in relation to Polanski’s staging here: as eager to leave as they may be and as much as they may try, Winslet and Waltz just cannot seem to escape the apartment in which they now seem caged.

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