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Carnage

Carnage

By Frances Taylor • July 5th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
CARNAGE (Blu-ray)
StudioCanal

Release date: June 18th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 80 minutes

Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanksi
Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz, John C. Reilly

Carnage

The divide between a public self and a private self is a very thin one, a line that shifts depending on our mood and company.

The faces we put forward in day-to-day exchanges with others cause us to treat people differently, to hold our political opinions closer to our chests, and maintain a vague and generic facade lest we accidentally offend someone we need to placate in the sticky world of work or a complex social circle.

This is something that I worry about no end, whether I’m being inappropriately open, over-sharing over an ill-advised third pint, or am I withholding too much so people think I’m cold? I’m not rude, I sometimes want to yell, I’m just a bit shy!
What unfolds in Carnage seems like my worst nightmare…

In an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s stage play Le Deiu du carnage, Roman Polanski explores what happens when these divides break down, when a public allegiance with one’s child or spouse begins to erode from the constant ringing of a mobile phone or a glass of scotch too many, and private grievances air themselves whether you want them too or not.

Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) have visited the home of Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) after their sons have a fight in the park. The parents huddle around a PC, nit-picking over words in the shared statement, trying to gain the upper hand over each other. As the afternoon drags out, with Nancy and Alan forever edging to the door before being dragged back in again, the gloves come off and the claws come out.

Carnage

At first, the two couples stand united with their spouse and respective sons, exchanging pleasantries over coffee and cobbler. As the chit-chat gets personal, the public facade is chipped away, causing the two couples to disintegrate into four people, making new allegiances with each other to prove their individual points, and play each other off themselves.

This isn’t humanity at its prettiest or kindest. Polanski shows how ruthless and selfish we can be when we feel threatened, belittled, or just plain irritated. Carnage gets into the niggles of relationships too, exposing how a little thing like not putting a can of coke in the fridge can become a metaphor for a stale relationship.

By keeping the action contained to the Longstreet’s apartment, Polanski creates a claustrophobic, pressure-cooker atmosphere where we don’t know who is going to crack next, but we’re certain that someone will, and the results are often hilarious. Whether they’re making fun of Penelope for her bleeding-heart “I care about Africaaa!”, or chastising Alan for being so business-orientated, belittling Michael for Carnageselling door handles, or calling Nancy’s competency as a mother into question, no one leaves unscathed, and they all give as good as they get, keeping us entertained to no end.

The camera work provides a well-rounded view of each of the characters, for better or worse, including close-ups and snippets of a beautiful Brooklyn autumn afternoon through the windows. One of my favourite shots was a close-up of Alan taking yet another call on his mobile phone, with Nancy’s fingers painted into red talons splayed out in the bottom of the shot, her frustration stretching to snapping point.

All four leads gave strong performances, and I enjoyed every one of them. Foster was the very picture of uptight and self-righteous, Reilly captured salt-of-the-earth boor, Waltz the disconnection and apparently un-caring and Winslet the tightly wound, proud mother.

They captured the public and private faces of their characters, providing likeable and unlikeable moments that seemed both ridiculous and realistic in equal measure, and gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to act around other people, and definitely a template of how not to.

However, as much as I enjoyed Carnage, and want to encourage people to watch it because I think it’s a great film, I couldn’t quite separate the art from the artist. I couldn’t forget that in 1977, Polanski was arrested for the sexual abuse of a minor, and he pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain, then fled to France to avoid Carnagesentencing and incarceration. As I was chuckling away at the vomit gag, it niggled in the back of my mind that the director is a convicted child-rapist.

How far does a private self influence a public persona? Can we as an audience reconcile a great movie with a private deplorable act? As an audience, should we allow someone’s private life to eclipse their public work? Life is not black and white, and I would hate for a mistake I made in my personal life to affect my professional life, but then, I’ve haven’t committed a sexual crime against a child and then fled to the other side of the world to escape punishment.

After thinking about this for some time, I still don’t know where to stand. I’m pro-cinema, but anti-rape, but where is the best place to stand when one person does both?

Cinema confronts tough issues, and makes us ask difficult questions about ourselves and the world we live in and this is partly why I love it so much. It would be a sad day indeed if all the films we watched were fluffy, saccharine affairs.

Carnage is a taut, tension-filled, laugh-out-loud film, a superb cinematic experience. The rest I’ll leave up to you.

Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor

Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).

When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.

She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.

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