How many times have you found yourself biting your tongue when put into a situation that requires you to put up with the off comments, subtle insults or general fakeness of another? Carnage, based on the popular French play Le Dieu du Carnage, is a hilariously satirical telling of two families meeting for the first time after the son of the Cowans (Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz) assaulted the son of the Longstreets (Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly) during a fight at the local playground… and now they find themselves doing just that while dealing with the most complicated of bullies – each other.
The very introduction to the film is a fast-paced series of short bits of dialogue between all four cast members that immediately sets the tone for the conversation roller coaster that will become the next 90 minutes of their lives. At first, the cordial meeting between the two couples is an attempt to find resolution to the altercation between their sons. But it quickly becomes apparent that this meeting between the two couples may evolve into something it was never meant to be – a conversation about themselves. The Cowans, a seemingly uninterested power couple, couldn’t be any more different than the Longstreets, an overly-polite liberal working-class family; and the awkwardness of their conversation is observed in the momentary stares they give each other every few seconds as they debate whether or not to verbalize what they honestly feel. This melting away of facades is broken up by the perfectly-timed interruption of cell phone calls, uncomfortable chuckles, vomiting, and repeated discussions about cruelty to hamsters, apple cobbler, rare Cuban cigars and ‘thumpers’ (grenade launchers). Throw some 18-year-old scotch (and maybe a little discussion comparing childhood bullying to the violence in war-torn African countries) into the mix and the true colors of Carnage are revealed; pitting families against each other, men against women, idealists against realists, upper class against middle class, parents against children.
The contemporary, New-York style production design and static photography of Carnage juxtaposed with the constant, yet beautifully choreographed movement of the cast within such a small environment give the feeling of watching a play. In traditional theater, timing is everything – which was certainly taken into account when director Roman Polanski partnered with Yazmina Reza (writer of Le Dieu du Carnage) to adapt her play for the screen, ensuring that the witty dialogue (and occasional, unpredictable event), flowed as naturally as possible.
What I love about this film is its simplicity. There is one set (and only one) as well as an almost total lack of musical score. Though the production of a plot unfolding in real time without the typical use of a set change, cut-away, montage or explosion-riddled car chase can bring up some complicated and interesting challenges, one could easily be convinced that Carnage was filmed in its entirety in one day. While the entire cast (all four of them) meshed well throughout their performances right up to the film’s rather abrupt ending, Winslet’s delivery of dialogue felt a bit overly-theatrical at times… Maybe she just needed to unwind with another glass of that eighteen-year-old scotch.