Solely focusing on one situation and four characters stuck in it, “Carnage” shows us their unpleasant sides through its vicious farce centered on one small incident. The characters in the film think or believe that they are sophisticated people with manners and they can handle their matter as civilized human beings, but, within a short period of time, they gradually reveal to us and themselves how petty and ugly they actually are beneath their superficial manners, and it is darkly funny to observe the series of their indecent behaviors revealing or digging more ugliness inside them as the time goes by.
The premise of the movie is simple; two parents living in New York, Penelope and Michael Longstreet(Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan(Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), gather for the afternoon meeting held at the Longstreets’ apartment due to the incident between their children at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Nancy and Alan’s son Zachary injured Penelope and Michael’s son Ethan with a stick during their confrontation at the park, and, while we do not know how exactly that happened, we can guess from the opening scene that the incident was probably one of those usual clashes between kids.
Because both kids go to the same school, the parents want to settle their children’s problem as smooth and quick as possible through their meeting, and the meeting seems to have been proceeded well as they wish. They are finishing drawing out the document for their mutual settlement when we meet them at the beginning, and both sides see no problem in the settlement. The injury is not very serious, and the Cowans are willing to pay the medical bill for that if it is necessary.
But their meeting is somehow extended through several coincidences along with little arguments on which kid should be blamed for the incident. One of the amusing things in the movie is that the Cowans are constantly drawn back to the Longstreets’s home whenever they are about to leave the place. Of course, either parents can end the meeting if they want, but they are always dragged by the words hurled at them at the last minute, and then another argument is initiated while they are still stuck in the living room.
And through these edgy interactions between them, their well-mannered veneer on the surface is shed from them step by step. They are all affluent middle-class people or the people between upper class and middle class(their kids’ school is some expensive private school in New York), but, through their conversations, the differences between them become apparent along with their respective flaws and pretensions. This leads to more arguments, and the living room is turned to the battleground for savage verbal warfare where boundaries and allegiances are kept changed or shifted according to the vicious mutual dynamic between these four people. In the messy circumstance like this, you will be not that surprised to see whiskey and cigar appearing on the screen later.
The movie is based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony award-winning play “God of Carnage”. While it has been put on the stage several times in South Korea(that is the reason why the movie will be released as “God of Carnage” in South Korean theaters), I have not got the chance to watch the play yet, but I could see that the director Roman Polanski, who adapted the play with Reza, makes a good movie while confined in the limited space of the original play. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”(1948), the movie moves around only in the apartment except its opening scene and closing scene, and Polanski shot his film in real-time with his four performers.
While the limits in the movie become more apparent as the evening is approaching to the characters despite its short running time(it is less than 80 minutes), Polanski keeps the circumstance on the screen effectively spinning its wheel while also making it engaging with the precise timing of reaction shots and line deliveries from his performers. As shown in his early work like “Cul-de-Sac”(1966) or his later work “Bitter Moon”(1992), Polanski is good at mean black comedy about the characters mired in human vulgarity, and “Carnage” is another dark fun, which is advertised as “a new comedy of no manners”.
The four performers give a quartet performance entertaining enough to hold our attention even though we find them increasingly unlikable as their verbal battle starts from cobbler and coffee then goes down to whiskey and cigar. Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet is having a fun with the way the shallow facades of their characters get crumbled in the circumstance being filled with blames and accusations; they look composed and decent at first, and then they become as hypocoristic and pathetic as their husbands. John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz also wield their comic skill while clashing with their co-actresses or each other; Reilly deftly reveals the boorish side of his character behind his likability, and Waltz is amusing as a sardonic lawyer who keeps getting a call from his cellular phone due to the recent emergent problem of his major client. He seems to be more concerned about his client’s problem while showing little interest to the matter in front of him and others, and that attitude naturally irritates others.
“Carnage” is essentially no more than one extended circumstance, and, not so surprisingly, it feels stagy from time to time due to its inherent constraints. But this is an enjoyable one-joke black comedy thanks to good direction and fun performances supporting its premise. While watching the film, I recalled how my mom treated a boy who broke my glasses and injured me in the face when I was 14(I still have a scar in my left cheek, though it is very small and faint now) She was not angry at him, and she later gave him a nice dinner at our home while trying to talk with him. I bet such an act of compassion never occurs to the characters in the movie; as a consequence, they find themselves far more childish than their own children in the end.