Carnage is an interesting movie as I’ve met people not too far removed from the characters of this film. The idea that we all have numerous faces and we’re conditioned by society on how to act socially is a fascinating one and if you live in the suburbs…you’ve been placed in situations like this. Based on a play by Yasmine Reza and directed by Roman Polanski (who I hate personally but do enjoy his directorial efforts) is a film that will make you look at everyone you meet for the first time with new eyes.
Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz) are forced to meet Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly) are the Cowan’s son attacks the Longstreet’s son with a stick. In the process of their get together both couples realize things about their marriage, parenthood, and what society has taught us about being civil to one another.
The movie is based on a play as mentioned above and aside from the four characters in the summary, there’s no other characters of note. Sure we see the attack between the two boys, but it’s shot from far away with no explanation. The two sets of parents try to give out the explanations they’ve heard from their kids, but it’s all left up to conjecture and heresy. I think that’s the strongest element of this movie is that their aren’t any right answers and a growing sense of confinement and isolation throughout the movie. Nancy and Alan try numerous times to leave the Longstreet’s apartment yet are drawn back through their own petty bickering and their inability to let go of their disagreements with the Longstreet’s. Throughout the movie questions of what makes a good parent, what makes a strong society, and how much do our children take in from their parents example are played out in the numerous discussions between the two.
For a movie where everyone stays in one room and talks, there’s a lot of wry humor and action throughout the movie’s brisk hour and 19 minute runtime. Throughout the movie you notice the numerous ticks each character brings to the group, from Alan’s constant answering of his cell phone to Penelope’s bleeding heart mentality, the audience is brought to identify and hate various characters. Even in the course of events the various characters change allegiances. One minute Penelope agrees with Nancy only to disagree and hate her when she says something else. The various discussions and disputes become a microcosm of society itself, showing that as much as we try to be social and good-hearted with everyone, when we’re in private we can easily come to despise one another.
The acting in this is dynamic and presents various sides audiences haven’t seen from these actors. All four have great chemistry and an almost improvisational manner to how they all interact. Waltz continues to play the jerk but in this case he’s of the school that believes men should solve their problems like men, and that the boys dispute is just men working out aggression. He’s the definition of masculinity in contrast to Reilly’s generally even-tempered Michael. Foster is the abrasive “save Africa” mother to Winslet’s snooty, drunken Nancy. The obvious class dynamic, that the Longstreet’s are middle class and the Cowan’s are wealthy, is an added difference in their portrayals.
Carnage is a thought-provoking and blackly comedic film that many people can identify with. You’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement to various characters’ thoughts and the acting is spellbinding.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.