8 September 2012

Roman Polanski: Carnage (2011)

Polanski's Carnage is based on Yasmina Reza's play Le Dieu du carnage (The God of Carnage) (2006), and the screenplay was written by both the director and the playwright. The play form is appropriate to the claustrophobic atmosphere of some of Polanski's films, although I'm not too sure that social comedy entirely suits him.
The film begins and ends with credit sequences set against a background of Brooklyn Bridge Park with Manhattan's financial district in the distance, and this is the scene of the event that brings the two relatively comfortable middle class, middle-aged couples together. The whole film (with the exception of a few scenes outside in the corridor) takes place in the appartment of wholesale kitchenware and toilet salesman Michael (John C. Reilly) and politically correct writer Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster), where they meet lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz) and investment broker Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) to discuss eleven-year-old Zackary Cowan attacking his school colleague Ethan Longstreet with a stick in the park, which has injured two of his teeth. Money is not the question here as the Longstreets are covered by dental insurance, but how the Cowans are going to handle the issue with Zackary is the important point.
However, as the two couples move through ultra-polite, to no-I'm-sorry-I-didn't-really-mean-that, to outright insults and object-throwing, via the neurotic Nancy vomiting onto Penelope's cherished books on the coffee table and the let's-be-friends glasses of eighteen-year-old single malt whisky, the teeth tend to wince off into the background. I winced at the thought of Penelope and Michael wiping the puke-stained book edges and then using a hair drier on them, instead of throwing the vile thing out, but this is comedy.
Yes, it's comedy, but of course it's also a satire on the hypocrisy of these classes of people who so easily let go of their social graces and revert to an animalistic nature which, ironically, is not too far removed from that of wild children: reduced to a room rather than a small island, one interpretation could see this as Lord of the Flies for adults. Penelope's worthiness in supporting the problems in Africa are met by her own husband speaking of 'Sudan Sambos' (yes, of course the marriage (unlike the whisky) is on the rocks) and Alan saying that Penelope's 'friend' Jane Fonda makes him want to go out and buy a Ku Klux Klan poster. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? must be in here somewhere too. And in spite of the presence of the women, why am I reminded of David Mamet?
The boorish Alan frequently interrupts the conversation by having earnest, lengthy calls on his cell phone: Alan J. Pakula would have delighted in this.
The final (and of course unbelievable) close shot is of the pet hamster Kate has accused Michael of murdering, happy as a clam (as Michael would say) in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Well worth watching, with or without a whisky.

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