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A Movie A Week#19: Carnage

Tensions run high in Carnage, a painfully funny dissection of relationships and human interaction from the master of claustrophobic cinema Roman Polanski.  Based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage, it invites us to spend an eventful afternoon with two sets of parents who’s children have recently gotten into a bit of a scuffle. What starts as a polite meeting of reconciliation slowly devolves into a battle of wills. As the polite smiles fade, an unbearable tension fills their tiny apartment setting, eventually spilling out of the mouths of these four seemingly concerned parents.

On the surface our two couples couldn’t be any different.  Bohemia duo Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C.Reilly) are the anxious parents of the victim, accommodating and eager to smooth things over but on their own terms. Meanwhile, sterile city slickers Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) try valiantly to keep their cool while their son is being labeled a thug. The smiley-facade doesn’t last long and soon they’re revealed to be just as bad as each other. From Alan’s constant phone call distractions to Micheal’s decision to set his daughters hamster free just because he’s afraid of rodents. There’s no clear hero here.

It soon becomes clear that there’s two versions of each character on display here which Polanski hints at through his subtle use of mirrors. They appear constantly, framing each character’s uncensored alter-ego. Events take place in real time with our on-the-edge foursome never actually leaving Penelope and Michael’s urban-apartment, despite their many attempts. As a result, they’re caged in a middle-class purgatory, where being civil becomes a real chore.

Maybe it’s because the subject matter is so relatable (who hasn’t been forced to interact with people they’d love to avoid?), or maybe it’s the superb performances on display but Carnage is one of the funniest situation-comedies of recent years.  What begins as a mature quest for peace ends with a vomit covered coffee table and a drunken dissection of each couple’s marriage. There’s no good or bad party and no one really to root for but ultimately it doesn’t matter. As Polanski explains, kids will be kids and care much less about playground fights than their overbearing parents. This is a prime example of just such an occasion but one you’ll enjoy every minute of.

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