Written by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly
Penelope Longstreet: Why can’t things be easier? Why does everything have to be so exhausting?
There are some plays that seem as though they could never be adapted for the screen and Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” is certainly one of them. Although I have not myself seen it on stage, I can imagine its physical scope is quite limited as all the action takes place in one apartment over the course of a few hours. On stage, this can be riveting, as long as the conversation itself is sharp and insightful and as long as those partaking in said conversation give brilliant performances. On film, one location with the same four characters can be a static stand still. Fortunately for Reza, all involved in the film adaptation of her play, now called CARNAGE, are precisely the right people to keep things moving.
At the CARNAGE helm is infamous director, Roman Polanski, a man who has seen his own fair share of carnage in his life. Reza herself collaborated with Polanski on the screenplay so the fundamentals are firmly intact. Essentially, two couples meet to discuss an altercation that took place between their boys in a playground that resulted in one of the boys losing teeth. Things naturally don’t go as well as anyone had hoped. And who does Polanski amass to captivate us with their wit and humour? Four brilliant actors of course as the entire acting community seem to clamor to work with him. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play parents to the boy who lost his teeth while Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play parents to the boy who was armed with the stick – sorry, who was carrying the stick – that knocked out the teeth. I don’t know about you but I can think of way worse people to be stuck in a room with for ninety minutes.
These two couples, as portrayed by this amazingly talented and dynamic cast, start out as sensible, civilized adults who are doing what they all think is right according to societal standards given the situation at hand. After all, what matters most is the well being of their children and ensuring that they come out of this as positively as possible. It’s the fact that the children are involved though that makes their exercise so futile to begin with. Their children were in a fight and hurt each other. The natural impulse for these parents would be to protect their children no matter what. And so it is not at all surprising to watch as their facades slowly but surely fade away to reveal not only their anger over the current situation but also the deep seeded disgust that has been festering in all of them for as long as they’ve had to hold it in. And given how polite our Western society can be at times, I’d say they’ve been holding back for a very long time.
Polanski does everything he must in order to keep a picture that almost never leaves the living room feel like it is in constant motion. Much of that comes from the rapid unravelling of the characters themselves. Their descent is delicious making CARNAGE a truly stimulating experience. Still, I imagine that if these four people exhibited just as much passion on stage, the immediacy of it would make their madness that much more meaningful.