Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Carnage [2011]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb Listing -
Roger Ebert's Review - 

Carnage (directed and screenplay co-written by Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza) is an excellent screen adaptation of the play by Yasmina Reza named "The God of Carnage (orig. Le Dieu du Carnage) that has won all kinds of awards in Paris, New York and London.  The play was a hit a number of years ago here in Chicago as well.

Screen adaptations of stage plays are often quite easy to spot.  The set is generally relatively simple and the story is generally dialogue driven.  In the case of Carnage, pretty much the entire story takes place in the somewhat upscale Brooklyn side of the East River condo of one of the couples involved.  Thus it's "not quite Manhattan" but at least the condo's sort of facing it ;-).  Then, yes, the story is dialog driven, but what a dialog it is! ;-) and I do believe that ANY couple with a grade school age kid or two could relate to it ;-).

So what's the story about? The film takes place over the course of a single weekday mid-morning meeting between two sets of parents, Michael and Penelope Longstreet (played by John Reilly and Jodie Foster) and Alan and Nancy Cowan (played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet).  The two couples' 11-year old boys had gotten into a fight a day or two before.  During the course of the fight, one of the boys picked up a stick and whacked the other boy in the face, breaking two of the other boy's teeth.  So this had been altercation between two relatively young boys. Yet it seemed certainly serious enough to warrant a meeting of this kind between the two boys' parents...

So the two couples meet.  One is apologetic, the other understanding, both couples straining really hard to do the right thing, be civil about it, and put the matter behind them.  Va bene.  It's just every time they are about to set things straight, resolve the matter like adults, say goodbye and put it behind them one or another of the four parents says something stupid that blows the "civilized agreement" up and the four have come back into the flat, sit down, and start all over again ... ;-)

As this starts to drag on, it becomes clear that though both couples live in this nice section of Brooklyn facing the River one of the couples is clearly wealthier than the other.  Further, it also becomes clear that the wife of the not quite as wealthy couple is either better educated (or thinks herself to be somewhat better educated) than her husband.   All four (as well as the audience) pick-up on these vibes and all four begin to jostle for position based on these perceptions:  Alliances shift back and forth from couple vs couple, to "the more educated" vs "the less educated," to the "actual breadwinners" vs "the intellectuals," the men vs the women and back again.

As this meeting of parents continues, the cell-phone of one of the four begins to ring -- work is calling -- and the person has to take the call.  Va bene.  But soon the cell-phone rings again, and then again...  Each time the cell phone rings the other three get more and more frustrated.  The eyes of the spouse start rolling ... and the other couple begins to feel increasingly put-upon (who do these people think that they are?).

Not to be outdone, the mother/mother-in-law of the other couple calls as well.  She's been at the doctor's that morning.  It had been a relatively unimportant appointment, but she wants to talk about it.  The couple has to say "Ma, we're in the midst of something here, can we call you back in 10 minutes?"  Ma reluctantly agrees but calls back 20 minutes later saying, "Are you done yet...?" ;-)

What middle-aged couple could not relate to this? ;-)  The whole movie is only an hour and twenty minutes long, covering the length of a would be meeting exactly like this.  What a film!  Does the matter get resolved?  I'm not going to tell you ;-).  Go and rent it ;-)


As the readers here can tell, I really enjoyed this movie.  However, the film was made by the very contraversial director Roman Polanski whose life has been marked by his committing of a truly horrendous crime: he did first drug and then by definition rape a 13 year old girl.  To avoid prison, he fled the United States and has lived beyond the reach of U.S. justice in Switzerland ever since.  He's been obviously a very talented man but who committed a truly horrendous crime, a crime that the victim has _after much pain_ has since transcended and forgiven him for.  How should the public regard him now?

Wow, what a question?  I'll leave it to the reader here to sort this thing through noting all the factors above (1) Polanski's talent, (2) the horrendousness of his crime, (3) the victim's forgiveness of him, (4) the apparent sense of contrition on Polanski's part, though apparently not enough to go back to the United States and go to jail for it and (5) that yes both Christianiaty and _especially_ Catholicism has been about reconciliation and forgiveness though (6) the Catholic Church itself has been embroiled in recent decades with a list of similarly horrendous crimes against minors by a fair number of its clergy.  Again, what to do?

Perhaps the best course is exactly what society is apparently doing with regards to Polanski today: Allow him to make an occasional film, often very good (all four of the actors/actresses in this film should certainly be very proud of their performances here, as all four of the performances are certainly among the best of their careers), but also then note Polanski's past crime as well.

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1 comment:

  1. I thought the ending was very weak and disappointing. The whole movie was great, especially Winslet and Foster and Waltz was amazingly funny. Desplat music was very good – that opening scene would miss so much without it. Great review Dennis.