Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Roman Polanski’s Carnage


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Based on the stage play ‘Le Dieu Du Carnage’ by Yasmina Reza, the film follows two couples that meet due to an incident involving their respective sons. Their entire meeting is confined to an apartment in Brooklyn – a place that is claustrophobic, magnetic and a playground for bearing a few home truths.

Maurice Jones’ review on IMDB perfectly sums up the motivations for viewing this film: ‘The uncomfortable first half leads to a rewarding second half…’ The opening scene of the film in which the parents first meet is particularly tedious. The characters uncomfortably hang around doorways, wait for the lift and offer empty compliments to complete strangers because it’s the right thing to do. However, deep down the generosity feels forced. Furthermore, the performances at the beginning of the film are completely exaggerated and you literally think ‘Are these people for real?’ Jodie Foster’s prissy, art-loving and humourless Penelope Longstreet is as annoying as they come. Why would you subject yourself to this?

Well, despite initial reservations the film is pleasantly surprising, amusing and tremendously rewarding. The confidence and absolute falseness with which these people all hold themselves is slowly broken down through their dislike for one another and through their uncomfortable confinement to such a small space – the Longstreet’s apartment. Each couple share their opinions on the matter at hand (the attack on the Longstreet’s son) but this slowly dissipates into them expressing their dislike for one another, as well as questioning their relationships to their spouses. The film, at times, seems like a master class in therapy in which each couple vents their pent up anger for this one day in a confined space; the audience placed in the position of a pseudo psychiatrist. . However, Polanski refuses to give us a satisfying resolution. Instead, we are left with the destruction of a vase of tulips – a symbol of hypocrisy. Foster’s Penelope places the tulips in her apartment along with her perfectly placed coffee table art books to make a certain impression with the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) who are somewhat socially grander. The destruction of the flowers at the end of the film acts as a metaphor for the ‘performance’ each person has been putting on in front of the other. It has been staring them in the face the whole time, central to the frame but all to ignorant to truly notice.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the use of space. Polanski edits the film in a way that dramatically exploits the use of space between the characters. The placement of the characters within the frame adds depth and layers to the interior of the apartment; a sort of visual trick on the eye, but their placement also comments upon the characters and how we, the audience, view them at certain times. Zigzag formations are created within the frame and we are also given the option to fully explore every nook and cranny of the apartment as characters pace up and down and throw things across the room out of anger. Polanski fully utilises the spaces of the apartment pushing it (and the characters) to their limits.

The fight at the end of the film is really worth sticking around for. Jodie Foster’s prissy art lover quickly snaps into a potty mouthed queen bitch, and Winslet’s somewhat cold investment broker, Nancy Cowan, soon reveals her real side after downing a few alcoholic beverages. Waltz, as ever, is the calm and calculated individual just waiting for the right moment to step in. He works at compromising and negotiating his way out of things, but Reilly’s Ethan sees right through him. It’s ironic then, that all of these characters have been brought together by an act of childish behaviour and this is ultimately what they resort to in order to resolve their differences.

A career highlight for Roman Polanski. A funny and intelligent piece of cinema that will surprise you if you manage to stick with it. If you can make it to the part in which Kate Winslet’s Nancy vomits all over Penelope’s art books and her husband then you really are in for a treat.


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