Parents will always worry about how their children will turn out, and there will always be the debate of nature vs. nurture. Are our kids naturally destined to become reprobates on the Jeremy Kyle show or can strict parenting get them on their way to achieving that PhD from Oxford? Such concerns are those of the parents at the centre of Carnage, Roman Polanski’s satirical stab at the politically correct middle classes who are so very desperate not to offend anyone.
The four protagonists are two sets of parents (one couple played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, the other Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) whose children have gotten into a fight. They decide to meet up and discuss the incident and how to go about reprimanding the children in a civilised fashion. Of course, things spiral out of control, tempers start flaring and everyone ends up acting more childish than the kids. Add alcohol to the mix and…well I’m sure you’ve experienced the emotional effects of one too many.
Originally based on a play (the playwright also helped Polanski pen the screenplay, so at least the spirit of the original source material is there), 99% of the film takes place entirely in one location. For a play, this is advantageous because it doesn’t require set changes and the stage is the actual boundary in which this rather talky story can be told. However, when you get into the realm of film, these boundaries cease to exist. Camera angles and sets, even planets can change with a simple cut, so it’s hard to confine all the action to one space that doesn’t physically trap the characters. What this ultimately means is that you find yourself constantly asking why they don’t just leave. Even at the points where they are practically out the door, something manages to drag them back in again and this repetition causes the opening to drag somewhat.
However, once their manners begin to dissipate, the real comedy starts and the film gets very entertaining and begins to flow a lot more. The humour is witty and snide, backed up by decent performances (from a cast where 3 of 4 have won Oscars, what would you expect?) from the four leads. Each character is has their own set of believable ticks and the character progression from civilised to barbarism is natural. And at a brisk 80 minutes, it certainly doesn’t want to hang around for too long, which is more than can be said about the characters.
There is one big problem with it though - it really isn’t very memorable (apart from Kate Winslet’s no infamous projectile vomiting scene), which leads me to think that maybe Carnage isn’t as aggressive as the title claims it to be. It’s an interesting thematic concept - how adults are trapped by manners and attempts to please everyone, when all they want to do is act like children and lash out at anyone that says they’re wrong - but is it one that really needs addressing? Surely we all know this, even if it’s subconscious, we know it. This intimate knowledge of the driving force of the story then in the end sucks out the venom that Polanski is trying to sting you with.
It’s a shame really, because it really is so bloody entertaining. So by all means, go and watch it, enjoy the great performances and the zinger upon zinger dialogue. Just don’t see it as anything more than watching intellectuals trip over their own political correctness which, let’s face it, is always fun.