Of opening credits, filmmaker Saul Bass once said that they should ‘try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story’. This is certainly the case in Carnage which greets the audience with its titles swooping toward the foreground, imposing their messages, accompanied by a loud fast tempo score: confrontational and definite in its noise. This simple arrangement seems an odd choice at first, overtly brash and almost barbaric considering the seemingly mild mannered sensibilities of the film’s middle class characters, but it is in fact well composed and prophetic in setting the tone for the conflict about to unfold.
After a playground quarrel goes too far, leaving one of the culprits injured, parents of the attacker, Nancy and Alan Cowan (Winslet and Waltz) dutifully trek across New York in aid of reconciliation with the victim’s parents, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Foster and Reilly). Apologies are made and pleasantries exchanged, the initial meeting is drawing to a close as the film begins, but in acts of painful politeness the Cowan’s continue on in the company of their hosts. This results in the masks of civility slipping as the aforementioned carnage is unleashed through clashes of personalities and ideals.
Predominant to the success of Carnage are the performances given by its equally excellent ensemble. In both inhabiting the distinct characters but also in showing the gradual yet drastic transformation of personalities, each actor is able to hold the screen themselves yet allow one another to shine in turn. It’s obvious that these celebrated actors are enjoying unravelling these disagreeable characters.
The singular setting of the Longstreet’s apartment is used well within the script. The majority of the confrontation happens in the living room but is punctuated by stints elsewhere: glimpses of the kitchen or a messy bathroom not only give insight into the truer nature of the Longstream’s but also provide the couples time to slip in their snide comments and regroup before the next round of nasty niceties. With this limited setting the screenplays theatrical origins are evident – director, Roman Polanski worked with playwright, Yazmin Reta to adapt ‘Le Dieu di Carnage’ – though the addition of scenes showing the original playground quarrel which bookend the film encapsulate the story excellently.
I found myself wanting to shout out ‘Just leave that apartment! Get up and walk away!’ halfway through the movie (through no fault of the film itself but for the sake of the characters) though was also curious to see how far the situation would deteriorate. Carnage is pitiless with its petty humour; its pent up frustrations; its remarks on societal values, but refreshing for just that also. It’s not asking us to like these characters but betting that we can all identify, even just a little bit, with them.
Radojka works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant. When not chatting to you about film at the Phoenix she enjoys juggling the numerous pies which she often has her fingers in – dancing, knitting and various theatre-based shenanigans to name but a few.