A Movie Review:
“Carnage” – A Modern-day “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
I often examine relationships, so I thought I’d share some comments on last year’s Jodie Foster film “Carnage.” The setting of Carnage (2011), directed by Roman Polanski, is a planned meeting between a pair of upper middle-class, Manhattan parents after one 11-year-old boy has knocked out the tooth of a same-aged peer. The polite conversation is initially focused on finding a resolution to the children’s conflict. However, the discussion rapidly broadens to larger societal topics of violent behavior and whether anyone is ever truly concerned outside their own selfish needs. Interestingly, Carnage seems reminiscent of Mike Nichols’ 1966 film, the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor – George Segal/Sandy Dennis couples’ bout, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The Burton-Taylor film is a similarly dark, comic drama where two couples, with their own marital issues, verbally spar while trying to initially remain civil. The strife is both inter-couple and intra-couple. Further, for both films alcohol plays a role in loosening up the players’ inhibitions, whose sober levels of restraint differ vastly.
For Carnage, the ever-so-civilized arbitration over espresso and tulips soon descends from gauged remarks to uncensored rebuffs as the gloves come off to address more base needs.
Carnage’s male protagonists are John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Though initially seeming to have little in common, the men learn they are birds of a feather in their tightly held views of gender roles and the ways such perspectives dictate marriage and child-rearing. They both want wives able to hold their own in a social setting. This is apparent in how quickly these men selfishly engage in male bonding and all but ignore their wives during the verbal bouts of the evening. Concurrently, they want spouses who handle domestic duties (i.e., raising children, keeping a home), while deferring to them when differences of opinion arise over those issues. Waltz is charming mix of modern civility and primal hedonism. Initially, he lobbies for a fair depiction of his son. However, he soon transforms to almost celebrate the boy’s childish behavior. Simultaneously, he seeks to satisfiy his appitites for whiskey and cigars, thanks to the hospitality of his host. His conflicts are apparent in an especially telling interchange where, when faced with Foster’s labeling of his son as a maniac, protested by Winslet, he instead concurs.
Foster and Winslet want to be equal partners in marital relationships, while hanging onto a desire to have a conveniently available white knight ready to rescue them at a moment’s notice – a view similar to that held by Taylor and Dennis. Who among us cannot relate to wanting the best of both worlds? At one point, Foster is reduced to tears of frustration, like her forerunner Sandy Dennis. However, unlike Dennis, Foster’s tears seem more an angry, tension-reliever than a desparate plea for help. Foster’s tears fail to compare to Winslet’s attention-seeking efforts. Although Winslet “tossed (her) cookies,” as aptly described by Reilly, she quickly rebounds for more verbal fist-to-cuffs.
Both movies are a delight if you enjoy witty, barbed interchange which varies in its level of appropriateness and unapologetically approaches vulgarity.