Saturday, 3 December 2011

“What kind of lesson are you trying to teach me?”

Carnage: directed by Roman Polanski; written by Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza
If you have any interest in Literary Theory you’d know that a slew of Classical, Neoclassical and even the Romantic Theorists were all over the importance of the didactic nature of art. Its purpose is not just to entertain but to teach and Roman Polanski’s Carnage adapted from Yasmina Reza’s Tony winning play is in strident contradistinction to Plato’s desire for art with a specific instructive purpose. It’s something of a chamber room drama as four couples gather in a living room to discuss the affairs of their sparring sons. One son has attacked, no hit, okay injured the other and lost him some teeth. Both couples are existing on somewhat divergent planes. The mother of the plaintiff is vaguely sanctimonious, his father vaguely apologetic. The mother of the defendant fairly embarrassed, and the father palpably disinterested in it all. It’s somewhat uncertain as to what they hope to accomplish from the meeting and there is a striking discomfort with which the entire spectacle is imbued with. And, it’s this mood of the script which Polanski’s invasive direction takes full advantage of.
Carnage is the kind of comedy which discomfits more than it amuses. One can only imagine what it’s like when four people amass in a room – neither of whom wants to be there. As the afternoon wears on and the relative respectability of those involved denigrates I begin to think that Reza is partaking in something paradoxical with her screenplay. The inclinations of our characters are generally unlike that which we see on film, and yet despite being similar in theory in real life they’re not quite realistic. It, instead, is something of a bizarre fantastical world where passions are heightened and things seem to be more significant than they would be elsewhere. It’s the world of the stage and although Polanski doesn’t exploit that, he does utilise it completely. The thing about acting on the stage is that movement becomes so significant because we’re always seeing everyone on stage, unlike the screen where close-ups eschews the importance of those around. Polanski’s photography, and editing, plays up the importance of the ensemble and the technical work done on the film are outstanding. The constant shots of the four in various states of motion are just another example of how adept at his craft Polanski is. A lesser director would have been caught up with the aural, but Polanski is intent on establishing the importance of the visual and it is established in precise terms.
One of the things which emerges immediately about the nature of the film is the way in which everything seems to precise, lending an air of something vaguely like detachment. I suspect that it is Polanski’s intent. We spend most of our time in that singular room, but it’s so important to not the set design and the Longstreet’s home overflows with meticulousness to the point where everything seems rehearsed. Thus, the first act’s fastidiousness is not a flaw but instead the point of the entire venture and we notice that even as things maligned they are still not completely natural. It’s wrong to call this a “character” study, but it is an observance about relationships of characters. And, lucky for everyone involved and everyone watching the cast is made up of actors who, though famous, have rarely been typecast - managing to dig to the pulp of their difficult, yet innately silly, characters.
I recall that someone who had seen Carnage on the stage made the comment that seeing the show in cinematic only reveals in the triviality of their argument and the ensuing machinations. Even though I have not seen the play I understand the suggestion because the really isn’t a vibrant thesis at the film’s basis. But, it occurs to me that we’re launching into dangerous territory when we start judging cinema on content and not on form. The triviality of the issues facing our characters does not immediately suggest a similar triviality in the film. I’d like to think we’ve moved far from Classical Theorists and realise that there is more to art than didactic manoeuvrings. Carnage succeeds because Polanski and his team are so successful in effecting the psychoses which are unearthed when company is extended over a long period of time. Ultimately, perhaps we have nothing ostensibly to learn from the Longstreet’s and the Cowan’s. But, when they’ve allowed for a fine example of thought-provoking comedy at its best, I don’t really see how I could object.


Candice Frederick said...

really interesting take on the the movie. i definitely want to see this. i agree with your point that these actors don't at all seem typecast. kudos to them for that.

Nick Prigge said...

Full confession: I didn't read your review, only because I desperately want to see this and I want to see it completely cold. But so you know, I'm seething with jealously that you've already seen it. Why isn't it out in the States?! WHY ARE THEY TOYING WITH ME?!

(I'll read it once I've seen it.)

TomS said...

I was among a tiny minority who felt the play "God of Carnage" on stage was manipulative and unpleasant. (Did you get to see my review last Spring?)

Maybe on film, the interplay of characters in closeups, and their movement and relationship to one another on screen, adds a dimension to the play which was not possible as performed on the stage. In that regard, your review intrigues me!

Still, it is the content of the play that keeps me from wanting to see the film...(maybe because so much of the play concerns the "contents" of a certain character's stomach, and the clunky symbolism of it...that is hard for me to overcome!)

I'd love to discuss this idea of content vs. form with you Andrew...I'm not sure if I fully understand your idea that it's dangerous to judge a movie by its content alone...I have many thoughts on the subject.

In all, a thought-provoking review.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

candice they certainly aren't. curious to see what you'll think of it.

nick hahaha. well, you usually get everything so yay me. i wonder what you'll think of kate. they're all great to me, really tough to choose.

tom heheh. it sounds like an interesting discussion, but i think there is more to the movies we see and it applies to painting and music too in particular than what they're about. a movie about a frivolous topic shouldn't be judged by the topic, but by how good a movie it is. that's the argument in a nutshell. curious to hear your thoughts, though. (and thanks for calling the review "provoking".)

Nick Prigge said...

(See, I said I'd be back.)

Thought provoking, as always, and very interesting points made about the way Polanski treats it visually. I kinda dig that when we see a play brought to the screen we get to revel in the actors up close and REALLY see what they're doing with their bodies and faces. That takes away something you get on the stage, of course, but either/or.

Frankly, I thought this movie was freaking hilarious, I think the frivolity of it that you mention is sort of the larger point. Humans put on airs of being so serious and so in touch, but really when you get down to it and we're called out we are a very frivolous species.

I really liked it. And, of course, I really liked Kate. The WAY she looked at Waltz early on. Good stuff.