Strange Victory, Strange Defeat

Plays turned into movies always make me skeptical. From Rope (man, they even made that one in 3d at some point to try to spice it up!) to Wait Until Dark to the many mutations of Shakespeare  that have come across the screen, these pieces were originally meant to be staged. On an actual theater stage. (Duh.) Which makes one roomed dramas seem like a strange choice for a medium that can pretend to take you anywhere! Then there's the matter of the acting...asides, monologues and all of the overwrought language of the stage is weird, needing to reach the back row of a present audience with a certain language and live emotion is not the same as the distanced, lulled, film going audience, willing, ready & able to dream. So, when a dialogue heavy theater production is altered for a screen it takes a lot for me accept it but with a cast of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Cristoph Waltz under the direction of Roman Polanski I thought maybe moving from stage to screen could be possible! And it only kind of was...

Carnage, based on the play by Yasmina Reza, opens with a fight between two children. The opening is a beautiful tableau from a distance with timpani pounding & orchestral swell, suggesting a near tragic Greek ballet, an artfully displayed deterioration of human action. The rest of the film shows the deterioration of the parents as they reconcile the actions of their children in a stuffy New York apartment. Drinks, endlessly ringing phones, cobbler, banter, insults and judgments are batted around as societal expectations slowly weather in a short amount of time. The film is a nice allegory of course yet there wasn't a ton of tension or nuance that I've come to expect from Polanski but that the rest of the audience seemed ok without. The audience was wildly pleased with even the tiniest bit of the dismissal of social conventions- maybe they really needed to see the simple removal of heels to feel a release for themselves? A release that they feel comfortable reveling in in the darkness of a movie theater? (Just take of your heels high strung New Yorkers! Nothing bad will happen! Pics of NY seen here!) But, to the films defense, I guess maybe I prefer the extreme versions of these ideas (like Micheal Haneke's bloodthirsty Funny Games)...so maybe this just wasn't for me?

Carnage was an ok film (and I bet a great play!) but when a film hinges on the fact, as Waltz's character says, "Everybody has to save themselves somehow," I kind of don't buy it. What kind of world would we live in if only reactions existed (sideways glance at the films director)? The film closes with a similar scene to the beginning, the children choosing friendship over a big stick and another character living a life of freedom...so, I guess being free and without the pressure of social norms and cultural judgements, without expectation(s) is the answer to a happy world? If it was only that simple (another sideways glance at director)...


 

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