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April 11, 2012

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Brian

I understand why some people don't like this movie, but I adored every second of it. Was it the greatest commentary on our social status labels/expectations; not really. Fuck if it isn't really funny though.

Tony Dayoub

Polanski can do more with an apartment than most directors can do with an entire landscape.

Peter Labuza

Whose Afraid oF Virginia Woolf doesn't work if George and Martha don't have an audience, so it didn't work when there were two sets of them in the room.

Come at me, bro.

D Cairns

I always felt that George and Martha's guests are EXACTLY as screwed up as they are, so there ARE two sets of them in the room.

Tony Dayoub

I agree with David. At any given point, the audience position shifts from Nick-and-Honey to George-and-Martha and various permutations in between. Same thing happens in CARNAGE, and I like how, more often than not, these divides conform to class, intellectual and gender lines.

Brandon

I realize that these are not the types of characters to have an epiphany about their own manners (and that self-deceit/transference is obviously one of the major points of the play), but I was expecting some sort of larger action/statement at the end.
I know this is my fault and not Polanski or Reza's, but it made me not as enthusiastic as I wanted to be about it overall.

And even though John C. Reilly was great here, I would have loved to see Gandolfini in the film...

Bruce Reid

Speaking of shifting positions, I like how this cameo flips around The Tenant, suggesting even Trelkovsky's tormentors were stuck in a no-exit hell.

kdringg

Sadly this film seemed better in its edited trailer version due to the fact that one didn't have to sit through Jodie Foster's fingers-scratching-on-a-chalk-board "acting." Seriously, the rest of the cast seemed up for a bit of the misanthropic fun and I get that Foster's Penelope is a send-up of the do-good liberal type but as I ask one question - Why so shrill? Made the 74 minutes of screen time feel twice as long, at least for this hombre.

Was Penelope played to this effect in the play?

Peter Labuza

Okay here goes my rant on this film and why I don't think it works in longer detail.

I totally get that Nick and Honey are just as screwed up as George and Martha, and that works in a way because we first think Nick and Honey are good, kind people and we shift our loyalties to them, only to discover that perhaps they are just as screwed up/everyone in the audience is implicated etc. (I'd also add I've never liked Nichols version of the film--it takes itself way too seriously for what is such a funny text).

In Carnage, everyone starts out as nice, social creatures and then hell slowly breaks loose. But as everyone "stops acting polite and starts acting real" to quote an MTV show, I couldn't determine why I was watching what I was watching, and I think part of that comes from the theatrical versus the cinematic experience. In the theatrical, I'm implicated more because I'm in the same space as the actors; they can hear my laughs and chortles and gasps. I'm slowly turning into one of them myself. In the cinematic experience, I'm a voyeur like Polanski's cameo. I'm not part of the action; I'm spying on these couples and their qualms. I'm not one of them, and thus I never feel implicated.

Add on top of that the film is never based around any narrative stakes. In Woolf, there is an obvious question at the beginning of the play--"who is going to win this battle of wills"--in Carnage, it's clear no one is going to win, so unless we get the pleasure of the bourgeois collapsing before our eyes, I'm not sure what we're really getting. I don't think Brandon is off base when he complains there is no lesson, not that we need some sort of fucking monologue explaining everything to us, but I don't see what has changed between point A and point B.

Also as a subnote, I know what Polanski was trying to do with the acting, and I love me some Nicholas Cage, but I think this film highlights for me why I prefer more theatrical acting in a theater. In a theater you need to start big and then just let it build uncontrollably, using the emotions of the audience as a guide. In the film, it felt big without reason (not that this film is set in reality), which is why I really enjoyed Waltz's much more dialed back performance.

Looking forward to everyone telling me why I'm wrong.

Glenn Kenny

I would argue, Peter, that Polanski's doing a reverse-Brecht number here, and that the voyeur-feel is an entirely deliberate effect that's meant to leave the viewer detachment/implication level as an elective, if you will. Do I think it works? I'm not sure I think of "Carnage" as an entirely successful satire, but as cinematic gamesmanship goes it's pretty advanced...

David Ehrenstein

Everybody in "Carnage" starts out PRETENDING to be nice. But from nanosecond one it's clear that they aren't at all.

I don't see any connection of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Nick and Honey have very good reason to pay court to George and Martha. They're careerist social climbers. Winslet and Waltz are trying to avoid an assault charge. They're heading for the door themoment the movie starts. That they keep getting dragged back in makes "Carnage" the Evil Twin of "The Exterminating Angel."

Overall "Carnage" is Polanski on Home Turf -- characters interacting in confined circumstances. ie. "Knife in the water," "Repulsion," "Cul-de-Sac," "What?" "Death and the Maiden."

BTW, Polanski's son Elvis plays the kid who hits Foster's kid with a stick.

Petey

"Everybody in "Carnage" starts out PRETENDING to be nice. But from nanosecond one it's clear that they aren't at all."

You beat me to the commenting punch. The section after the kids opens with the legal parsing of words in the joint statement.

(And you beat me to the punch on "The Exterminating Angel" too.)

-----

"the voyeur-feel is an entirely deliberate effect that's meant to leave the viewer detachment/implication level as an elective, if you will."

I like your framing here. If I may return to Seinfeld again, the first time I was exposed to the show by a friend, I absolutely hated it. Given the conventions of networks sitcoms of the day, I thought I was being expected to identify with the characters and like them. Since I thought they were all kinda jerks, I tuned the whole thing out. A year later, I caught another episode, realized that the characters were all pretty much intentionally hateful, and began to really appreciate the show. The key for me as a viewer was realizing I wasn't being asked to sympathize with the characters.

And Carnage seemed to work pretty much the same way for me. From nanosecond one, it's clear that we aren't dealing with sympathetic characters to project into, and the flick is free to be read as a quite funny comedy of manners.

Brian P

carnage is like a perfectly constructed apple/pear tart that unfortunately got served chilled

ZS

So can we find out why the old CARNAGE thread was nuked?

I loved the movie by way.

D

Peter: You are not wrong at all. You correctly identify that "no one is going to win" -- they are all hamsters on the hamster wheel -- they inhabit the world that their children will one day inherit when they will no longer be outdoors, but trapped inside. In fact, it is only the hamster that escapes the hamster wheel.

For me, the film is a perfect example of how mise en scene adds tremendous layers of meaning and context to a script. The play was a trifle -- an acting exercise with a vague notion of "social commentary," but Polanski's film is amazing. The way he stages the scene by the elevator brings home so acutely the notion that viewers have stumbled upon a ritual that has been going on for years and will not end -- suddenly Reza's play has the power of Genet's "The Maids." When the cellphone rings at the end, it is like a bell anouncing the start of the next round -- the sorry spectacle that never ends, but which the audience has to watch for only 79 minutes. Viewers can then go outside until they go inside again and scramble on to their personal hamster wheels.

In Polanski's vision, repetition has replaced narrative progression. You said that cannot see if anything "has changed between point A and point B"; of course not -- nothing has. The characters are impotent and powerless to change their narrative. They can only re-enact it in the futile hope that they missed something the first time which might lead to a different outcome. And the only proper way to serve such an astringent dish is not merely chilled, but cold.

Petey

"So can we find out why the old CARNAGE thread was nuked?"

It wasn't nuked. It's still there:

http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2011/09/what-is-cinematic-part-deux.html

And it's in the previous "Not in the stars" thread as well.

Glenn just closes off comments on his old threads a bit too quickly for folks who don't make it to a particular show until the Blu-Ray hits. Which made me throw his cellphone in a bowl of water in complaint. And then he puked all over my coffee-table cinema books in response.

ZS

Not that one. Wasn't there a later one where he discussed Polanski's cameo? And something made him mad?

Eh, maybe I've got it all wrong.

David Ehrenstein

The fact that the hamster lives provides "Carnage" with the only genuinely happy ending in Polanski's entire oeuvre.

Petey

"The fact that the hamster lives provides "Carnage" with the only genuinely happy ending in Polanski's entire oeuvre."

The hamster lives AND the kids have become pals.

But The Ninth Gate has a genuinely happy ending too, no?

Peter Labuza

Everyone has brought up some great points, a few responses to some of them.

@David: Yes, I got that they aren't nice people, from the first spat about the word "armed."

@Petey: I like your point about Seinfeld and whether we have to sympathize with our characters, but I guess what was the issue for me was that I didn't feel like I had any other stake in this story. I think with the use of all the close-ups, I just kind of found it all unpleasant to watch. Not that I can't like a film full of unpleasantly, but this rubbed me the wrong way, at least from an emotional point.

@D: Yes, and I got that feeling with the elevator scene (and as David said, the connection to Exterminating Angel) and the cell phone the idea that this isn't an old battle (which I think Polanski opens with us seeing the kids; the only difference between them is the adult are "armed' with words (and vomit)). But I think that's pretty clear from the beginning, so I guess I spent oh, the last 40 minutes or so, going "so what." Mind you, I don't find Reza's brand of humor particularly funny, so I didn't have to hold on. And maybe it's just mean waiting for a "story" to kick in, but I think more than that, I just never found my access point into these characters, and because everything is so nasty, I walked out think "well...that wasn't very fun." Which is the point, a lot of you are saying, but that didn't make me want to enjoy it because of that.

Petey

"I just never found my access point into these characters, and because everything is so nasty, I walked out think "well...that wasn't very fun."

Yeah. That's what I was getting at with "no characters to project into", which brings us to Glenn's "elective" choice for the viewer. And right from the opening, I elected to go with a level of detachment that brought me a very funny dark comedy. You elected to go in a different direction, which brought you an understandable frustration.

David Ehrenstein

That's an interesting question re "The Ninth Gate" Petey. Johnny Depp's about to meet Old Nick himself at the end. But he has a "Guardian Devil" with him in the lovely form of Mrs. Polanski.

D

I think what David E. posted is spot on: CARNAGE is the first Polanski movie with a happy ending -- maybe it is why I like it so much -- faint hope becomes him. THE GHOST WRITER was CHINATOWN REDUX (not a bad thing - and I love both movies), but once again, the detective solves the mystery without being able to bring about justice: in THE GHOST WRITER he actually dies, while in CHINATOWN he experiences a metaphysical death.

Peter: I do not think we are supposed to access these characters as prescribed by standard narrative rules. They are actors in a nasty spectacle, and the enjoyment, for me, is not in the characters or the narrative, but rather in a) the precision of the presentation of the nasty spectacle; b) the refusal to have the narrative adhere to conventional regulation (which makes the brevity of the work essential -- Beckett and Pinter both got briefer and more precise as their careers unfolded); and c) the cool elegance of the entire affair -- once the emotions are set aside, it comes down to understanding that the choice is between being a hamster on a well-appointed wheel or a hamster free in the outdoors. But either way -- one is still a hamster.

Petey

"That's an interesting question re "The Ninth Gate" Petey. Johnny Depp's about to meet Old Nick himself at the end."

Yup. But the heart wants what the heart wants. The Depp character has some scruples, but he's no angel.

I say any flick dominated by a protagonist you identify with that ends with him seeing all of his nefarious enemies defeated, him getting the girl, and him accomplishing his quest has, BY DEFINITION, a happy ending.

Plus, I re-watched Hal Hartley's Book of Life this week, and he explains that Lucifer is just a bit misunderstood.

(I've actually long had a theory about how the content and pace of the way The Ninth Gate's ending abruptly tosses you out of the cinema almost entirely accounts for the movie's bad reception with critics and its subsequent underrating. But it's the perfect ending for the movie, and I do think a giddily happy one.)

Petey

"Overall "Carnage" is Polanski on Home Turf -- characters interacting in confined circumstances. ie. ... "Death and the Maiden."

I especially love Death and the Maiden for the surreal power of the three brief moments where you get out of that confined cirumstances. (In Carnage you never get out, unless you count the quick intro and outro in the park.)

The space in Death and the Maiden is physically confined, and confined by darkness. But the three short moments where you get out of the darkness and confinement that come near the end...

- when the lights and boombox suddenly come and escape is attempted
- outisde at the cliffs in the bright morning
- in the well-lit concert hall

...all create a tremendous special effect that vividly lingers for the viewer.

Chris L.

My hazy memory seems to jibe with that of ZS. But this inspires the ontological question: When an entire post is mysteriously deleted (nuked) and mostly forgotten, did it really in fact exist?
Vaguely related is the case of the mildly lascivious, Wolcott-endorsed commenter who once was banned and then...wasn't!
This kind of drama is why I wouldn't trade this blog for all the others combined.

Stephanie

The problem with Carnage isn't the direction, it's the source material. The dialogue strikes too many false notes for a quartet of supposedly contemporary Americans, and in qualified defense of Foster she got stuck with a lot of them. It's possible that Polanski's long exile worked against him here - he was too out of touch to recognize where the writing was out of touch. On the other hand there aren't too many pictures where you get to see Kate Winslet hurl onto a pile of art books.

@ Peter Labuza: Nichols does play up the laffs in Who's Afraid...but that's also present in the text. It's too funny by half and Albee did that, not Nichols.

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