Magazine Poland

Cineclub: Carnage (2011), by Roman Polanski


Revisiting old classics, discovering hidden gems and exploring the contemporary movie scene: every month, Kafkadesk’s CineClub brings you new insights and expert film reviews of the greatest treasures of Central European cinema. This week: Carnage (2011), by Roman Polanski.

A tragicomedy with dark humorous elements on parental differences, Carnage reveals Roman Polanski’s sharp insights on human psychology, and holds a mirror to the morally debauched bourgeoisie.

Carnage once more showcases the Polish-French director’s mastery in presenting the mental drama of individuals and interpersonal relationships, as well as his distinctive ability for cinematic renewal.

During the early stages of his career, Polanski – whose childhood was marked by the tragic experience of the Krakow ghetto – explored the themes of human madness and famously incorporated paranoid and horror elements within the plots and cinematography of his movies.

And nowhere does he seem more comfortable in analyzing the depths of human insanity than through the lens of collective and group behaviour.

Knife in the Water (1962) displays the psychological warfare and dueling of two men crossing swords for the favours of a fascinating and exhibitionist woman. At the center of the plot lies the battle for the status of alpha male.

In Carnage, released nearly five decades later, the Oscar-winning filmmaker sketches the everyday story of parents clashing over their offspring.

Family conflicts hit the roof

Polanski used his 10-month house arrest in his isolated mountain chalet in Switzerland to adapt Yasmina Reza’s play, The God of Carnage, into what would become the sardonic script of Carnage.

The movie’s storyline is straightforward and builds around the psychological warfare of parents that later escalates into a verbal argument and battle for supremacy. The triggering factor is voluntarily somewhat mundane in the form of a quarrel between two parents after their sons got into a playground fight.

The four adult protagonists, seemingly grounded, cultivated and full of good intentions, try to resolve the childish conflict in a diplomatic way. But their unstable psyche and dark impulses bring unexpected grievances to the surface.

To take a swing at the social elite’s fake intellectualism and phoniness, Polanski selected a star-studded cast with Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet on one side, and John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster on the other. All actors bring the interpersonal dynamics between the four parents to a whole new level of pettiness and hopelessness which, in itself, is worth the watch.

Adapted from a theatre play, the whole movie is set in one of the couples’ fancy, spotless and overstuffed living room with stylish paintings uselessly hanging on the wall, giving the impression of a furniture store’s perfectly organized showroom.

The entire setting and appearance of the characters all create a false feeling of security and manageability. At least at first. “Nothing can go wrong” is the first instinctive thought that comes to mind to viewers.

Fueled by the creative craft of Polanski, his innate sense of psychology and a developed sarcastic humour, that’s exactly why everything that can go wrong does go wrong – in the most comical and tragic way possible.

By Bence Janek

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