“I wish we could have met in a different way,” is a comment paraphrased from the film “Carnage”, a social commentary film based upon the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza. I haven’t seen it on stage, but Polanski does his best to bring the theatrical energy from the characters to the screen. And he achieves this through his cast of actors, who turn out some of their best performances in their careers to make this into an appealing film to watch. Also, Polanski uses a few props as symbols to promote some of the themes in the play itself.
The plot of the film is very simple: it begins with a bunch of kids at a playground who get into a fight. We do not hear what they are arguing about, we only see the scene devolve into a shoving match. At its climax, one of the kids takes a stick, and swings it right into the face of one of the other kids.
The next shot is at that kid’s parents’ house, and his parents are Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly respectively). They are in the middle of writing out a synopsis of what had happened to their child, while the perpetrator’s parents, Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz respectively), look on and make minor suggestions as they see fit.
At first, the two couples are in complete agreement on how to handle the situation. The Longstreets feel that they are being polite and civil by inviting the Cowans over to their house, even though the Cowan’s son struck their son with a stick, requiring some dental work and some other wounds to heal.
The Cowans look to be apologetic, and gracious that the Longstreets are being such kind hosts, such as offering them cobbler and coffee. But as the couples continue to talk, what they truly feel underneath begins to surface, and things go the way of the playground from the first scene.
No one comes to physical blows; but the emotional blows they take at each other, all because of their defensiveness and insecurities about themselves, are completely exposed. And, of course, once Scotch is introduced, you know nothing good is going to come of it. But it’s not always just the one couple pitted against the other. Polanski’s blocking shows that sometimes it’s men versus women, sometimes it’s one against three, and sometimes it’s parent versus parent.
Two props are also skillfully used by the director, one that probably first belonged to the play, and that’s Alan’s cell phone that incessantly goes off and he incessantly answers it. In an act of defiance, one of the characters finally disposes of it in a vase full of tulips, provided by the Longstreets to give their living room an inviting presence for the Cowans’ visit. Another prop is the mirror, in which a few times, someone stands near it. Never once do they look at it.
The film only runs at about 80 minutes, and once you realize they are never going to leave the living room, and settle into the characters, you get used to it. Plus, the conflict starts popping quickly, and once the sparks start flying, it becomes a very entertaining film to watch.
As far as the message of the film, and I assume the play as well, this isn’t exactly uncharted territory with regards to the social commentary. We all know how it goes: the biggest monsters out there are ourselves. Using a title like “Carnage” may suggest this is a horror film, and in a way, it is. The characters eviscerate each other with words and try to needle each other, and hurt their feelings. But the way the actors are totally invested in their characters makes this work extremely well. We know these characters are going to hate each other, because sooner or later, they’re going to talk to each other, and tell each other how they really feel.
And honesty is more brutal than any physical object could be.
It doesn’t take much knowledge on world history to know what really happened in WWII, regarding Adolf Hitler. It’s pretty obvious Quentin Tarantino is trying to give a history lesson with his new film, “Inglourious Basterds”–but he is taking on quite a task: revisionist history for the purpose of Hitler getting his, the way he should have gone out. If you’ve seen “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), you get a real glimpse of what actually happened to Hitler in his final days (apparently he wasn’t too happy with things the Cubs did in their off season, either). But I won’t compare those two movies, because they’re different films and different forms of fiction. “Inglourious Basterds” is, at its heart, an action/adventure film with a wink and a smile.
If you’ve seen one Tarantino film, you’ve seen them all, in terms of his film style. This film is broken into 5 chapters, and each serves almost as its own separate short film, but it all comes together in the end. This film isn’t broken up in time the way “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservior Dogs” is but the narrative style follows the same pattern. And like all Tarantino films, the characters talk a lot. For me, it’s refreshing to see such energetic and delicious dialog being bounced back and forth, even if the scene is fifteen minutes long–you never feel it in a Tarantino film.
The plot itself follows more than the title suggests: while it does go through the story of the Inglourious Basterds (headed by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt who you can see has a lot of fun with this role), it also follows a survivor of a Jew Hunter Nazi colonel (played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who will certainly be looking at an Oscar nod next season). She escapes a farmhouse that housed her family once they are “snuffed out” by Colonel Landa, but stays in France and runs a cinema that has to play German films. But it’s one German film in particular that the film eventually revolves around. A pesky German private who attempts to woo this girl, named Shosanna (who has changed her name to Emmanuelle since escaping the farmhouse), had a film made about him when he was a sniper in a bird’s nest and killed hundreds of enemies. His filmmaker? Joseph Goebbels. It also just so happens that this film will be viewed by Adolf Hitler himself.
A plan is hatched by the Basterds to sabotage this film festival, but Shosanna has plans of her own for revenge, and the entire film of “Inglourious Basterds” eventually reveals itself to be, in a sense, a film about revenge and needless violence that serves no purpose but selfish ones. Tarantino takes a very serious situation such as the German Occupation and only lightly touches on the Holocaust, smartly; and, he turns this into somewhat of a charming adventure story. The characters are very well drawn out, and charismatic. Even the scenes of long dialog has context of tension, and build up of suspense. While they may be meandering through meaningless chattering, it eventually culminates in some kind of a shootout or explosive pay off.
The film does offer a few twists in its plot that are interesting, but there were some pay offs I was waiting for that didn’t happen. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy the film any less, and overall this is Tarantino’s best work since “Pulp Fiction”. The climactic ending is more than worth the price of admission, and the events leading up to it are fun and engaging. There are a few weak performances (sorry, Eli Roth) but for the most part the acting is superb. Pitt offers some laughs, and Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent (who plays Shosanna) literally steal scenes.
But the film isn’t all fun and games, and some of the seriousness of what was going on at this time is given its due. The film’s themes of revenge being pointless, to me, are even more effective than in Spielberg’s sprawling but sputtering “Munich”. It clocks in at over two and a half hours, but if you’re a Tarantino fan, or a film fan in general, you will not feel the running time length.
It’s a shame that some of the better movies this summer have come at the end of it, but that’s why we have August I guess. I don’t see the point of August otherwise.