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Monday, January 16, 2012

Carnage

I was drawn to the film Carnage by the actors—specifically, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, though Jody Foster and John Riley can certainly hold their own as established actors, and in fact have been in Hollywood far longer than Waltz and Winslet. The primary message of the film seems to be that making up may be more natural than the adults think. This is perhaps why the conflict between the adults doesn’t really get resolved—there being no sense of resolution. This is particularly noticeable because of how dramatically the emotions escalated—particularly in Foster’s character but with Winslet’s coming in a close second. In other words, the acting firepower was perhaps too much, given the actual matter of conflict—the boys’ fight in a city park.

To be sure, things can get out of hand once alcohol enters the social equation, but after viewing the film, I had the sense that “Much Ado About Nothing” would have been a better title than “Carnage.” Given the film’s title, I expected the story to end with someone dying. Such an ending would fit with the emotion Foster brought to bear. From a dramatic standpoint, sometimes less is more, and this seems to apply to the early tension between Foster’s and Waltz’s characters. That was more realistic—more believable.

That the “dramatic” secondary conflict was not resolved only adds to the film’s problems, though as I mention above, this could be part of the larger message. Though even so (and I don’t think an intellectual connection trumps leaving a major conflict unresolved), the resolution was choppy (to say the least) and abrupt. It was as if one of the boys in the park had been hired to edit the end of the film.

At any rate, an audience should not leave the theatre feeling like things were left hanging at the climax. Nor should the audience wonder why the guests stayed around for so long, or question whether the intensity of emotion is believable or merely acted. Were the characters "held together" simply by the motive to get to the bottom of the tension—or to have it out in real carnage? Considering Waltz’s character’s calls, it is difficult to believe that anything but the 18-year-old scotch could have kept him in the apartment for so long. Was he even there at all? The absence of his presence was itself stirring some of the tension, but it is not clear that it could be sufficient to get Foster's character so upset. If Polanski viewed the characters' dominant motive as being to fight or resolve unresolved angst, and furthermore as sufficient to hold the four adults in the apartment for so long, it can be asked whether he was (perhaps inadvertently) also setting the viewers up to want something that would not come in the course of the film—namely, enough resolution at the end to be emotionally satisfying. What astonishes me is that giving the characters sufficient motivation to sustain the story and providing the third act with enough resolution are basic tenets of screenwriting—something Polanski and Reza no doubt knew as they were working on the screenplay.

Perhaps carnage done at the expense of the basics in screenwriting doesn’t work after all, in spite of the earlier attempts by sleepers of the New Wave and Neo-Realism in the twentieth century (no wonder deconstruction followed these two movements). As much as detest predictable narrative, presumption in bypassing a basic ingredient of storytelling is perhaps worse.