Carnage: Wreaking havoc is rarely such fun

Comedy is one of the hardest genres to get right. Films that succeed rank amongst our fondest memories, and we go back to them time and time again. Films that get it wrong are painfully awkward to watch and instantly forgettable, as anyone who has watched one of the many incarnations of the … Movie franchise can attest. Roman Polanski’s Carnage is definitely one of the former, and one of the funniest films I have seen in years.

The setup is simple: two 11-year olds have a playground argument, which leads to one of them hitting the other with a stick. The two sets of parents decide that the issue needs to be addressed, and the Cowans head to the Longstreets’ Manhattan apartment to try and sort things out. The rest of the film is contained in this apartment and the corridor outside, reflecting the director’s love for confinement as well as the fact that this was adapted from a play, Yasmin Reza’s The God of Carnage  (she also wrote the screenplay with Polanski). It’s a basic premise, and in a traditional sense very little happens in the film. And yet from a personal perspective, you see everything.

The four actors perform magnificently in their roles. January has already seen a lot of fantastic characters played by actors at the top of their game, yet Carnage has four that threaten to eclipse them all. Jodie Foster is Penelope Longstreet, a high-minded outraged liberal who, we are told, makes the best cobbler around. Cobbler so good, in fact, that Nancy Cowan projectile vomits it over the room. Played by Kate Winslet, she is a busy professional trying not to hate her husband, Christoph Waltz’s Alan. Threatening to steal the show, Waltz struts around the set without care for any other person, constantly talking into his Blackberry and antagonising the others with sly jabs. Making up the quartet is John C. Reilly as Penelope’s husband Michael, a man clearly uncomfortable with his social status and with a seeming hatred of most things. He abandoned a hamster on the street, and sees nothing wrong with that. These four archetypes are deconstructed very efficiently in front of your eyes as the situation degenerates into utter carnage. The script zings with line after line of cleverly constructed snark, delivered with great enthusiasm by a cast put through their paces and managing a full range of emotions from poised professionalism to hysteria.  If there is a moral to this story, it is that humans are, at their cores, awful people. We can dress up in suits and pretend to be polite, but deep down we can’t wait to rip each other to pieces. And that message makes for enormous comic potential.

Carnage is going to be a hard sell to audiences. An 80-minute film on a single set doesn’t sound that thrilling compared to the frenetic special effects offered by something like Chronicle. Furthermore, a comedy from the man who brought you serious dramas like The Pianist and Chinatown doesn’t necessarily sound too fun. But you would be wrong. Carnage is perfectly paced and doesn’t outstay its welcome, the script is pitch-perfect, and the cast clearly revel in their roles. Above all else, it’s hilarious. Even if you’re not convinced, go and see it. You won’t regret it.

The Malcontent on: January Sales

All undergraduates will inevitably have recourse to Primark. For those of us who find our loans so decimated that the £1.50 vest top is all we can afford, it’s a necessary evil – we pay for prior self-indulgence in subjection to bad lighting, dusty changing rooms and hangers bearing no relation to the product they display. Understandable, then, that after Christmas, armed with gift vouchers, we joyously await reintegration into more civilised retail society. Except that the universe clearly has other ideas because, every January, the British high street essentially becomes just one big Primark.

Sale shopping is less retail therapy, more consumer warfare. The foolhardy conscript enters a detritus strewn battlefield, where she finds herself surrounded by violent explosions of colour, sorrowful corpses of fallen products, and a ruthless band of hostile adversaries, gripped by monomaniacal self-interest. If someone asks you where you found that nice dress at any other time of the year, you cheerfully point them in the right direction. Come ‘the sales’, you protect your sources with grim fortitude – resources are limited, everything must go, and that includes altruistic tendencies, and any grip on one’s critical faculties. All that remains is an apocalyptic zeal and a grim determination that you will secure the last size 10.

A sociologist might attribute it all to that deeply primeval hunter-gatherer drive hardwired into every human. Personally, though, I flatly refuse to put down to evolutionary instinct any urge which convinces someone they need to buy a dayglo jumpsuit because it’s a third of the price it was two weeks ago. Unless, of course, this is social Darwinism of the more insulting sort – the sales shopper’s willingness to part with their money is intended to leave them too poor to feed themselves, and so to cause them to perish in a garret before they have time to spawn another generation of gullible consumers. It’s survival of the fittest, and those leopard print leggings aren’t making anyone any fitter, evolutionarily or aesthetically.

The ultimate act of evolutionary self-condemnation, though? Queuing up before the shop even opens. Nothing stinks of the general bathos of modern capitalism quite like seeing people wait, in the cold, to be allowed to hand over their money to companies who value them so little that they give them a jumble sale in lieu of customer service. Nature, red in tooth and claw, has some comfort – social Darwinism means they’re all meant to get pneumonia. Happy New Year.

-Louisa Thompson

-PHOTO/Stephen Sweeney