Simplicity and minimalism allows viewers to focus on the interactions between characters instead
Roman Polanski’s Carnage is based off of Yasmina Reza’s French play, Le Dieu du Carnarge. The adaptation’s basic plot remains more or less identical to the play: two couples meet to discuss an incident between their two respective children, one of whom physically assaulted the other at a public park.
While the pretext of their meeting is to reconcile the incident in a civil fashion, the four parents gradually slip into a war of attrition far more complex than that of their children. The narrative is simple and includes a few lowbrow gags including projectile vomiting, but the characters slowly breach moral discussions that give the production philosophical substance.
The beauty of Carnage is that the entire film takes place in a single apartment. The single set and limited four-member cast allows the film to achieve a kind of succinct and efficient density that is not often seen in North American cinemas. Post-WWII North American culture has maintained a ‘more is better’ mentality, and this mentality eked its way into post-war epic film productions including Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments (1956), Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), and Don Chaffrey’s later Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
Today, Hollywood’s veritable smorgasbord of sprawling visual splendor persists with the likes of Tarsem Singh, Peter Jackson, et al. So, in the midst of all our cinematic bells and whistles, Carnage works as a cinematic haiku — and it’s refreshing.
That being said, I have not seen Reza’s play or any of the English translations, but word on the street is that those who have seen the play are generally not in favour of Polanski’s film. The play may very well be better than the film, but there’s an even bigger truth at work here: whenever you say any approximation of, “The play/book/original is better than the film”, you sound like a dick. Even if you begin your sentence with, “Now, I’m not trying to sound like a dick”, you still sound like a dick.
Reza’s play won’t be performed at the Vancouver Playhouse ‘til this coming April, so until then, don’t be a dick. Just watch it.