November 27, 2014

Carnage: Thought-provoking drama for parents

As we enter the summer movie season — and big action films and comedies flood theaters — the Reel Dad looks for more nutritional movie choices now available on DVD. This week’s pick is a recent film by director Roman Polanski, Carnage.

As parents, we want to give our children the benefit of the doubt, no matter the truth we must confront. At challenging moments, we want to believe that we teach our children to use good judgment. And, if they get into trouble, we know to handle the challenge like adults.

We aren’t sure, as Carnage opens, what actually happened one afternoon in a park between two 11-year-old boys. All we know, as one parent describes to another, is that one child injured another, although the reason is unclear. The physical confrontation between the children leads to an emotional debate among the parents who do not want to accept responsibility for what happened at the park.

Based on the Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage, the film version offers an extended conversation between the adults. At first, both sets of parents are civil and courteous, sharing coffee and cake in a New York City home. As the discussion turns to details, however, the parents naturally take the sides of their children claiming, of course, that each boy knows how to behave. 

As the parents begin to confront truths about themselves, they begin to act less like adults setting the appropriate example. Truth can be difficult to accept, especially when adults choose to behave like children.

On stage, God of Carnage told its story in one sleek act without an intermission as the four adults never left the living room set. The physical limitations of the space forced each to reveal more than superficial conversation would typically yield. Unable to physically withdraw, they ultimately admit to each other, and themselves, the weaknesses and fears they bring to their parental and marital obligations.

Roman Polanski, the noted director of many a visual film, recreates this theatrical approach. While many film adaptations of plays “open up” the visuals re-setting scenes in other locales for variety — Polanski restricts the characters to the single apartment, although he does venture into the bathroom, kitchen and hallway. While the film may feel static, Polanski’s approach enables the characters to bloom as he delivers a thoughtful look at how adults handle the stress of marriage and parenthood.

Polanski’s claustrophobic approach works well for his actors. Jodie Foster, in her first significant screen role in years, is heartbreaking as the mother of the injured child who tries to hold her family together by a thread. As her bombastic husband, John C. Reilly is magnetic as a man refusing to confront his fears. Kate Winslet, as a corporate woman who knows her way around a board room, effectively projects her discomfort with maternal obligations. Only Christoph Waltz, ingenious in Inglourious Basterds, overdoes his portrayal of a success-driven professional who treats family tasks as items on his to-do list.

Ultimately, Yasmina Reza’s original words are the strength of this work. Polanski’s choices as a director, while visually limiting, effectively serve the emotional content. This worthwhile film can give parents and older children something to talk about. And that’s what a nutritional movie should do.

Film Nutritional Value

Carnage

* Content: High. While the work may be better suited for the stage, the power of the words shines through the film adaptation.

* Entertainment: Medium. While more visual variety may have made the film less static, the claustrophobic approach brings focus to the emotional layers.

* Message: High. The fears of parents quickly become issues that families must face no matter how much we try to protect our children.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about family dynamics is worthwhile.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children will find a lot to talk about as you reflect on the situations in the film.

(Carnage is rated R for language. The film runs 80 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets