Much like Sex and the City caused fashion-loving women everywhere to begin defining themselves as a Carrie, Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte, Carnage seems like Roman Polanski's way of getting everyone to admit whether they're a jerk, a bigger jerk, a huge jerk, or a gigantic jerk that other jerks just orbit around. Adapted from a stage play, and never letting you forget it, the film shows the tangled web that we wove for ourselves when we stopped throwing spears to solve our problems and pretended we weren't those people anymore.
There are two couples, The Longstreets (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) and the Cowans (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), whose children have gotten in a fight. The Longstreet kid took a stick and smacked the other across the face, wounding him. In the beginning of the film, the four parents are discussing the incident civilly, like the children of the Free to Be…You and Me generation are programmed to. Every overly polite and politically correct sentence reeks of "we're so evolved" and "look how much we aren't like our parents." That fragile facade quickly cracks and shatters, leaving behind a mess of ego and caterwauling (and whiskey).
The movie is painful to watch from start to finish, and is meant to be. No character is without fault here, and the squabbling closely resembles what really goes on inside people's heads that they usually avoid saying for fear of getting hit with a two-by-four. It's kind of like classy reality TV. The feelings invoked of claustrophobia, fury, frustration and surprise seem to be what they were going for, which is why the play has gotten so much acclaim. Everyone watching has to have an opinion on these perfectly normal and abhorrent people who are desperately trying to forget that we're animals and often behave as such, even if we try to cover it up with fancy shoes and art books.
The only hitch is that movies adapted from plays feel confined by being isolated inside a screen, whereas the live version has room to breathe and exist in front of your eyes in real time. The same is true here. Although the performances were done by top-notch performers really pulling out all the stops, it didn't feel entirely real to me. It just felt like a fable that withholds a moral from you, demanding that you create one. If you have enough energy to endure it, you'll enjoy the experience. It just made me wish I had some of John C. Reilly's whiskey.