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Getting Picky: NYFF 2011’s Carnage

Out reports from the 2011 New York Film Festival on the forthcoming indie films you won't want to miss.

Let's act like adults--an idiom that's ruthlessly under attack in Carnage, the film adaptation of Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning play, "God of Carnage." Get cozy in the living room of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), where you will spend the next 80 minutes watching four adults devolve into increasingly severe acts of pettiness, bullying, and rage.

Our second couple, Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and an uber-sardonic Christoph Waltz), are the corporate antithesis of the Longstreets and their noxious brand of bleeding-heart liberalism. But they've all convened, despite their magnetic opposition, to civilly discuss a fight between their two 11-year-old sons that ended in Zachary Cowan knocking two teeth out of Ethan Longstreet's mouth with a giant stick (the opening scene of the film, rendered from a distance and with music masking any discernable dialogue).

Pleasantries are exchanged between the two pairs of spouses (even cobbler and espresso are served by the Longstreets) before Penelope's passive-aggressive insinuations, which do little to mask her contempt for the Cowan's and the barbarism their son represents, begin to provoke Alan, a high-profile litigator for a pharmaceutical company. Alan presents himself as completely domestically detached, leaving to answer his smart phone every five minutes or so to the noticeable embarrassment of his wife. In the midst of this, Nancy and Michael unsuccessfully attempt to mitigate their respective partners' quarrels until they, too, can no longer hide their repulsion with each other, their spouses, the institution of marriage, and the banality of parenthood. (At one point, Nancy literally pukes all over the living room, under the duress of her husband's appalling behavior and the stress of trying to appease everyone.)

In Tree of Life terms, the whole film is a quick and messy shift from the way of grace to the way of nature, with the latter winning out in all its antisocial glory. While the dialogue between characters can feel a little theatrical (it is a play), viewers will relish the ensuing chaos. All parties are under attack on all fronts--Michael for allowing his wife to emasculate him; Penelope for her delusional belief in the moral code of right and wrong; Alan for workaholism and emotional inadequacy; and Nancy for her fakery. Yet these personal shams, mocked ruthlessly in Carnage, are all parts of the same armor worn daily to protect us, and others, from our inherently ugly nature. Don't worry--we're all complicit in this farce. Use this as an opportunity for purely cathartic, unadulterated rage within the comforts of the silver screen.

Carnage is being shown multiple times on Friday, September 30, at the New York Film Festival . It will premiere in New York City and Los Angeles on December 16.


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