Carnage: A New Comedy of No Manners (2011)

Posted: March 31, 2012 in Comedy, Drama

Zachary Cowan and Ethan Longstreet are a couple of kids whose interaction explodes into a much larger issue. After Zachary hit Ethan in the mouth with a stick, it caused an unlikely meeting of their parents. In an attempt to be as civil as possible about the ordeal, the Longstreets invite the Cowans over to their home. While they first put together a statement of the incident, their interaction appears to be simple and clean. Alan and Nancy Cowan appear to appreciate Penelope and Michael Longstreet’s hospitality, particular since theirs was the child who was hurt in the incident. As their quirks start to come out and comments slip off of the tongue, the interaction turns from pleasant to downright chaotic. While the couples attempt to determine their actions moving forward, they get sidetracked and tripped up by their own issues and lose sight on what brought them together.

Starring: Jodie Foster (Penelope Longstreet), John C. Reilly (Michael Longstreet), Kate Winslet (Nancy Cowan), Christoph Waltz (Alan Cowan)

In this simple yet complicated film, the are only significant cast members are the ones that exist in the movie’s one solid location. Jodie Foster plays the fairly high-strung, forward Penelope Longstreet. She is actually the first one who flies off the handle when the interaction turns south and has a few moments where it appears that she is about the have a vein pop out of her head. Her husband, play by John C. Reilly, hides his true personality at the start of the film but clearly has a silent frustration with Foster’s character’s controlling, opinionated attitude. As his character progresses, he makes a fairly dramatic personality change but quickly snaps from calm and collected to pessimistic and angry. Kate Winslet serves as a roller coaster of emotions are the Nancy Cowan character. She get fairly defensive of her son and holds in a lot of frustration regarding her relationship with her husband. Christoph Waltz may be the most entertaining character as he commonly gets wrapped up in the tension between the couples but is a slave to his work and immediately answers his phone at every moment. While he is fairly short-tempered and rude early in the interaction, he eventually builds more of a connection with Reilly and finds more of an interest in continuing the interaction.


Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza use these characters to show an awkward progression between individuals with differing beliefs and viewpoints. Even though the interaction at first was meant to be a cordial opportunity to smooth everything over, there was never a commitment from any of the adults to believe the situation was that simple. Alan was the first one to recognize his frustration with the situation as he pushed to keep the interaction brief and let himself consistently get interrupted by his phone. This was only one of the behaviors that pushed these individuals over the edge, but Penelope quickly followed Alan’s frustration and let her guard down. Once hers was down, it led to a domino effect with Michael and Nancy that expedited the downward spiral. Alan actually became more comfortable as the situation continued due to the more deliberative style of dialogue and deterioration of Michael, Nancy and Penelope.


This film may be listed as a comedy but it is not a laugh-out-loud type of story. The humor is in the fluctuation of emotions between the characters, as the only time all four are on the same page is right at the start of their interactions. The ebb and flow of their anger, sadness, laughter and pain switches from character to character as they continue to push each other’s buttons. Nancy and Alan attempt to escape the apartment on multiple occasions but get pulled back in by either a rude comment regarding Penelope and Michael’s marriage or their son, though it is a feeling of obligation more toward the beginning. Nancy’s nausea also plays into the humorous element of the film. This film is much more of a drama though as it explores the range of human emotion and the unpredictability of how a few words or a thought can affect the flow of a relationship or conversation.

The exploration of emotion in the film is rather entertaining and the acting of these four stars is certainly top-notch. The concept may not capture all viewers, but it is a great conversation piece regarding interpersonal relationships, beliefs and civility.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


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