Roman Polanski’s goal in this movie was more than obvious once we get a few minutes deep into the plot. That it is based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza is just an excuse for its real theme. That it is set in a condo owned by Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) is just an excuse for its real theme. That the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet), lashed at the former couple’s enfant is just an excuse for both these couples to meet. These pieces are nothing more than excuses, and they all come together to give the audience a chance to watch Cristoph Waltz eating and drinking.
Polanski refrained from being too obvious by switched the focus from the ingestion of liquids and solids by the Austrian to the couple’s interaction. The disfigurement form one of the 11 year olds prompted the visit by the Cowans, and we watch, amused, as their social interaction degenerates from utter civilized politeness to total and raw honesty. Few things are as amusing as watching something crash and burn. And although this is not a plane crammed with peopple, or a train or a bovine-filled truck, the enjoyment of said crashing and burning is limited, but still fun to watch.
We are bystanders as Polanski strips society to the bone. Layer by layer, we watch as social etiquette and decorum will fade to show the ugly truth underneath them. He wants us to see how those defense mechanisms that we acquire as social beings end up to be wholly pointless. How a society filed with Gregory House’s eventually would be like. Alas, he does it in a blunt and unostentatious way, less subtly as he would do it in his best works.
The director resorts to blunt comedic moments as well. Some of them even close to slapstick (puke on catalogue, phone on vase), which is a refreshing change of pace, as far as what I’m familiar of his work. Still there are far wittier moments: when Penelope feels that the subject of the conversation is switching its focus she feels obliged to change it back:
Nancy: “We’re not going to get into these children’s quarrels.”
Penelope: “It’s none of our business.”
Penelope: “What is our business is this unfortunate incident. And violence is our business”
This dialogue made my mind time-travel from 2011 to 1964, to recall a similarly delivered punch-line in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb:
But getting back to the point, all of this belongs to subplots. What the movie is really about is a far more interesting subject, and Polanski only fails here for not giving it the emphasis it truly deserves. The movie is about watching Cristoph Waltz eating and drinking.
If you’ve seen him in Inglourious Basterds you know what I’m talking about. Watching him slurping down almost a liter of milk, or eating that memorable strudel, were two of the most dauntingly entertainment scenes of the XXIst century cinema. Seeing him here gulping down an espresso, gobbling up a glass of whisky or guzzling a poorly baked apple and pear cobbler made me wish for a TV show called “Eating is like Waltz”. Episode one: “Waltz having breakfast”. Episode two: “Waltz having brunch”. Episode three: “Waltz having lunch”. Episode four…