After a bull dies in the ring in Spain it is butchered and its bits and pieces are sent across Western Europe to various individuals for a surprisingly large variety of reasons. The man who buys the bull’s horns lives in a small trailer with his mother, where they practice taxidermy in their solitude; the ears and tail are placed under the hospital bed of the comatose matador who was gored by the bull; the eyes end up with a man who feels he needs to cheat on his wife because she is pregnant; a bone is given to the dog of a family who’s epileptic daughter seems isolated in a world of strange insight; some meat ends up on the plate of a distraught mother, whose past haunts both her and daughter, who is the teacher of the epileptic child; a lonely Italian actress ends up taking a job at a supermarket dressed as a matador, selling meat from the dead bull; etc. Besides for being united through the common thread of the dead bull (a clever idea, though the filmmaker often goes too far in addition coincidental contrivances between her characters), each of Carnage’s characters, or sometimes pairs of characters seem secluded in a sad kinf of self-absorption. This sympathetic kind of narcissism sets up much of the problems for the character’s at the film’s start, and like P.T. Anderson’s grand multi-character melodrama Magnolia
, everyone seems to either have problems connecting to other human beings, or are over-worried and brooding due to familial problems from the past. A song in the final act warns a character not to involve herself in the lives of others, but by then it is too late; even though most of Carnage
’s various Europeans seem unhappy to start with, when they manage to touch base with other members of the cast disaster invariably sets in.
Delphine Gleize’s Carnage
’s rocket-fuel powered narrative propulsion with a confounding obliqueness that limits the impact its impressively juggled collection of characters. With such a large cast concise and forceful dialog is a must not only to define each character in their brief moments but also give a sense of thematic progression or unity between the elements. Instead, Carnage
takes the route of casting actors who look perfect for their roles, but gives them an impassive and limited script so they can never say enough to define themselves or their situations. Gleize, who has an eye for beautifully patterned compositions, spends too much time trying to let pictures speak for themselves; and while much of the film’s photography is lovely to look at, Gleize’s style forces the audience to guess at what she is trying to get at, rather than enabling them to piece it together with coherent material. That she ends almost every scene, before switching to another local and another character, with an attempt at a thematic punch line shows how strongly Carnage
struggles to add itself up. Only when Carnage
groaning-ly manages to contrive three or more of its characters to get together at the same time does it achieve a bizarrely interesting tone. When the family with the epileptic girl is tracked down by the actress (who’s car was damaged by a shopping cart deliberately by the father) and her new suicidal boyfriend (who stalks her so he can reveal who damaged her car) Gleize employs an ellipsis and cuts to all five people eating a spaghetti dinner and talking to themselves about themselves. Here at last is a scene where some coherent content can be pulled from, and what initially appears to be a funny unity between lonely characters reveals Gleize’s themes to be far more unusual and morbid, as each character seems to operate in their own little universe despite warm human contact. This brief moment is a sad statement on humanity from the director, but it is hard to tell if this is the film’s principle belief or not; when it is impossible to tell if the film ends in a utterly hopeful image, or one of an self-perpetuating cycle of psychological tragedy, it speaks for a film that wants to be succinct and beautiful but ends up being vague and misdirected.