Discussing a child’s less than perfect behavior with another parent is perhaps a milestone in motherhood and fatherhood that deserves more credit. Aside from having endured my own childhood in which my family willingly went head to head with other people’s parents, my babysitting years have afforded even more vivid examples about the unwritten etiquette of parenting confrontations. Whether your child has been bullied on the playground, has been the bully on said playground, or even a witness to some inappropriate behavior, approaching the other parent is fundamentally awkward.
But even if your kid hasn’t gone so far as to assault another child, you can probably identify with the delicate and stressful dynamics of the film Carnage. In a plot that is pretty commonplace to a lot of modern parents, power couple played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz attend a polite sit down at the home of politically correct hippies played by Jody Foster and John C. Reilly to discuss an “incident.” The power couple’s child, who is a admittedly “a maniac” by his father’s estimation, struck the hippy kid in the face with a stick — and what ensues between the parents is far from model behavior.
What begins with apologies and small talk over baked goods slowly escalates to jabs about parenting capabilities couched in niceties. Careful inquiries into one another’s interests outside childrearing are punctuated by Christoph consistently taking calls on his BlackBerry, behavior that mortifies Kate given the severity of her son’s actions and her instictive desire to make a good impression on these other parents.
Adapted from the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, the entire film pressure cooks in the apartment of the affronted parents as they finally cancel all their meetings, destroy their smartphones, and just go at one another in an alcohol-induced rage over politics, parenting, and marriage. Nervousness begets vomiting all over prized art books and Kate’s character finally asks the question “Why are we still in this house?”
As a mother herself, Kate Winslet says that the film dissects a central facade that most parents can identify with:
“… in the school playground when you’re negotiating with other parents there’s always an air of ‘I have to be nice to you even though I hate your guts.’ There’s always glossy air of making nice, a fakery that goes on which is part of how you operate as a parent when you’re trying to protect your child.”
Although the play is originally set in Paris, director Roman Polanski aptly chose Brooklyn as the setting for such a satirical comment on contemporary parenting feuds. And given that I often babysat in Park Slope and witnessed similar tensions between competitive parents, I’m going to speculate that his characters probably hail not far from Prospect Park West.
So definitely a schedule a sitter for this one, unless you’d like to take this cinematic opportunity to explain a few choice swear words to the kiddies. Kate Winslet most likely fires them off better than that obscenely crude mom at playgroup.