Movie Doubles – ‘Carnage’ & ’50/50′

Genre Benders

Today’s movie doubles is inspired by one fact alone both these films feature one prominent moment of vomiting. Apart from that, the only reason I’m joining them together for discussion is because I saw them back to back.As usual, it’s going to be a bit haphazard, but maybe we’ll find some interesting things in these 2 films.

So let’s see what we can tease out of these two films.

Dramedy? Comrama?

There’s been this odd development lately where films with essentially comic characters want to roll with serious topics, such as death and cancer while drama has gotten lighter and lighter with the advent of television. In the Case of ’50/50′ it is clearly the former, while ‘Carnage’ rests in the latter. One would expect that the longer civilisation goes, the more genres will beget sub-genres and those sub-genres will beget further more sub-genres. At the same time, people will find new ways to combine genres to create different types of fictional spaces. A typical example might be ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ where the vampire sub-genre of Horror is mated with the teen movie sub-genre of the Bildungsroman.

Both ‘Carnage’ and ’50/50′ are symptomatic of the ‘Big Now’ where classical structuring of genres (and the attendant subdivisions of high-brow and not-high-brow) have been relegated to the past. ‘Carnage’ started off as a play, but in the hands of Roman Polanski, it becomes more like a Woody Allen movie with plenty of social jabs and commentary. Some of th things the characters say are just so arch it elicits a smirk by making you imagine how your friends might respond to such arch challenges.

’50/50′ tries to build a serious story about a guy undergoing the perils of cancer treatment by pairing him with a despicable best friend – seemingly a Seth Rogen invention this last decade – who persists with the most vulgar characterisation of the joys of living and life itself. The weirdness is in having the picaresque a the background action upstaging the foreground story that at one time might have been a Barbra Streisand movie back in the 1970s. It’s only comedy because the cues are cut that way, but the story is pretty wrenching if you take it at face value. I don’t really understand why Hollywood executives think a film like this one are going to work. They’re like chocolate coated steak sandwiches – But it’s a big world out there and who knows who’s got what kind of tastes.


It’s not like we show shitting and pissing in movies a lot. When I say that, they always shoot from behind in urinals, careful not to  show male genitalia and they sure do not show close ups of anuses widening as shit comes out of the orifices. No, taste and decorum dictates we do not show these things, which we all take for granted. Freud would say we basically repress our bodily functions for the sake of the narrative.

Even in ‘Human Centipide’, we don’t see an actual shot of the human mouth sewn around an anus. It’s covered up in bandages.

What’s interesting in ‘Carnage’ is that we see Kate Winslet vomit out on to a coffee table from the front. We see the vomitus erupt from her mouth in full glory. Similarly in ’50/’50’ we see Joseph Gordon Levitt let loose with gobs of vomit from his mouth  as he hunches over the toilet. Make no mistake, the depictions of vomit in both these films are confronting in a graphical way that you would never see portrayals of shitting or pissing (except in special coprophiliac porn).

Even in ’21 Jump Street’, Channing Tatum Casually vomits all over Jonah Hill, almost in passing and without any provocation or immediate reason. Just – “barf!” – Which got me thinking, since when is vomiting okay but shitting still not okay? Is vomit less offensive than shit? Not that I want to see close up of shit being brought into the world, but you see what I mean.

Perils Of Parenting

In ‘Stuff White People Like’, there’s a chapter about how white people like to blame their parents. ’50/50′ runs with this trope pretty hard until an emotional reconciliation is reached. However in ‘Carnage’, you come to understand why the said white people might come to resent their parents, fr the four people we see are totally hypocritical and condescending while being full of contempt. You wouldn’t want these people as your parents, but I guess somebody must have, or else this film would not have been written.

Parenting is a terrible deed in ‘Carnage’. Interestingly enough, John C. Reilly is in this film and like the casting in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin‘, he is playing the bumbling working class dad. Fortunately he doesn’t get killed by his son, but his dignity is torn to pieces by what happens. Oddly enough I have a hard time imagining John C. Reilly being married to Jodie Foster just as much as I had trouble imagining John C. Reilly being married to Tilda Swinton. They’re both clammy-cold-fish on screen and there’s John C. Reilly playing his warm cuddly self, straight out of his gross-out comedies – you know, the kind of movies you can’t take your sensitive girlfriends. So in all honestly I just can’t imagine neither Tilda Swinton nor Jodie Foster dating John C.Reilly, so I can’t see why we’re being asked to imagine them as a married couple.

But back to parenting… the characters in ’50/50’ run pretty much by the script of Christian Lander’s ‘Stuff White People Like’ where kids admonish and blame their parents for being loving and caring. It takes a fair amount of story turns to establish that it’s actually the son being the “dick about it”, and not the parents. Similarly in ‘Carnage’, it is pretty clear that the kids are being dicks about it but it is left to the parents to somehow sort through the carnage left by the children. None of the characters want to be in that room talking about it, but the children have forced them there. You get the feeling that as the developed world ages, we’re more hostile to children.

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