The meteorologists had been predicting the first snowfall of the year. Less than one inch, they said with confidence. Nothing to worry about. We had our tickets to see Carol. And it snowed all day long. In the moments before we left the house, it started to hail. Someone did not want us to make it to this movie.
I clutched my purse (which is more of a messenger bag because, hello -- gay) during our drive to the theater not because I worried we would get stuck in the snow, but because I worried the snow would make us late and I might miss even a second of this movie I'd been waiting for three years to be made. I stomped into the movie theater, covered in a mixture of rain and snow, and announced to the two girls standing behind the concession counter, "We made it!"
We drank our smuggled IPAs (see the afore mentioned messenger bag) in the back of the darkened theater, and for the next two hours bathed in the world that director Todd Haynes meticulously constructed. At dinner afterwards I asked my girlfriend what she thought. Her words: "You were right. I liked it." This is a victory, friends. This is a girl who routinely leaves movies less than halfway through because she gets bored easily.
On our way back from the movie we helped some pot-smoking youths shovel their car out of a snowbank, and then I hustled home to write down my initial thoughts about Carol. It turns out I'm a little less succinct than my girlfriend. So here we go:
Sublime. Carol is sublime. The cinematography is stunning. This could be a movie without dialogue for all the power of its imagery, soundtrack, lingering looks and touches. The plot itself is constricted by the perimeters of the original novel, Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt. Girl meets girl. Girl loses girl. Girl tries to win girl back. Highsmith's original novel is flawed. It's choppy. Its dialogue is vague and convoluted. And the second half of the book unnecessarily drags on. But as I've noted elsewhere, the book has the distinction of being the first lesbian novel to have a happy ending for its main characters.
Cate Blanchett--to no surprise--is perfection. As Carol, she's untouchable and vulnerable at the same time. She actually reminded me a lot of Julia Desjardin--proud and cool, but deeply sensitive and misunderstood. Rooney Mara as the main character, Therese, is earnest and wide-eyed, understandably in awe and immediately in love with Blanchett's Carol. And Kyle Chandler, as Carol's estranged husband, is equal parts despicable and sympathetic. Everyone is in love with Carol. You would be an idiot not to be. In scenes in which Blanchett is not physically present, she continues to linger. Her name -- Carol -- is spoken with reverence as if she were from another planet, separate from the rest of us mere mortals.
Men are peripheral in this world. They're the drunk, blustering husband who interrupts a quiet night at home. They're the bespectacled man who presumptuously sits with Therese at coffee, forcing Carol to drag a chair from another table--a chore far too pedestrian for someone like Carol. So when Carol utters the words that Therese and the audience longs to hear--I love you--only to have their conversation interrupted by the bellow of one of Therese's male friends, it's expected. I can't tell you how many times my girlfriend and I have been seated in public together, heads tilted toward each other in quiet, intimate conversation, only to be interrupted by a strange man who'd like to be privy to our attention. It brings to mind something akin to Jane Austen's opening line in Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged that two women alone together are in want of a good man.
In the capable hands of Out screenwriter, Phyllis Nagy, there are subtle but important differences from the original novel that make Carol more palatable to a modern-day audience. Therese's dream career has been changed from theater set-stylist to photographer. Carol's relationship with her daughter, Rindy, is secondary only to her relationship with Therese, as opposed to being a passing detail like in the original novel. This maternal bond is made all-the-more important when Carol is forced to choose between two lives: closeting herself and going to therapy so that she can be in Rindy's life or being with Therese. In the original novel, Carol is a shadow--an enigma whom we see only through Therese's lovestruck, obsessive lens. This is why Rindy becomes such an important addition in the movie version. It humanizes Carol so when she's faced with the decision of pretending to be something she's not (i.e. straight) to share custody of her daughter, we feel immensely the struggle of a woman from that era.
Carol is not a Coming Out story. It's not the biopic of an important gay activist. It's not even the triumph of a queer woman overcoming straight America. Its authenticity is in the way everyone in the film tiptoes around the phenomenon of two women in love with each other. Words like gay, homosexual, or lesbian are never spoken. The central question is not whether or not Therese's love for Carol will be accepted by the world; it is whether or not Carol will return that love.
So, have you gotten to see Carol yet? What did you think?