Monday, October 12, 2015


One of my favorite movie moments of the last five years is in the first act of Blue Is The Warmest Color when Adele & Emma first cross paths. The way they locked eyes just stuck with me for some reason...

It almost feels like those few seconds are stretched out in to a feature length movie in the form of Carol - Todd Haynes' latest film about the love affair between a soon-to-be divorced housewife ("Carol"/Cate Blanchett) and a young aspiring photographer ("Therese"/Rooney Mara).
It just so happens that both Blue & Carol are adapted from books that focus on same-sex relationships between women. The dynamic between the characters in both films is also pretty similar. Both relationships have an imbalance made up of an older more experienced partner (Carol/Emma) and a younger slightly more insecure partner (Therese/Adele). 
I also sub-labeled this piece "Red Is The Warmest Color" because Todd Haynes uses red the same way Abdellatif Kechiche used the color blue in Blue Is The Warmest Color...

The difference here however is that the relationship between Carol & Therese is a bit more “taboo” and less (outwardly) intense than the relationship in Blue Is The Warmest Color.

Putting aside the subject matter, Carol can be enjoyed by anyone who has a genuine love for cinema. Todd Haynes is a cinephile so there are plenty of subtle movie references. Throughout his career Haynes has tipped his hat to everyone from Fassbinder & Kenneth Anger (Poison) to Antonioni (Safe) & Sirk (Far From Heaven). Carol is no different...

In The Mood For Love / Carol
Mulholland Drive / Carol
Persona / Carol

Not only is Carol a return to the Dottie Gets Spanked/Far From Heaven-era Todd Haynes that I love so much (there's a couple of quick semi-unconventionally edited montage moments here & there reminiscent of Dottie Gets Spanked), but it's also his first exploration into homosexuality with female characters. Some could make an abstracted case for Cate Blanchett’s cross-gendered performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, but Therese & Carol are his first true lesbian characters (and some might feel that they aren't even lesbians but rather two women who happen to be attracted to each other). I’m making a slightly big deal out of this because I find it strange that a varsity letterman of the queer film movement (Haynes) took so long to explore gay female characters when Poison, Velvet Goldmine, Dottie Gets Spanked & Far From Heaven all focus on homosexuality amongst males (there's even a quick moment in Safe as well). 

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here (and I could be way off in what I'm about to say) but judging from the number of semi-recent films to explore same sex relationships, there's a serious imbalance between films that focus on gay men versus gay women. It's almost as if the movie industry is subconsciously implying that stories concerning gay women are less interesting (if that's true, Carol certainly puts that belief to rest). I don't mean to make this about gender or cause division but it seems like for every one Carol or Blue Is The Warmest Color, there's at least two films that focus on the same subject matter on the opposite end of the gender spectrum (Milk, Stranger By The Lake, Dallas Buyers Club, Weekend, A Single Man, Beginners, Brokeback Mountain, Love Is Strange, Behind The Candelabra, etc).

Perhaps I'm making a big deal about nothing. Carol is a love story more than anything else. I imagine Todd Haynes wouldn't want this film to be labeled as a "gay love story". Because this film is set in the late 1950's there are obviously elements of repression & secrecy. Haynes also makes it a point to sprinkle subtle elements throughout the film (there's a cleverly placed cameo from Carrie Brownstein and a quick moment where Therese makes eyes at two openly gay women at a record shop). But this isn't a politically driven film where our couple has to fight against intolerant right wing Christians. In fact, part of the reason their love has to be kept a secret is because Carol is still technically married (although the love is long gone). We get the sense that Carol may have been unfaithful to her husband in the past. And if not that, Carol and her husband "Harge" (Kyle Chandler) made each other miserable by staying in a loveless marriage. Nothing is straightforward and the characters aren't without fault. This aspect brought me back to Denis Quaid's "Frank" in Haynes' Far From Heaven. Do we feel sympathy for him because he has to repress the fact that he's gay, or do we judge him because he's cheating on his wife (and abusive) regardless of his sexual orientation? These are the kinds of questions you'll be mulling over after watching Carol.
In my opinion this is Todd Haynes' best film since Safe. And I know I always say stuff like this but to me, Dottie Gets Spanked, Far From Heaven & Carol all exist in the same universe. All three films are set in a time when homosexuality was a bit more taboo & shameful than it is today (I picture all three separate stories happening at the same time in different parts of the country). One could write a thesis paper about the similarities between Steven (Dottie Gets Spanked), Frank (Far From Heaven) & Therese (Carol), but that's a whole 'nother wrote-up (in the meantime check out the cinema of Todd Haynes told through images & stills).


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