Todd Haynes’ (director of amongst other things, Far from Heaven, I’m Not There and Mildred Pierce) film Carol was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, and attracted lots of distracting attention for the wrong reason. An interview with co-star, Cate Blanchett, was misconstrued. Had she or had she not had sexual relationships with women? After the usual headlines and click bait had dragged on, the answer was actually no. As if we cared. The question shouldn’t have been on the agenda, but ironically connected to the story of Carol, and the lack of privacy when dealing with sexuality.
Carol (Cate Blanchett) exudes a disconcerting mix of mystery, predatorial know-how and endearing affection and has odds in her favor at the Oscars. Or could it be all that plus a deep loneliness, created from years of living against the grain. Therese (Rooney Mara) at first glance represents the stock-standard ingenue. In response to Carol’s question, during their first lunch together, of how seriously she treated her current relationship, she responds, “Do I want to marry him? I barely know what to order for lunch”. So begins their relationship, with Carol being viewed through Therese’s own increasing inner turmoil. The beautifully shot, on super 16 film, and visually evocative film is stunning.
Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, and published under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan” so she wouldn’t be classified forever as a writer of lesbian fiction, the novel sold almost a million copies. So what was the attraction? “My young protagonist Therese may appear a shrinking violet in my book, but those were the days when gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they be suspected of being homosexual“. (Patricia Highsmith,1989). Homosexuality was criminalized, but not openly discussed.
Carol is essentially a morality tale, with an element of tragedy. It is not only a love story, but also confronts an important question, how much would you be willing to give up in order to live an honest and authentic life – your child, a comfortable life, social acceptance? Despite it being written over 60 years ago, as screenwriter Phyllis Nagy said at the Cannes press conference for the film, “Nothing has changed and everything has changed because we can have this movie now…we politicize the material by letting people live their lives honestly”.
Carol was an Official Selection of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and won the Queer Palm award. The film has received six Academy Award nominations. Carter Burwell (original score), Rooney Mara (actress in a supporting role), Cate Blanchett (actress in a leading role), Ed Lachmann (cinematography),Sandy Powell (costume design) and Phyllis Nagy (adapted screenplay). It was also nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, nine BAFTA Awards, and six Independent Spirit Awards.
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