I was 22 when it happened to me. It was so weird to have it played back for me so clearly while watching Carol the other night. It was like this film was taunting me because it knew. It played it all out in the most identical of ways. I was staring at Therese staring at Carol and I saw myself, I saw him, I saw his sleeping body and his hands and his mouth and I saw myself falling in love and it made my stomach drop because I hadn’t seen that moment in years. I had almost forgotten that moment (forcibly, to be honest) because of all that came afterwards, but there it was, in my living room, staring me in the face. I felt a shiver and I literally looked around to make sure that my wife was still sleeping because it felt like something I didn’t want her to see.
I wanted it to still be mine.
Sometimes life is hard. Scratch that; all the time life is hard. That isn’t meant to be some sort of gloomy statement, I promise, but it is a reality. We live out our days and we try our hardest to reach some sort of happy center and yet there always seems to be something pulling us in another direction.
Most of the time, it is ourselves.
“It’s selfish because I just take everything and I don’t know anything and I don’t know what I want and how could I when all I ever do is say yes to everything.”
Carol tells the story of a naïve and confused young shop girl named Therese who falls under the spell of an older, wealthy woman named Carol. Carol is in the midst of a divorce and in the middle of a custody battle with her husband over their four-year-old daughter. Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband is aware of her attraction to women and of a previous affair/relationship and is using this against her in an attempt to get sole custody of their daughter. Despite being aware of the consequences that could come from entering a relationship with Therese, Carol is smitten and can’t help but fall deeper in love with her. This of course leads to fateful moments that will drastically alter the direction both of their lives take.
But that’s just the beginning and end. What Carol does best is give us that happy center.
As Carol and Therese slip away from the world in order to spend Christmas alongside each other, they develop something almost dreamlike, a state of euphoric love that binds them, synchs them to each other’s internal happiness. They found what makes them happy. As the world around them is judging them for who they are and what they want, they find solace in each other’s arms and it just feels right. There is something so organically intimate about this whole story and the way it unfolds in such a natural progression. We feel it, each moment of it, because it’s slowly unveiling itself before us. We discover it as they are discovering it, and as their body language, chemistry and stares begin to take on more meaning, we are watching these two women grow into the best versions of themselves.
This is such perfection.
Carol is such a soft and gentile film and yet it still manages to unravel me. With its dreamlike canvas, sweeping sequences, floating about to the ethereal chamber of music fit for the heavens, Todd Haynes creates an experience that completely encapsulates what it means to find something that completes you, that is so latched to your soul you need it to breathe, and so even in its most passive of moments, Carol unearths something so primal, so human, that we can’t help but feel emotionally vanquished by it.
Todd Haynes has a knack for this slice of period drama. His previous masterpiece; Far From Heaven, deals with similar subjects matter (although mere touches of it) and a similar time and it does so with such ease and comfort. Haynes makes it all feel so authentic. He takes us there. The perfect juxtaposition of lushness and drab create a truly believed portrait of 1950’s New York and place our central characters in a world that is embellished by their approach to the material. Blanchett’s portrayal of the title character, Carol, is the finest moment of her career. She was born to play this woman. Watching her cycle through falling in love to falling to her knees as her world is ripped away from her is such a tragic yet richly rewarding experience. Her final moment with her husband, with the lawyers, the full confession, the shaking…it produced a guttural reaction from me. And as good as Blanchett is, Mara matches her every step of the way with her honest portrayal of a young girl trying to understand herself, trying to figure out what she wants. As her own naivety wares off and is replaced by an understanding of who she is, it becomes such a marvelously textured and fleshed out portrait.
Sometimes we don’t know what we want, or we do but we aren’t sure we are allowed to want it, and so we wind up confusing our own ideas of what we’re feeling. Sometimes the world around us confuses us. But there are times, there are moments when all that fades away and produces a glimmer of happiness, maybe even more than a glimmer. The clouds part and the everything seems so much clearer; so much easier to breathe and it is here that we find our happy center.
I have mine now. Not with him, no, but that’s in the past and I don’t like to think about that much. Carol and Therese found theirs, but only time will tell if they get to keep it.
I like to think that they do.