The Moral Perplexities of Two Women In Love in Todd Haynes’ “Carol”

By Zofia Wijaszka

Please note that the article below contains spoilers.

When “Carol” premiered, the film received a 10-minute standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. The motion picture based on Patricia Highsmith‘s novel titled “The Price of Salt” was shot on Super 16 millimeter film. Todd Haynes, the director and Phyllis Nagy who wrote a screenplay, wanted “Carol” to look and have an atmosphere of the late 1940s/early 1950s. Both did such an outstanding job. The production was nominated to six Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. “Carol” was also appointed to five Golden Globes which made it the most nominated film at the Golden Globes in 2015. As of today, the worldwide gross of “Carol” is $40,272,135.

Both novel and the movie tell the story of a wealthy woman (Cate Blanchett) and a young aspiring photographer who works at the New York Times (Rooney Mara). While Carol fights for the custody of her daughter Rindy with her husband (Kyle Chandler), Therese focuses on her work in the newspaper. One meeting changes everything for them. It’s the story about love, betrayal, and hard moral choices where two lonely women fell in love during the 50s against all the odds.

After receiving horrible news, Carol Aird decides to take a trip West. Therese settles to accompany her. In “Thelma and Louise” style, being on the road transforms both women. One grows and makes a choice that is incredibly hard. The other discovers that seldom love and attraction are not sufficient. At the end of the road, Therese and Carol have to face the reality that they so meticulously avoided. However, nothing can protect them from the criticism by the 50s society, Carol’s custody case, and Therese’s broken heart.

“When “Carol” premiered, the film received a 10-minute standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival…”Carol” is the most important and the best LGBTQ+ film of all times as by the British Film Institute…Two women portrayed in “Carol” reflect on the LGBTQ+ community at that time.”

carol

“Carol” is the most important and the best LGBTQ+ film of all times as by the British Film Institute, “The 30 Best LGBT Films of All Time,” March 21, 2016). There are many reasons as to why. The crucial topic of moral choice is one of them. Morality plays an enormous part in the lives of both Carol and Therese. The protagonists, however, go through it and indifferently take it. For Blanchett’s character, it’s a matter of choice. She has to decide between a life with Therese or the custody of Rindy. For her, life is not fair. Harge, the ex-husband, forces the separation of Carol from Therese and her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson).

The post-war fifties and social pressure trigger the reaction and decision-making of the male character. Carol has to undertake the psychiatric treatment that is brutal. Left alone, without the lover and best friend, the woman is close to a breakpoint. She seeks to understand the society and the reason as to why two women in love cause such disgust and are called immoral. Carol makes the most painful choice ever to make as the film goes on – she chooses to stop living against her own grain. In the final custody battle scene, the woman in a heartbroken, trembling voice states that she cannot be the best mother for Rindy if she keeps on living a lie. She’s compelled to lose sole custody in the aftermath, but in the end, Carol reaches such necessitated freedom to be who she wants. To love who she desires to love.

For Therese, the topic of morality manifests differently. After the heartbreaking end of their road trip, the woman falls into a depression. She’s relatively young, and she doesn’t understand Carol’s actions. Her anger causes Therese to change – she matures a lot and gets a better position at The New York Times. The female protagonist moves forward even though she is continuously thinking of Carol Aird. She’s still wondering why the other female is forced to make such a horrid and unfair choice. The understanding of the actions of society that made it happen is challenging for Therese.

carols sill 2

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in “Carol” is the scene where Abby presents Therese a letter written by the other woman. In it, Blanchett’s character explains the reason for leaving Therese in the hotel in her friend’s care. While emotional music plays in the background, her voice reads the words that are so hard for Mara’s character to comprehend. She wants to scream, cry, and run away from her feelings – the further, the better. Even when Therese is yet to realize this, the events with Carol make her stronger. The woman grows and transforms into a beautiful, confident woman. The change even manifests itself in the way Therese becomes to dress – more toned down, less casual. A developed self-confidence makes it possible for the young woman to meet and reunite with Carol in the last, profoundly transcendent scene of the film.

“Carol” possesses astonishing cinematography and astounding costume designs. Sandy Powell made a signature fur coat of Carol out of different pieces of vintage fur coats.”

Two women portrayed in “Carol” also reflect on the LGBTQ+ community at that time. The controversial therapy that the titled character had to go through thankfully was stopped. It was never really said what the doctors had done to her. One can only speculate on how exactly “the treatment process” looked like in Carol’s case. During the film’s timeline, there were a lot of things that happened around the LGBTQ+ community.

Carl still 1

In 1951, August 28, the famous Stoumen v. Reilly case occurred. The Supreme Court ordered that homosexuals ‘ presence was not adequate to remove the liquor license from the renowned San Francisco gay bar called the Black Cat Bar. The place, sadly, was a victim of a 15-year-old crusade by the locals who wanted to everything in their power to shut it down. Even though we don’t see it in Carol, we can only imagine how difficult it was for the woman and Therese to preserve their personal relationships. They merely had no other option.

The film is not only necessary due to the things mentioned above. “Carol” possesses astonishing cinematography and astounding costume designs. Sandy Powell made a signature fur coat of Carol out of different pieces of vintage fur coats. As far as the main character owned a luxurious wardrobe due to her status, Therese’s clothes were truly vintage and pre-owned. It was supposed to highlight the woman’s lower class.

Carol designs

One thing, trivial at first, has significant meaning to the film – the act of smoking. It’s a symbolism of a kind and everyday occurrence during the 1950s. According to the IMDB, Carol Aird only smokes when flirting or in distress. Whenever with Therese – she doesn’t reach for a smoke. During their road trip, she is the happiest woman; hence, she doesn’t comfort that is a cigarette to her. Once back in New York, we can see her smoking again when Carol meets Abby. Therese, on the other hand, uses the mentioned act in the moments of self-confidence and, as well as Carol, during anxious situations. Such a small thing but gives great significance to a film when analyzed.

“Todd Haynes and Phyllis Nagy created a compelling, extraordinary tale about love and its meanders in life. The time passes, but “Carol” remains the most critical romantic story with a happy ending. For me, it will always mean a lot.”

Todd Haynes’ production is mainly about two women who fell in love but not only. Depicting the main character’s life, the viewers get to see her relations with Abby Gerhard portrayed by Sarah Paulson. The actresses sadly admitted that the friendship was supposed to be more refined, but it was cut. Despite women being lovers in the past, Abby and Carol are deeply connected. What a Therese takes as a fit of jealousy, Abby only looks after her best friend and wants to make her happy. Besides, she got her eye on this redhead who owns a steak house outside of Paramus. I’m talking serious ‘Rita Hayworth’ redhead. One could define Abby as a fighter and supporter of Carol and Therese’s relationship. She may also feel that the main character didn’t make the best decisions when it comes to another woman. However, Abby is always there for Carol and supports her in every aspect.

Todd Haynes and Phyllis Nagy created a compelling, extraordinary tale about love and its meanders in life. The time passes, but “Carol” remains the most critical romantic story with a happy ending. For me, it will always mean a lot.

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