We laughed. We cried. But for most of the time the audience in the cinema awwwwwed.
Warning! Spoilers ahead.
Since realistic queer, let alone lesbian representation, in films is rare I was sceptical when I sat down in the cinema to watch Carol, directed by Todd Haynes’ and adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt. But I could not have been more positively surprised.
The film begins with a prologue, which is an, often, overused device that destroys suspense rather than build it. Here, however, it gives the impression that the entire film until the prologue repeats is Therese remembering it, while wistfully staring out of a taxi’s window. Perhaps this is why Haynes’ stunning cinematography often seems to tell the story deliberately through windowpanes.
Therese meets Carol for the first time, when the latter is looking for a Christmas present for her daughter. The doll she wanted is out of stock and Therese suggests a train set. This first subtle hint at defying gender roles was the moment I realized this film was something special.
Apart from telling a beautiful love story between two women, Carol also offers two stories of female empowerment. The oppression of women is portrayed without making any of the male characters a villain and thereby demonstrates the effects patriarchy has on the female characters’ lives as a system.
Carol has to navigate the social complexity of divorce. This creates backlash about her role as a wife and mother. She sets herself free from this by allowing her ex-husband to have custody of their daughter because she cannot “live against her grain”.
Meanwhile Therese grows from the shy shop girl who doesn’t know what she wants and never says no to a self-confident woman who choses her lovers. While in the beginning Richard insists that he loves her and wants to marry her, which in his eyes means she couldn’t love anyone but him, Therese figures out what it is she really wants. When that moment comes and we reach full circle with the repetition of the prologue, everyone in the cinema wanted to yell at Therese’s friend for interrupting. Carol offers her to move in with her and for the first time in Therese’s life she says no.
Everyone knew there could only be a few minutes left. I myself was preparing for yet another lesbian story that started out beautifully and yet had an unhappy ending. But then Therese’s transformation truly shines through. She leaves her friend’s party and seeks out Carol. As she walks across the room, the entire audience watched with bated breaths, as Carol turns her head and spots her.
There are a few seconds of silence, before the closing credits start rolling and the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief. Carol is a beautifully shot film with a happy ending for two empowered queer women. There is so much more I could be saying about this film, so many more details that could be analysed but for now all I can say is: I need to rewatch it. Again and again.