“I want to see you”
You know what Therese Belivet, I also want to see Cate Blanchett, at any and all times possible, so thank you.
Biggest Gay Mood: every character being attracted to Cate Blanchett
‘Carol’ (2015, Dir. Todd Haynes), is a 1950s lesbian love story based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel ‘The Price of Salt’. Writing this novel here under the pseudonym ‘Claire Morgan’ so as to not be classified as ‘just a lesbian writer’ (she wrote in varying genres about many identities), we can thank Highsmith/Morgan for coming up with the magnificent name Therese Belivet. The film tells the story of how young aspiring photographer Therese becomes fascinated and infatuated by the older Carol Aird in her first exploration of lesbian desire. Despite the queerly oppressive US society of the 1950s that surrounds the story, the film is tentatively optimistic without being unrealistic. It is gloriously seductive. The whole thing wraps around you and engulfs you, like Carol’s fur coat; it doesn’t necessarily keep you warm throughout the harsh winter, but you can always feel its weight.
As suggested by my opening quote, Carol (as film and character) is extremely visually rich. It is sensual, evocative, and elegant. The theme of vision — observation, seeing and being seen — comes around time and time again. Lingering and yearning looks across crowded spaces punctuate Carol and Therese’s interactions. And yet, practically every key moment in the progression of their relationship is tainted, interrupted or disturbed by onlookers, well-intentioned or otherwise (most often the latter). Before she gets to know Carol, Therese tells her that she struggles to take photos of people. The first portraits she takes are of Carol, perhaps because, for the first time, she herself felt seen.
Therese’s strong lesbian energy thus progresses throughout the film: by the end she’s painting walls and wearing plaid. Still, she can’t quite reach the uniquely queer power of Cate Blanchett — a gay icon in her own right. This was demonstrated in a now viral interview where she mistook the word ‘gaze’ for ‘gays’, which prompted Troye Sivan to tweet that she ‘can say the f word’ (not fuck, the other one).
People were quick to point out that Troye was joking, but I’d like to take this moment to clarify that Cate Blanchett could punch me in the face and I’d say thank you.
Anyway, where were we?
Top tip: watch the film by candlelight. It fits the mood perfectly.
Just like the flame of the candle I had burning whilst watching Carol, this film lets the women shine. We can give a special shoutout to Sarah Paulson here, who, as Carol’s best friend and advisor, is, of course, magnificent. All the protagonists are female, and even though men exhibit some control within the inevitable sphere of 1950s patriarchy, they are not spotlighted. In a kind of celebration of femininity, the emotional and at times distorted soundtrack mimics the female characters’ complex emotional flow. One particularly apparent example would be the first drive Carol and Therese take together, where the cinematography and lighting work with the music to produce a disrupted and disjointed sequence which feels almost dreamlike.
The film’s open ending is deliberately ambiguous, thus playing with norms of narrative structure as well as of sexuality. Similarly, there is a kind of queer temporality: chronology is not followed strictly, and moments that may be seen as unimportant in traditional (read: heterosexual) narratives are highlighted. Hence, one could say that the film is queer in its stylisation as well as its content.
This really is the film’s strongest advantage: a commitment to queer aesthetics alongside a commitment to queer hope. It is a complex and beautiful lesbian celebration, despite the many obstacles that may stand in its way.
Header image via Vantage on Medium