Carol, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (who play Carol and Therese, respectively) as two women falling in love, was one of the standouts of the many LGBTQ+ films released last year. In fact, the 1950s-set movie has even been called the ‘best lesbian film of all time’ by some.
However, despite the overwhelming praise that has been bestowed on the Todd Haynes-directed piece, some viewers and film critics have called the movie ‘cold’. Admittedly, Carol is a film of few words, opting to go for the subtle approach, but have some people misunderstood the film or is this an appropriate criticism?
Writing at The Atlantic, David Sims notes that criticisms of “chilliness” come from the fact that “so many of their early interactions are centered around fleeting touches and glances, or pleasant small talk that doesn’t remotely stoop to the level of innuendo”. However, Sims argues, this is where Carol’s “brilliance” lies, as the film “aligns” with “the terrifying experience of falling for someone without knowing how they feel about you.
Fans of the movie (particularly bisexual and lesbian women) who have seen Carol, also call this lack of ‘obvious’ language a reason why some viewers (particularly heterosexual ones) may have missed the point. The subtle clues between the two women – who must figure out whether this is a deep friendship or if there are romantic feelings – will be familiar to women who love women (wlw) watching the film who will have struggled with similar questions of ‘is she queer’ and ‘does she like me in that way’.
Arguably, it would be ludicrous to ask a film about lesbians, based on a book by a lesbian, with a screenplay written by a lesbian, to make things more obvious for heterosexual viewers. This is an important point especially as other films such as Stonewall, have tried to pander/be more understandabe for straight viewers and have failed tragically as a result.
Moreover, the so-called ‘coldness’ of Carol accurately reflects the time that Carol and Therese were living in. In an interview with Indiewire, Todd Haynes explains that
… Therese can’t even find the syntax for describing her feelings for this woman. There is no example in the world that she can point to to put it into language. And there’s something radical, and frightening and wonderful about that.”
Haynes also called the 1950s a “very anxious, anxiety-ridden time” and while the intricacies of this may have been lost on some, many others would agree that he has presented this perfectly. And this realism, and the truth of the piece, is perhaps why the rest of us love Carol so very, very much.