Carol

Carol ★★★★★

This is my 20th time seeing it and the 13th since reading Patricia Highsmith's great book "The Price of Salt" and the first since reading Phyllis Nagy's script.

On this day in history, Therese Belivet had lunch with Carol Aird.

People wouldn't understand how much of an anomaly this accomplishment is. Almost every movie that I've ever watched (let's say at least since 2000) has taken so much longer to acquire half of those views, and even then I usually top out around a dozen. Even then, I couldn't provide documented evidence that any of this is true. Thanks to Letterboxd, Carol has that paper trail and I am just as proud of the fact that I've used it to continually dig deeper into the works of Patricia Highsmith,its cast, and cinema's general relationship to me.

As was the case with my 19th viewing, this film came with a sorrowful attachment. My 19th was watched following a mental breakdown, and this time was a day after I spent 17 hours in bed because I was so broken up about my friend contracting COVID-19. He says he's better now, but that didn't make this weekend any less painful to work through, thinking of a life without someone who meant so much to me on a very personal level, whose absence would reshape my entire adult life going forward.

It may be why I have been infatuated with Therese's photography plotline these last two times. It specifically shows up during this exchange that I've thought about constantly:

Therese: "I've just been trying to... well, I have a friend who told me I should be more interested in humans."

Carol: "And how's that going?"

There is something about this pandemic that has made me more eager to talk to people, to learn about their lives, and find connections that go beyond film talk. I feel as someone who's felt cloistered his entire life that it's been awkward and stumbling to be publicly honest with myself. My infatuations have had extremes on both ends that I've had to tame,and overall I need to reassess how I love myself. Still, I have found myself in a better social media company in 2020 than in any other year prior, and I'm thankful for that.

But I think of that exchange and realize that even if I always wanted to make friends, I've gone some time without actually achieving that. I consider any year where I come away with one or two new permanents to be successful. Still, I think that I was attached to that feeling I got that someone respected my opinion, accepted that I was pointlessly weird at times, and I hope that I conveyed recognizable compassion back.

As a writer, I'm prone to observation anyway. I relate to picking up a camera and watching Carol navigate a tree lot or open a Christmas present.I recognize that desire that only shines through when you're truly interested in something, and it's what makes this film brilliant on a micro level. It is about that invisible force that draws us together, where you realize in real-time that this conversation holds deeper kismet. It's in that Frankenburg conversation that starts with a conversation about dolls and ends with "Do you ship?" I know this isn't 50s vernacular, but it does feel like some Buffy fan fiction working there, shipping these two wonderful characters together on a wonderful journey.

I would love to travel the path of Carol one of these days. I hope to find that Waterloo sign and take a picture of it. I think it just stems from that idea that I am very interested in being with someone right now, to have those longwinded, maybe meaningless conversations. We don't get a great car conversation here, but they're most often endearing because of what they symbolize. It's one's own private experience, driving into a future that looks full of endless possibiltiies.

I can't explain why it took me so long to finally get around to the script, but I'm thankful to have read it. As much as I recognize the voices of Todd Haynes and Highsmith in this, I don't know if I ever grappled with Phyllis Nagy's voice. Sure, I could understand that she wrote the script, but what was hers and what was ad-libbed by the actors? Considering the "invisible force," it's easy to argue that a lot of it was performative, where a stare or quick jerk came from personal decisions.

I'll say first that very little of the missing script would've changed anything significant about the plot. Haynes definitely found the best version of this story in his final product.

With that said, I am fascinated now by the subtext that Nagy wrote into these characters. For starters, there is more to Carol and Abby's youthful relationship, where they started a business together as they were falling in love. Therese's boss is eager to talk to her about being lonely. Richard... well, Richard actually comes out a lot worse in the script with three or four additional scenes that range from him trying to impress with European travel tickets to a finale where he doesn't forgive Therese for the crush. It's heartbreaking and I love that Haynes' way around it was to simply make him a montage character.

Another thing that is significantly different (and worse off for) is that the third act is spliced in throughout the plot. Phil's party plays out almost as chapter divides, and I think it works less well that way. It is set up so that Therese's dinner with Carol (where Jack interrupts) is about five minutes from the big triumphant finale. Maybe it's just how I read it, but it all felt abrupt and lacked a build to things. To me, the party was that moment of self-reflection, of realizing that among those happy faces was the reality that her love wasn't here. She needed to go to it.

Which makes some of the minor cuts more interesting. The most noteworthy is that Genevieve gets more of a point. I'm sure everyone's guessed by now that she was a lesbian, but what's missing from the film is an alternate temptation, where Therese is invited to follow her to a gay after-party and rejects it. I think it's interesting in concept, but given how precise Haynes' direction is, it would've provided a needless distraction from Therese's character growth.The same could be said for a scene involving Mrs. Semco, who is unceremoniously missing in the film because she was more an observing character than an active one (present at a dinner where Richard offers Therese tickets).

On a side note, I feel embarrassed that one of my favorite lines ("To President McKinley!") didn't tip me off to the fact that: A. That scene took place at The McKinley Motel, and; B. The initial shot begins with a pan down from a picture of McKinley. What I find interesting this time around is that there are references to President Eisenhower on the radio, and I feel like there's one of President Hoover in Fred's office (that is speculative). I'm trying to figure out if that means anything if it's some subtext about conservatism and repressing queer thoughts. However, that is more something to explore in my next viewing.

Most of the cuts otherwise are redundant in thematic. It's the themes of love and loneliness that are whittled down. I think most notably is that the first meeting of Therese and Abby is pushed back greatly. Whereas the script finds them meeting BEFORE the car ride, the eventual landing place makes more sense and I think actually builds characters. Also, it's flawless how Haynes edited out Carol and Abby's conversation about their past, because those scenes are in here, just not with those exchanges. I'm not sure if ambiguity helps, but I'll accept it given how Haynes was able to make every other concept more impactful with limitations.

I am sad to say that I still haven't seen Dark Waters. I have continued to hear that it's great, though I wonder how it compares to the great one-two punch of Carol and Wonderstruck (especially given tonal shift). Also, I forgot if I mentioned it last time, but I'm saddened to see that Cate Blanchett didn't win an Emmy for Mrs. America. She was great in it and added a nice depth to Phyllis Schlafly. I also want to give a shoutout to Sarah Paulson, whose film Run is actually pretty good. Even though I like her "is she concerned or evil?" performance, I want to give credit to Kiera Allen, who played the disabled daughter so perfectly. The story finds the hurdles of being handicapped in a horrifying way, but never treats it as a limitation. It's a hurdle to climb over, and the practical way it goes about it is brilliant. It may not change your life, but it definitely makes me think that disabled cinema should be making more inventive and complementary films.

It's crazy that I've seen this movie 20 times, and four days shy of the first time I saw it in 2015. That is a record that I doubt anything will ever pass. Given that I'll probably be watching this every year in every way, it will only become more difficult. Maybe I'll be up to 40 or 50 by the 10th anniversary. That seems unlikely, but one can dream. It's rare that art speaks to me this way. With that said, I seem to have a type as I've also been personally moved by Portrait of a Lady on Fire (which almost ties Carol for perfect ending) and Disobedience in ways that I feel at my core. Will I be watching them obsessively? Stay tuned.

2020 has been such a wild year and I'm thankful for everything that's made it in any way decent. Finding people who love Carol is always a plus, and it makes Twitter a much nicer place to reside. I know that I have in some ways had my worst anxiety in years because of this pandemic, but I also have come to realize the therapeutic nature of art more than ever. Carol's now kept me sane twice this year, both as a film and as a discussion point. I hope to continue my journey diving into this world, because I'm aware that "The Price of Salt" has so much more to offer. What will be next? Will I finally listen to that BBC radio play? Stay tuned.

I hope, all things ocnsidered, that your 2020 had its pluses. In a time where death and forest fires have been bothering me for four months straight (the former actually longer), it's hard to remember that I self-published a short story collection, started a new website, and got into my dream school. I have things that I am proud of. I hope that you do too and that there's someone out there who loves you for being yourself. That's all we could hope for right now.

To President McKinley!

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