Carol & Self-Identity

There is something thrilling about the sudden halt of the piano playing when Carol places her hands on Therese’s shoulders. Highsmith still holds her teasingly suspenseful writing in The Price of Salt and Haynes undeniably affirms it in this film adaptation.

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Carol (2015) is directed by Todd Haynes and stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s Price of Salt by Phyllis Nagy. It’s about a young woman, Therese Belivet, and her encounter with a middle-aged soon-to-be-divorced woman, Carol Aird.

Todd Haynes is one of the few who has the capability of making a film thrilling and elegant at the same time. We patiently wait for little things to happen whilst appreciating the details. In the beginning we wait for them to meet for lunch, that happens and we’re satisfied. Now, we wait while they order their lunch and martinis. Then they properly introduce themselves and we hear the name Carol for the first time and Therese echoes back her name and momentarily drifts off reassuring us that something will indeed happen but what it is exactly, we don’t know.

Purple Noon is the very opposite of film noir. No murky labyrinths here: all is apparently open and bright, inviting every variety of self-indulgence.” – Geoffrey O’Brien on Plein Soliel which also happens to be adapted from a Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. What he says here about Purple Noon, we can say the same for Carol. That is why Hayne’s was the perfect fit for a film like this. Only he can achieve this cinematically and we have Mildred Pierce and Far from Heaven as proof for that.

In Hayne’s subtle and elegant way, he makes Carol the hero that people who struggle with their self-identity need. An important line Carol said when discussing custody over her daughter with her husband and lawyers was, “What use am I to her, to us, if I’m living against my own grain?” She is referring to them threatening her with their knowledge that she is with a woman. We meet her as a confident, fearless woman and she is put through the ultimate test and has proved that she does not surrender to anyone’s judgments of her even if they do affect her. There simply is no changing who she is.

 

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