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Film / Carol

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"Some people change your life forever."

Carol is a 2015 British-American romantic drama film directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy based on the novel The Price of Salt (also known as Carol) by Patricia Highsmith. The book was originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan due to its controversial nature at the time.

The film stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, and Kyle Chandler. Set in 1952 in New York City, the film tells the story of a young aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older woman going through a difficult divorce.

Compare with Desert Hearts, another lesbian romance adapted from a novel and set in the 1950s.

This film features the following tropes:

  • Accidental Hand-Hold: At a diner that they stop at to eat breakfast just after starting their road trip, Therese tries to snap a shot of Carol. Carol puts her hands up saying she's a "fright" and Therese brings one back down saying she looks amazing. Carol notices their hands touching on the table and smirks, while Therese awkwardly lets go.
  • Adaptational Job Change: In the book, Therese's aspiration was to be a set designer for theater. In the movie, it's completely changed to photography and she gets a job at a newspaper reflecting that.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book was written from the point of view of Therese. The movie expands that so we get scenes from Carol's point of view giving more time to her and the characters around her.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, Therese has a Missing Mom who was abusive and neglectful and dumped her in an orphanage. This is the basis for much of her personality. Therese's family life is not even alluded to in the movie, leaving her something of a blank. The change was probably to avoid the implication that the lack of a strong mother figure made Therese a lesbian; the book strongly implies this is the case.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • Therese in the book comes across as a fawning fragile flower. In the movie, she is much more stoic.
    • Carol is a lot nicer to Therese in the movie, whereas in the book she's more aloof and moody.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Carol is based on The Price of Salt.
  • Adapted Out: The book has one Mrs. Robichek who appears in the first chapter to give a Jacob Marley Warning to Therese, who frequently thinks of her afterwards. She's not in the movie.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Therese is indicated to be much younger than Carol; in real life Rooney Mara is sixteen years younger than Cate Blanchett (Mara was 29 and Blanchett was 45 when they filmed the movie). Therese is quite unworldly, has never had a serious relationship (she has a boyfriend but doesn't seem overly besotted with him) and is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life, while Carol is more experienced and mature, is currently getting divorced and has a young child. Despite this they fall head over heels and the main obstacle to their relationship is actually the fact they're both women and it's the 1950s; Carol in particular is concerned she could lose custody of her daughter because of her relationship with Therese.
  • The Alcoholic: Likely Harge. In one scene, Carol makes a point of thanking him for staying sober. He later shows up drunk at Carol's house to collect Rindy and appears to be drunk again when he shows up at Abby's.
  • All There in the Script: The woman who flirts with Therese at the party appears in the book and is called Genevieve Cantrell (the credits do list her under that name). The book characterises her more and says she's an aspiring actress.
  • Almost Kiss: As Carol and Therese try on perfume they linger very close to each other, but pull away at the last second.
  • Amicable Exes: Carol and Abby are this. They're still best friends, and in Abby's words, their relationship ended because their feelings just changed, and it wasn't anybody's fault.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Carol drops the "I love you" bomb on Therese when she is convinced that she has lost her affection for good. Luckily for her, it leads to Therese reconsidering her feelings and deciding that she loves her back after all.
  • Baby Trap: Word of God says the real reason Harge was attempting to get full custody of Rindy was so Carol would stay with him, if only so she could still have their daughter. It ends up failing when Carol agrees to let him have full custody while she gets visitation rights.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Therese watches Carol sleep one night in a hotel.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Carol and Therese reconcile; however, Carol is in more danger of losing her child than she was at the beginning of the film.
  • Camera Fiend: Therese is an aspiring photographer and as such, always has a camera on hand, which she increasingly uses to photograph Carol in the most mundane moments.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. Therese finds a gun in Carol's suitcase and Carol does threaten the PI with it, demanding the incriminating tapes, but it's never fired.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The supposedly generic nice guy who chats up Carol and Therese at the motel in Iowa is a private detective hired by Harge to spy on the two.
  • Closet Key: Carol is this for Therese. Abby may have been this for Carol.
  • Comforting Comforter: One night during the road trip, while Carol is driving and Therese is sleeping, Carol reaches over to put a blanket more snugly around Therese.
  • Costume Porn: 1950's style outfits abound.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Harge's behavior stems from anger over Carol's new relationship.
  • Cure Your Gays: Carol mentions going to see a therapist to try to fix her "moral problem." She does it mostly to attempt to get to see her child and presumably quits after admitting that her affair with Therese was something she wanted.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Harge's lawyer paints Carol as an unfit mother because of her lesbianism. Even in today's far more tolerant society, it's a tactic that could be used. Imagine back then, when homosexuality was still believed to be a mental illness.
    • Harge is drunk when he shows up at Carol's house to take Rindy—and she lets him take her. Granted, he has a driver and isn't the one driving, but it would be very questionable behavior today.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Christmas in this movie is snowy; Carol remarks on how much she enjoys it.
  • Female Gaze: Therese becomes more aware of women eyeing her—and returns the looks—as her relationship with Carol begins.
  • Gift Shake: When Therese gives Carol a vinyl record as a Christmas present, Carol playfully shakes it before unwrapping it, making Therese laugh.
  • Girliness Upgrade: Therese's hair and clothes become visibly more stylish and sophisticated following her fling with Carol.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Knowing how much Therese loves photography, Carol buys her an expensive, high-end camera as a Christmas present. Therese is absolutely dazzled by it.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: Blonde Carol and brunette Therese, though their personalities are reversed from what's typical; Carol is experienced and knows what she wants, while Therese is somewhat naive and feels her way through their relationship.
  • How We Got Here: The film starts near the end of the events of the film, from the POV of a minor character, and then jumps back, eventually catching up with where we started.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • After the Anguished Declaration of Love, a shaken Therese goes to Phil's party and wearily quips to him that he better have wine or beer.
    • Carol does her own version of this with cigarettes when Harge interrupts while Therese is visiting to take Rindy.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Downplayed when Therese leaves Carolís house after Carol drives her to the station. Therese starts to cry on the train and her nose runs and she loses all composure, but doesnít actually bawl. Still, itís not pretty but heart-rending.
  • Intimate Artistry: Therese's photography flourishes with the many pictures she takes of Carol, some of which are of very intimate moments.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Both Carol and Therese remain feminine, in spite of other changes they go through (most notably having a relationship together).
  • Love at First Sight: Implied, both Carol and Therese seem instantly attracted to each other.
  • Maybe Ever After: The film ends with Carol and Therese locking eyes across a crowded room, but we have no idea what happens afterwards. Will Carol's ex accept her involvement with a woman, forcing her to once again choose between her lover and her child? Can Therese forgive Carol for breaking her heart?
  • Moment Killer:
    • The first time Therese comes over to Carol's house, Harge interrupts to take Rindy, dashing any hope of a romantic evening.
    • Therese and Carol have just consummated their relationship and are blissfully setting out on the next leg of their journey when Carol gets a telegram informing her that a private detective has evidence of their liaison, spoiling everything.
    • Near the end of the movie, when they're at a restaurant, Carol tells Therese "I love you". A friend of Therese walks in and stops to say hi, stopping Therese from answering, and Carol leaves.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are both shown nude while having sex together. It's all very subtly and tastefully done though.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Harge can't accept getting divorced from Carol, so he blackmails her and threatens to cut off access to their daughter.
  • Nothing Personal: Tommy Tucker uses this to excuse himself from listening in on Carol and Therese and sending the tapes to Harge; it's just his job.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Therese wakes up one morning to find Carol gone and Abby waiting there.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title.
  • Perverted Sniffing: In a hotel room, Carol is taking a shower and asks Therese to pass her a sweater. Therese pauses to sniff it deeply.
  • Pretty in Mink: Carol's mink coat shows her class.
  • Protagonist Title: Also a One-Word Title.
  • Queer Romance: Married mother Carol has an affair with shop assistant Therese. This is in the USA in the 1950s, so matters do not proceed entirely to their advantage.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The emotional impact of Carol and Therese's restaurant meeting gets amplified when we see it a second time, after all the events that led to this point.
  • Rich Boredom: Carol finds her life as a stay-at-home wife of a rich man unsatisfying and the social obligations that come with it dull.
  • Road Trip Plot: The latter half of the movie involves a road trip to nowhere in particular.
  • Scenery Porn: New York in the early 1950's.
  • Sex for Solace: Carol and Therese's second time stems from a need to comfort each other over the havoc that's been wrought.
  • Shout-Out: The film starts from the point of view of a minor character who interrupts Carol and Therese at a restaurant, and then the story is told through Therese's flashbacks. This framing device was taken nearly shot-by-shot from Brief Encounter.
  • Small Towns: The road trip consists mostly of staying in small motels in tiny towns.
  • Snow Means Love:
    • There's a snowfall going on when Therese goes to Carol's house for the first time, and the first pictures she takes of her are during it. At least one poster depicts this scene.
    • When Therese accepts Carol's invitation to go on a trip, they look up at the sky to see that it's starting to snow.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Far from Heaven, another 1950s-set romantic drama dealing with homosexual characters directed by Todd Haynes, but placing the gay romance front and center instead of in the B-plot.
  • Stress Vomit: Therese, after Abby comes to take her home.
  • Tomboy: Therese is a slight version—interested in trains and photography, typically seen as boyish activities, especially back then, and seems to prefer to wear pants and t-shirts when she isn't at work.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: The driving part of the film, it's obvious that Carol and Therese are interested in each other early on in the film. It's all just a question of whether they will or won't. If you've seen the trailers you know they do.
  • Uptown Girl: Carol is a wealthy housewife and Therese is in the working class with a dead-end job at a department store. At the end of the movie, as Carol gets divorced and has to get a job and Therese gets a promising job at the New York Times, their lifestyles seem to come closer together.