Carol (2015)

Twenty years later, Todd Haynes has made his second masterpiece, the first of course being SAFE.  Not everyone agrees, which is fine of course.  I feel compelled to elaborate on why I think it's truly a special film.  Recently I've come to the conclusion that I want things to quiet down.  I want less of the hustle and bustle, and more of the calm.  That's one of the reasons MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is #10 on my best-of list.  Maybe it should be way higher, but propulsive action has become less of a personal preference.  When I walked out of CAROL, I immediately felt like I had seen a movie that was reflective of my personal feelings.  Actually, that can apply to THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY and TU DORS NICOLE too.  The latter of those two, could make an argument that I just might be a bit sad and bored most of the time.  I've accepted that possibility.  Over a year ago, I experienced chaos.  I was unhappy and unhealthy and experiencing pain like I never had before. Doctors were clueless, blah blah blah.  So for me at this point in my life, I need the calm and the quiet.  I need to experience films like CAROL.  I could see this becoming a sign of aging, or simply that I would rather even have a director like Tarantino give me long stretches of monologuing as opposed to sword-fighting 88 bad guys.  It's not to take away from how impressive and impeccably put together action films are.  Walking out of CAROL, I felt refreshed and renewed.  I also saw myself on screen in Rooney Mara's character.  I think watching movies for me has always been about projection (literally) and empathy.  Sometimes I feel selfish for placing myself on screen, but at the same time, it seems inevitable especially when I have experienced the kind of love portrayed in CAROL.  The one that is from a distance, a bit more relaxed and muted.  I don't prefer talking, I much prefer listening.  This movie felt like an introverted love story where the act of listening is just as powerful as passionate love.  As a visual work of art, it mirrors my favorite painting of all time which is "Hotel Room" by Edward Hopper.  I surmise that most folks are familiar with his work diner painting the most, but "Hotel Room," alongside the work of Egon Schiele are some of the many paintings that actually move me when I look at them.  CAROL moves me not only when I looked at it, but whenever I think about it.  There are constant examples of what makes it so distinctive.

Take for example the scene where Therese gets in the car for the first time with Carol.  That was the moment I knew it was my favorite movie of the year because it defied my expectations in a satisfying way.  First of all, it says volumes that Therese doesn't reply to her boyfriend when he says "I love you."  And then the entire sequence that follows is focused more on gestures, body language, hushed expressions, a song that's half remembered playing on the radio, glancing out the window.  This to me felt like being a passenger in a car with someone close.  It's not so much about witty Cameron Crowe-esque dialogue exchanges where everybody is smart and self-assured.  It's about feeling something special on the inside.  One can argue that maybe what's experienced on the "inside," does not make for compelling cinema.  How can we SEE what Therese is feeling if there is no outside communication most of the time?  But that's where we differ.  I felt this movie pretty much from the get-go.  The bookend where their dinner is interrupted is straight out of my favorite romantic movie of all time, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, where two lovers at a coffee shop near a train station are interrupted and to me, the second bookend from that film might be one of my favorite scenes in movie history.  CAROL was channeling a different time, a different feeling than how we experience love today.  

Today, we text smiley faces and leave Facebook messages constantly to where we know what everybody is feeling at all times.  Back then, it was suggestive and internalized.  Feelings were repressed, emotions were never put on social media for all to experience first-hand.  I longed to return to the times where in high school, I would see someone, and instantly wonder what they're like.  I would often write notes that I would never send due to shyness.  Instead, I would go home and write songs about what it must feel like to be in love, rather than experience it.  Maybe that's a sad fact, but relationships felt like the biggest challenge since the one I was surrounded by was mostly chaotic and uncertain of itself.  I sought refuge in movies where people showed me what love could be, but in reality, it's more complex and difficult to adapt to.  CAROL is really representative of an underdeveloped "self," desperately seeking connection even if it's to the wrong person.  I can say that a lot of my affections in the past were misguided, misplaced and sometimes unrequited.  Seeing this love story transpire felt liberating even if it wasn't chock-full of passion and drama -- the kind that we're used to seeing in these types of settings.  Patricia Highsmith's novel was written in 1952, so it's going to feel like a film that's out of time.  Perhaps even a bit otherworldly to us now, since we experience love and intimacy differently.  Plus we don't know what it's like to be a gay woman living in male dominated times.  Haynes chose to portray the men in CAROL as blissfully ignorant buffoons to some degree, but never judges them at the same time.  It's also a film that wrestles with longing -- is it good, is it bad?  Does longing inherently leave us on the outside looking in?  Therese looks through her camera lens, actively stating that she has trouble photographing "people."  Later in the film, Carol looks at Therese from a distance, longing to feel the way she used to feel.  We can't help who we love, after all.  Haynes chose restraint.  Even a scene where Carol's husband is drunk is very subdued compared to Dennis Quaid's outburst in FAR FROM HEAVEN, which admittedly lives inside the world of Douglas Sirk.  

Restraint often full of empty space isn't immediately something that we can latch onto as viewers.  (A friend and colleague of mine, Corey Pierce, hated the movie DRIVE for how little is spoken between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, but that to me is a strength rather than a fault).  What I've always identified with, for better or worse, is letting emotions breathe and take shape in the mind, rather than externalizing them immediately.  It's gotten me into trouble.  Even by third dates, certain women have said that I have a great "poker face."  It's because I am guarded.  I understand why Therese isn't too keen on being overtly expressive at every instance.  I know for a fact that restraint has kept me from life experience.  I've often too said "Yes" to many things just in hopes that an experience will develop from it.  But I also know that I don't really want much from life outside of a very strong connection with one person, that will hopefully last the rest of my time on this planet.  The ending of CAROL filled me with hope and promise, which felt completely unexpected coming from both Todd Haynes and the subject matter.  There’s still a lingering fear in every frame, the presence of facades, gesture and shadow, the feeling of a set of eyes upon you.  There are instances of voyeurism throughout, perhaps a tip of the hat to Hitchcock but that might be a stretch.  However, look very closely at the shot that goes from Therese on a train, to suddenly transitioning as she walks up to her apartment.  That's pure craftsmanship -- a shot of design that wouldn't be out of place in the world of Paul Thomas Anderson or yes, David Lean.  Language is also inadequate to describe the true feeling of love, trapping you from full expression. What to do when the words that exist, the subcultures and classifications to fit oneself into, cannot accurately describe what is happening, what one feels and thinks, indeed feels alienated from all parts of society?   In a way this is a movie that could've been done by Terrence Davies of THE DEEP BLUE SEA, but in the hands of Todd Haynes, we get to experience a different vision of what it's like to "feel."  And I can't explain why I felt so much throughout every frame of this movie.  Is it because I know what it's like to be more internal and quiet, rather than assertive and assured?  

The movie felt like going through old photographs in a shoebox, recalling past love and hoping for more.  Or watching old Super 8 movies my grandfather shot on reel-to-reels.  Maybe it's languidness is a turn-off, but it's exactly what I want from movies.  I'll certainly enjoy more Edgar Wright movies a lot, as well as anything with a certain energy to it, but what's wrong with the complete opposite?  It could simply be like in the case of TAKE THIS WALTZ, where I identified so strongly with what was taking place, that maybe my ability to criticize this as "lesser work from Todd Haynes," is not applicable here.  In fact, I started writing all of this to make sense of the backlash and "externalize" my own stream-of-consciousness response to a first and only viewing thus far.  There's been an unexpected response of "this movie did nothing for me," that I cannot comprehend whatsoever.  When people call it ordinary or nothing we haven't seen before, they immediately sound like Charlie Brown's teacher to me.  That opinion is foreign in my mind, but obviously, I understand that we're all different and experience movies very differently.  I just love the artistry of Todd Haynes -- every film he's done has moved me to some degree or another.  Some have a stylistic energy all its own like VELVET GOLDMINE, while this seems to live in the world of fleeting memories of love lost and found again.  It's an experience flung out of space, an unusual one that deserves to be commended for how distinctively simple it is.  I still feel like it's unfolding somehow.  The greatest movies linger, and to hear that some people are not experiencing that, makes me sad.  But I'm happy for me that I get to experience movies like these in my lifetime.  Movies that quietly show and don't scream.  In the still of the night, love remains more of a mystery to some rather than a given.  Even at the end of the brilliant 45 YEARS, which contains an unforgettable use of the song "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," you're still not sure what to think as you gather perspective from someone who is suddenly unsure of themselves and their place.  CAROL has a different ending that spoke to me.  I am sure that love is out there, somewhere within reach.  CAROL made me feel love for movies too, in a way that reminded me of the best experiences throughout my lifetime.  If you didn't, well, I'm sure there are others from 2015 you can point to, but as close as both THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY came, something about CAROL came even closer as a representation of what relationships "feel" like to me.  A+

James Laczkowski