03 January 2016

Empathizing with the Unknown

A dying wish for empathizing with the unknown, Todd Haynes' Carol pushes us into the realm of a persecuted lesbian love blossoming under the covers of 1950s America, forcing us to divine rectitude when encompassed by utter hatred towards that which is yet to be understood.

With holiday spirit, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) offers her shopping assistant, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), to lunch, forming the beginnings of their hidden amorous relationship. Carol, mother of one, struggles with divorcing her physically abusive husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), while Therese's corroding relationship with her boyfriend (Jake Lacy) ends without much effort, quickly joining the two women together in a love borne in abandonment. Together, they discard their decaying pasts and commence a road trip westward, still only individually cognizant of their mutual love.

One evening, in a soft hotel room in Waterloo, Carol finally kisses Therese for the first time, unleashing a loving and passionate evening, only broken when the man next door (Cory Michael Smith) reveals himself to be Harge's private detective and explains that his tapes of the previous evening have already been sent.

Indeed, Carol rests upon the contemporarily striking premise that proof of Carol's homosexual tendencies is enough to keep her from her daughter, following the divorce, artificially rendering her mentally unfit for parenthood and, to a greater extent, societal inclusion. Despite this claim's apparent illogicality, it has long operated as a legal basis for marital judiciary, forcing those failing to fit within the clinical mold of a nuclear family to either give up critical aspects of their own identities in exchange for dignity or face unending ostracism for exhibiting their true selves.

Carol is ultimately exiled from her family, all for expressing her genuine desires, while Therese opts to silence her inner yearnings, in favor of receiving some interpersonal respect. Given the unfortunate choice of guarding one's identity or receiving dignified treatment, their decisions vary, harmed by circumstance, but their love ultimately remains.

In that Jagten can be seen as a universal call for truth, Carol engenders a prayer for empathy, a wish to understand the unknown, rather than dismissing it as difficult and resorting to ostracism. Within Carol, though, is a secretly blossoming love, its beauty maturing and advancing in every scene, and while it fails to satisfy any audience's hunger for interpersonal equity, its grace may be enough to hold us over.

Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) talks with her shopping assistant, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) at a local department store.Image Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

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