Carol Movie Review
Every year, critics reward a movie for being relevant more than actually being a good film. This year, that award goes to CAROL, a forbidden love story between two women in a time when being gay was considered an indecent way of behaving. We’ve seen movies like this before; two people fall in love and society doesn’t accept it. The interracial love story in FAR FROM HEAVEN (also from Todd Haynes) comes to mind as does any period drama involving a have and have-not. Critics are going to sell you on CAROL as being an important, quality film, but please don’t let them fool you; CAROL is a shallow movie with shallow characters.
Therese (Mara) is a poor shop girl that catches the eye of Carol (Blanchett). Their relationship gets off to a slow start, first by meeting up for tea, then escalating to a road trip after Carol learns she might lose custody of her daughter. But Carol is torn between her obligations to her daughter and her supposed love for Therese. She must make a choice to either continue living a lie to be a mother to her child or live with Therese and only see her daughter occasionally.
If Carol was named Carl and played by an older male, I believe the world would hate this movie. We’d call Carl names and insult him for abandoning his family and following his sexual desires. But somehow that gets lost with Carol and instead we call it “beautiful” and “sad” because she’s a homosexual. The same thing applies if we keep everything the same and gender swap Therese; society would immediately assume the young male was trying to swindle Carol or had some other ulterior motives. Why do Therese and Carol get a pass because they’re homosexuals? My frustration with CAROL lies in the fact that if we remove the homosexuality of the characters, it immediately falls apart. Director Todd Haynes didn’t take the time to establish either character to the point that we cared about them, nor did we buy into their passionate love story, at least not enough to where we accepted the decisions they made. Sure, it’s efficiently told with beautiful settings and a nice score, but the plot and characters are so shallow and underdeveloped that the movie fails as a love story.
I’d also like to compare Carol to one of the best films of 2013 (see my top ten list), BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, which also featured a lesbian couple. Blue featured two incredible performances and told a powerful, sensual love story between two people that happened to be homosexual. In other words, although the characters were gay, that was not the only thing we knew about them. Director and writer Abdellatif Kechiche took the time to develop rich, deep characters that anyone could relate to and we laughed, cried and felt pain as the characters’ relationship progressed. The same cannot be said for CAROL, which featured two empty, shallow characters. We knew very little about them and the audience had no reason to feel sympathy for their plight. Carol was a privileged woman with no job, background or interests other than Therese. She did have a daughter that she seemed to love, even though she was quick to abandon her in order to continue sleeping with whomever she wanted. Again, a privileged white man that abandons his family for a young woman is considered a shallow, irresponsible pig, but a gay woman that does it is considered brave and beautiful. Even the most liberal critic would have a hard time justifying that double standard.
Critics suffered through a similar thing in 2013 where if you didn’t love 12 YEARS A SLAVE, you were clearly racist (Ellen even joked about this during the Oscars that year). You weren’t racist if you didn’t like 12 YEARS A SLAVE, just like you’re not homophobic if you don’t like CAROL. It’s okay to ask more from your movies than for them to cover a sensitive topic. Our culture rewards critics that pander to particular way of thinking, but if movie critics can’t look past the subject matter of a film and see it for what it really is, then I’m not sure there’s much use for critics anymore.