by Cass Cannon
I don’t need to watch a woman with a complicated past get kissed by a man as a delicate snow flurry dusts their eye lashes. I don’t need stories about moms and dads rekindling their marriages for the kids as presents get unwrapped. This isn’t a call to action to stop making or enjoying those movies. No, this is my cold queer heart needing other storylines to bundle up in as the temperature dips below 30. I need Christmas movies I can relate to. Movies like Gremlins, Eyes Wide Shut — hell, I need more Christmas movies like Carol.
In this fabulously art directed mid-century combination of Hitchcock and Saphhos, we meet Therese Bellivet. She’s sweet, but wide-eyed and nervous. She’s got a good job at a department store, has a clean cut and well meaning boyfriend and, yet, something isn’t right. As she navigates scene after scene, all tinged with that off-mint-green that’s inherent to contemporary interpretations of the '60s, we are shown — with such few words and no need for explanation — the exact nature of Therese Bellivet’s discomfort. We meet, through Therese’s eyes, the grandeur that is Carol Aird — the glimmer of store-lighting on her polished nails, her one sided smirk, her coded flirtation. The longing that is conjured in this love story is as staggering as it is accurate to the time.
Even in 2017, queerness is oft relegated to the realm of illness. Sure, now we’re afforded more legal and societal protections, but back in the '60s (... and '70s… and '80s… and '90s…) there were virtually none. In fact, being queer was an arrestable offence and it was near to impossible to find the pockets of queer folks that did exist. So imagine, you have this boyfriend with whom you know you don’t fit, you don’t have words to describe how you’re feeling because no one you know is queer, and among all of this discomfort, is a beautiful woman named Carol.
The romance between Carol and Therese, unlike many a romance movies, is one through which both women end up better. After proof of the nature of their relationship threatens to strip Carol of visitation rights, she isn’t forced, but rather quite readily owns her “questionable morality” and demands a compromise with her ex-husband. In one of the best shut down scenes I’ve ever seen, she says, "What use am I to [Rindy], to us, if I'm living against my own grain? So that's the deal. I won't — I cannot — negotiate anymore. You take it or leave it. But if you leave it, we go to court." And with that, Carol sets herself free. Sure, the love between her and Therese helped grease the wheels and is by no means unimportant, but I think that both women needed to create their own stabilities before we are allowed the potential of possibility.
Carol isn’t about a lurid affair. It isn’t about that one gay relative framed as the other. Truly, it’s almost hard to describe at all beyond a really honest and emotional look at the beginnings of something real. The audience doesn’t walk away feeling bad for those queer ladies; they are meant to walk away with the feeling of what happens next? Where do our characters — where do we — go from here?
Or, if my Christmas wish comes true, every movie in 2018 will be gay.