The importance of ‘Carol’


Carol is a 2015 film directed by Todd Haynes that delves into the buried LGBTQ+ community in 1950’s America. Following the story of Therese and Carol, the film portrays the complexity of love between two wholly opposite women in a repressive society. 

Carol is pivotal to LGBTQ+ cinema for its exploration of a female relationship that is raw, bold and emotional. This is especially apt when considering the setting, as gay rights only began to gain significance in 1954 with the formation of the Wolfenden Committee. This committee believed that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’, displaying the first steps towards meaningful change. 

Haynes displays that love between women is not a novelty, nor is it less important than heterosexual relationships

With this in mind, Haynes displays that love between women is not a novelty, nor is it less important than heterosexual relationships. By choosing to portray a group marginalised in their time period, Haynes displays that such relationships have always existed, but have had to do so below the surface. 

Carol, a woman somewhat secure in her sapphism, juxtaposes the character of Therese, who begins to quietly accept her sexuality as the film progresses. By portraying the two extremes of self-assurance (and emphasising these are not fixed poles), Carol highlights that coming to terms with one’s sexuality is not an easy road. 

Still, there is something to be said for the beautifully serendipitous love that Carol and Therese embark upon. Their chance meeting at the store in which Therese works, and their evident immediate attraction to one another, highlights that love often arises in the most unexpected of places. 

Following several more charming meetings between the pair, Carol and Therese embark on both a physical and an emotional journey, exploring the country whilst coming to terms with their sapphic emotions. Carol and Therese are placed in a state of liminality through their travels, losing their confining identities and blooming as characters. They thrive off of this ‘non-existence’, living solely with one another in a state of impermanence. 

As with any age-gap partnership portrayed in cinema, the film risks presenting a fetishised version of Carol and Therese’s love; however, Carol does not play into this stereotype. In fact, their difference in age is hardly discussed. Indeed, Carol and Therese’s age is only a barrier because Carol does not want to prevent Therese from enjoying her youth. Carol knows that ‘everything comes full circle’ and so comes to the decision to ‘do the only thing I can: I release you’. 

The film is one of unadulterated significance for many gay women who are unsure of their sexuality

By releasing Therese from their love affair, Carol allows their relationship to bloom organically. The evident growth of Therese after their relationship ends emphasises why there is the suggestion that the two may reform their partnership in the final scenes of the film: she is finally ready for a relationship with Carol. Therese’s growth (which is shown in the way she dresses, styles her hair and speaks) displays that she is no longer the feeble woman she once was. By showing such growth within lesbian relationships, Carol embodies a film that the LGBTQ+ community are proud to call their own.

In terms of pride in cinematic representation of lesbian relationships in Carol, the film most definitely succeeds in curating a film that is wonderfully poignant and embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. The film is one of unadulterated significance for many gay women who are unsure of their sexuality. Although it was only released in 2015, a mere 7 years ago, the film was one of the first that I personally saw in mainstream television. Unlike many of its LGBTQ+ predecessors, it was perceived as ‘regular’ viewing material that was not just for the queer eye, but for the heterosexual community too. 

Despite the fact that the society explored in Carol is incomparable to the world we live in currently, the struggles faced are inevitably the same. Homosexual women still face the denial of rights, prejudice and poor treatment. Carol is the exploration of a dangerously repressive society, forming a microcosm for many of the issues faced in intolerant families today. For this reason, Carol is timeless in its importance to lesbian women. 

Carol is a must-watch for anyone in need of a painful (yet extremely gratifying) romance set in a beautifully cinematic universe.

Image Credits: Norbu GYACHUNG via Unsplash

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