A Christmas Carol
The holidays are an especially sensitive and perhaps even fractious time for everyone. Staunchly anti-holiday folks find themselves relentlessly bombarded with a deluge of violent images of merriment—both religious and commercial in nature—and hostile reminders from literally everyone that if they aren’t partaking in the festivities, they’re fucking Satan reincarnate. Avid holidayers find themselves constantly and exhaustingly trying to keep up with the demands of outdoing their holiday performance of years’ past, rendering them a Sisyphus hopelessly waiving a menorah or futilely donning a Santa hat as their loved ones ignore their sobs for help. Everyone’s depression reaches stunning new nadirs, while, distressingly, ALL THERAPISTS SEEM TO GO ON VACATION?? YOU NEED TO GO TO CAMBODIA ON DECEMBER 16TH REALLY???? I am INCESSANTLY tormented by that fucked-up, monstrous Claymation Rudolph special that haunts my dreams in a way no other childhood trauma does. And, the gays are ultimately unmoored in a sea of holiday stress and joy alike.
The end of November through December 31st can be unpleasant battlegrounds for the queers, more so than for other folks (usually more unpleasant, I’m sure there’s the stray straight that has a tougher time on Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Ramadan/Kwanza/Christmas than a queer…I doubt it….but I don’t want to erase them!). We’ve sought respite at college living our best (or worst—but at least more liberated) queer lives, only to return home to obfuscate or have certain dimensions of our queer or trans* identities scrutinized and denigrated by family members. Or perhaps we have wholly wonderful and supportive families but know we are separated from partners or have to witness our partners suffer through the backlash from unaccepting or even hateful families. You have to have a pained silent night through the tacky, TACKY heterosexual decoration decisions. While there’s plenty of gayness to be claimed or appropriated during the holidays—the devout binge drinking and omnipresence of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, specifically—holidays can feel particularly isolating for queers.
But in 2015—November 20, 2015, lest anyone forget—a little gay Christmas miracle sashayed down the chimney into the hearts of countless, eager-beaver beans and forever altered the landscape of queer cinema—specifically DYKE cinema—and DEFINED queer holiday cinema. It’s Carol. I’m talking about Carol, just so we’re clear (The Night Before came out that weekend too, which I enjoyed and also featured very-gay-yet-straight icon Lizzy Caplan and distinctly-gay icon Kate McKinnon, but didn’t exactly have the same impact as Carol, ya know?). Carol, the film adaptation of the profoundly and groundbreakingly queer Patricia Highsmith 1952 romance novel The Price of Salt, is the story of the agonized love between two women—Teresa Belivet (Rooney Mara) and titular Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett)—in an unforgiving age. Though the film is not expressly billed as holiday film, the Christmas backdrop and sheer queer jubilation of the film as a declarative gay-lady thesis piece (when that demographic remains despicably underrepresented and tokenized) is a FUCKING HOLIDAY GIFT TO BEAT ALL GIFTS.
And so, to return the blog I’ve had to break from momentarily, and to celebrate being at my parents’ home with a trough of ~~free and discounted booze~~I’ve decided that rather than write an extensive or immersive review or critique of Carol (which I’ve done! For a couple of publications! I’m not self-tooting my horn though), I would, instead, open the $3.95 bottle of Trader Joe’s Tempranillo (if you know anything about Tempranillo, and I know very little, it should really never be $3.95—arguably, no wine should be, either) and give an alcohol-fueled, written audio commentary of Carol.
I would like to acknowledge that Carol is FAR from perfect, and the film signifies the perpetuation of cis, white queerness in popular media that I personally find inexcusable.
But Carol is, nevertheless, a milestone of sorts in the queer canon. And very near and dear to my queer heart. So, I’m going to embark on this little expedition. What a Christmas treat. What a joy. Join me, won’t you.
1:39: Wow, right off the bat, this fucking soundtrack is so sublime. Evocative and chilling and just the right level of instrumental curiosity to properly convey the illicit intrigue between the women throughout the film. Carter Burwell is great. And whatever that one wind instrument (of course it’s a mouth heavy instrument because LESBIANS, AMIRITE) is that features so prominently. Phenomenal. Is it a piccolo? What is a piccolo? Maybe I should play piccolo.
3:33: An important frame because we first get Carol and Therese together. I have to say, one of the triumphs of this film—and there are many, in addition to its many flaws—is that I am deeply engaged in this film’s eros despite being deeply unattracted to both starring women. Don’t get me wrong, Rooney Mara is lovely, and Cate Blanchett is obviously devastatingly beautiful and certainly the voice in my head that narrated every test and SAT question I read in high school (but my LOTR boners were always for Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen—I likes ‘em brunette, exhausted, and strong-thighed). But I’m not particularly attracted to either of them. But their chemistry and this film’s finesse really fucks me up, fam.
4:12: That FUCKING shoulder grasp. It just epitomizes queer longing and queer relationships so exquisitely and so brutally. It’s having to express everything in glances, and touches, and discretion. Ugh. Ugh. Fucking ugh.
6:20: Look, many of the unpleasantries of this film and the source material are the upsetting statements and implications about class and sexual freedom/class and self-knowledge, and class and power dynamic in queer relationships. This introductory depiction of Therese—in her sad, frigid hovel, waiting for her ho-hum working class stiff of a boyfriend, going to their monotonous, homogenized retail job—starts to really drive home an unsettling theme throughout the movie. Not only does Therese sell and ultimately REPRESENT the commoditized goods that she sells in the store (toys, dolls, clothes, etc.) that are valued primarily (or solely) for how consumable they are and how much joy they bring a far more privileged class, her sexuality and sexual awakening is constantly framed in a nascent or lacking state because she lacks the privilege and ecumenical growth that someone like Carol or Abby (Sarah Paulson) can access because of their class advantage. Their relationship always has a pretext of advantageousness of classism, and it’s uncomfortable.
7:18: Did people really ride bikes like this in the 50s? Or ever? Because I would break up with someone immediately if their idea of seduction was shattering the last fragments of my hymen on the back of a bike like this. I hate this. I always have. I don’t even particularly hate the stupid boyfriend, because he’s just really unobtrusively useless and insipid. But this bike-riding is AWFUL. Sorry, I’ll stop stopping so much.
10:35: Ok, I like and appreciate the point that’s trying to be made here and I imagine the point that was very cutting edge in the 50s, but like, plenty of cis and trans* dykes and bi/queer kiddos love dolls. And hate trains. Or love trains and dolls. Or hate trains and dolls. Even when you’re bucking the conventions of heteronormativity with your toy selection, you can be reinforcing the immuring stereotypes of heteronormativity. Honestly, even more so. Which maybe wasn’t the point here. But it was a signal, and I just wanted to address it. As a bisexual who is stressed out by dolls, trains, and civil engineering.
11:00: Carol’s Cavernous Pussy Energy is out of control, by the way. Also fucking let her smoke in the store. Let everyone smoke in the store. Of all the fucked up, antiquated, harmful bullshit Trump ushered in, he couldn’t have harkened back to something enjoyable, like chainsmoking in department stores. WE’RE MORE STRESSED OUT THAN EVER, LET US FUCKING SMOKE EVERYWHERE.
13:53: Oh, fucking hell on ice it’s THIS fucking guy. The movie critic. Donnie. Shit on a stick, he’s insufferable. “Right now I’m charting the correlation between what the characters say and what they really feel.” First of all, no you’re fucking not. Second of all, it’s probably not mansplaining but I’m pretty sure it is so fuck off. I saw Overlord in theatres, and as soon as he showed up I yelled “THIS FUCKING GUY.”
17:18: This is a really nice moment where Carol demands a dumb man to not regard a woman as “someone’s wife” but actually allow them personhood and refer to them by their name. Nice one, Carol.
17:20: I need to be honest—I don’t know how to NOT be attracted to Kyle Chandler in any role. He’s just perfect. To me, he is perfect. I just. And Harge is often WRETCHED (although, at times, understandably upset) and has the worst name that sounds like a refrigerator line. But fuck me, my garter is in a permanent bunch for Kyle Chandler. Wow.
18:26: Shout-out to this department store manager for being a one-dimensional, consistent cunt.
20:02: BITCH GET YOUR OWN LUNCH. This is the power-dynamic thing not-so-subtly snaking through the film. Also, creamed spinach over poached eggs sounds rough.
21:34: One of the things director and gay-noir-boy Todd Haynes does so well with this film is imbue it with hints of a suspense/thriller film. So much of that sort of furtive, anxious nature was synonymous with being queer for so long—your identity had to be enshrouded in mystery, and so to did your potential romantic dealings. Also, Patricia Highsmith was a gifted suspense author, and most of her novels were of the genre. OH! She wrote Strangers on a Train! How did I not know that?? I really thought it was Agatha Christie. Both dykes, tbh.
23:14: Uggggghh. It’s the “flung out of space” line. I get what was trying to be accomplished here. I do. And I’ve been in plenty of dating/flirting situations where I have remarked how weird or peculiar someone is or they have said the same thing to me, and, at least when I’ve said it (and for the most part I believe when they have said it too) it’s been in earnest—a genuine appreciation for an odd sense of humor or bizarre way of analyzing things. But that’s after we have known each other for more than like, 22 minutes? And the main facts you know about a person exceed their inability to make simple decisions for themselves? It essentially works as a bit here if you don’t think about it too hard and you get swept up in the seduction of the scene (which is INTENSE). But. It seems like another example of Carol’s emotional/relational colonizing. And also, if a cis, straight man said that to a cis or trans* woman, especially a YOUNGER cis or trans* woman, how would we react. How exoticizing would that feel. (But in tackier notes, I did indicate that Terese is “wet as fuq” at this point).
23:47: GUYS IT’S SARAH PAULSON IT’S MY WIFE SARAH PAULSON FUCK FUCK FUCK PLEASE NEVER LEAVE.
24:35: WOW SARAH PAULSON EXPRESSING THE ENDLESS BAGGAGE HEAPED UPON THE FIRST WOMAN WHO THE HETEROSEXUAL-PRESENTING WOMAN HAS A RELATIONSHIP WITH AND THEN REMAINS FRIENDS WITH IS A REALLY BIG FUCKING MOOD YEP MMMHMM.
31:00: I have no notes through that awful fucking party and that other seen with THIS FUCKING GUY but let me just say this $3.95 Tempranillo is honestly not bad. If I had elected to take an Adderall for this endeavor, I would’ve probably declared it the best cheap wine of all time and maniacally promised to buy 4 more bottles. But since I chose not to do that, this wine is…fine. I am dismayed Pittsburgh’s TJ’s doesn’t sell booze.
(Actually backtrack: Carol’s daughter’s name is…Rindy?? What the fuck are these fucking names? And she has the audacity to say Therese is a funky name? RINDY?? Is that short for something? Rindaloo??)
(Also, when Carol says “Abby and I were over longer before you and I were over, Harge,” is there a better or classier way to confirm an extramarital relationship??)
33:08: “You Belong to Me” will never not fuck me up in the most orgasmic way because of this fucking movie.
35:15: Yo, quit making tea for Carol and Rindaloo and fucking get yours, Therese.
35:39: This is the weirdest fucking booty call.
37: 30: GET YOUR BARE-WHORE-FEET COVERED, CAROL, HARGE IS COMING.
38:19: Everything that happens in this film between Carol and Harge in terms of custody and fighting over Rindaloo is honestly gut-wrenching and tragic. However. It’s yet another manifestation of the trenchant and problematic classism of the film. This debate wouldn’t be happening in a lower-socioeconomic dynamic, or in a 1950s POC relationship/domestic setting. And the privileged lens that queerness and domesticity/families are examined through in this movie have to be remembered.
43:10: A thing I sort of tend to gloss over is the fact that this movie is absolutely RELENTLESS. There is no levity. There are no jokes. This is The Babadook of dramatic lesbian period pieces. Like, you know how some horror films just have no jokes? Like even fucking Hereditary has some genuine laughs at the expense of a dead 13 year old. But Babadook and Carol? No jokes, no breaks. Even the optimistic or sexy scenes are immeasurably HEAVY. I saw this movie 5 times in theatres. FIVE. Like I was severely depressed and in a wildly unhealthy relationship but FIVE?? Fuck, I must’ve been unpleasant.
(Ok, just to clarify, I’m a repeat-offender for movies in theatres. I saw The Strangers 6 times the summer before my senior year of high school. I saw Inglorious Basterds 5 times. I think I saw Contagion, no joke, 8 times. It’s how I disassociate.)
46:00: I appreciate the earnestness of this homosexual lawyer.
47:13: I am GENUINELY intrigued about the conversation that surrounded making down-dyke Abby the godmother to little Rindaloo.
53:11: A MORALITY CLAUSE, Abby. You know. The clause your vagina caused. (I don’t mean that but Harge CLEARLY means that, ya know)
53:46: This fucking dialogue so perfectly typifies that saying everything by saying nothing style of rhetoric that two women who are best friends who previously were lovers have. It’s so sweet and so melancholic and so indicative of always wanting a relationship with a person that a small part of you will constantly mourn what you could’ve had. Fuck. It’s scenes like this that really help make the movie as good as it is.
57:32: Here’s the thing, as dull and Germanic as he is…is the sorta-boyfriend…wrong? In this situation specifically. Because of course #CarolQueers know the truth and of course we want to indulge our strongest whims of desire, but his investment in the situation aside, ol Jim Bob isn’t wrong (that’s not the sorta-boyfriend’s name, but it seems like it should be). There’s primarily infatuation and A LOT of baggage going for them at this point, and now Therese is like “fleeing a custody battle road trip time!” Like, it’s one time of a dyke-dream, but it’s not a healthy one. Saying “I’ve never been more wide awake” or whatever Therese screams in reference to going cross country with a woman she barely knows and conflating that with coming out, while romantic, is DEEPLY problematic. She is also just RAMPANTLY mean to Jim Bob, and while you find yourself agreeing with Therese, you kinda realize it’s for the sake of wanting to see her bone Carol. Which is icky. Deserved, but. Icky. Also, I have aggressive wardrobe envy for Jim Bob for most of this film.
1:00:19: FIRST CHRISTMAS SONG!!! It has a long of timbre and robustness. Unlike this wine.
1:00:30: I just realized Carol really looks like my mom in those glasses when she’s driving and I feel ill.
1:01:17: I’d like to point out the extent of their physical contact at this hour-into the film has been hand grazes and meaningful shoulder-holds and that is great but also INFURIATING tension. Also, don’t drive cross country with a stranger unless you’ve fucked is my thought. But I am **profoundly tacky**.
1:03:31: Do you think Sarah Paulson was fucking that red-head she was talking about in her earlier scene when ol Harge-Barge interrupts her right her? Wow, I hope so. Is there a deleted scenes dvd somewhere that just has an extended scene of that? Sign me up. I also hate Harge officially after this interaction. So. Phew.
(Additional note: Abby lives in that GIGANTIC house by herself? What the fuck does she do for a living? IS SHE AN ASSASSIN? IS SHE A SAPPHIC ASSASSIN?? UGH I HOPE SO.)
1:06:54: I had a recurring fantasy as a teen that I had a passionate and very sexual affair with either Alan Rickman or Sam Waterson in a motel that looked almost identical to this one, so this scene always does a LOT to my mental state.
(But also, YES THERESE. PUSH FOR THAT PRESIDENTIAL SUITE. GET THAT ASS, GIRL. SHOW GOOD AGENCY.)
1:07:27: THIS OTHER FUCKING GUY. NERDBALLS.
1:08:12: I’m always so torn if this “let’s do makeup and put on perfume” foreplay situation is endearing or fucking creepy (especially given the fact that the impetus for this trip is the Rindaloo custody battle; and the fact that everyone prefaces this trip by calling Therese a girl and “so young”) and I think it’s decisively creepy.
(Additionally: WOW “To President McKinley is the only fucking joke in this movie, and even that is SOMBER. LESBIAN BABADOOK.)
1:10:16: I really dig this wallpaper, shit.
1:13:51: On the voicemail Carol almost leaves, we find out Harge-Barge’s full name is HARGESS?? WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE 50S.
(She also LIES about calling HARGESS which is bad news bears, Carol)
1:18:49: SO, the first sex scene just happened (which, like, phenomenal there is more than ONE sex scene in a queer lady film!). And like. First of all. I’m wildly aroused. Every time. Not going to pretend that I am not. Every time. Which, again, should be a nod to the quality of the film and the talent of Cate Blanchett (and her VERY sinewy back, wow) and Rooney Mara. Because I’m otherwise very uninvested in these women (unlike, say, the women in Disobedience, who I am VERY invested in). Second of all, I think I really appreciate how awkward this scene is. Like it’s just as awkward as it is passionate, and that’s absolutely to its benefit and enhances the vulnerable authenticity of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, or if you’re fucking in Waterloo, Iowa—sex is fucking awkward. Third, there are some problems with this scene. The “my angel” and “mine never looked like those” lines that Carol thinks are real big come-ons, I guess, really further put Therese in that exoticized position. It’s not great. But the sex is great. It’s great sex. I don’t know.
(Fourth additional note: Carol is a BITER, which I respect. Get Therese a scarf.)
1:19:59: This whole abrupt plot point of Carol having a gun is honestly really sexy. Also, how FUCKING INVASIVE to have their entire first time recorded for evidence for Harge-Barge by THIS OTHER FUCKING GUY. (Was this a thing that happened often??)]
(Additional note: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT LAMP, MAY I HAVE IT????)
1:24:13: Gah, this second sex scene is a B-U-M-M-E-R. Much like this wine. And the solidified sour cream on my chipotle leftovers that I ill-fatedly decided to endeavor upon willing wrapping gifts for my father.
(Oh, Carol is a choker, too. I dig it.)
1:26:20: SHOUTOUT TO ALL THE DYKE FORMER GIRLFRIENDS-NOW BEST FRIENDS WHO HAVE TO RESUCE THE CURRENT GIRLFRIEND OF THEIR EX/CURRENT-BEST FRIEND. WOOF. GOOD FOR YOU ABBY.
1:53:19: Ok, I had to skip to the end because I was irritating myself with how much I was stopping. Very few endings make me feel the visceral emotion upon each viewing that I feel every time I watch Carol. And it’s a fucking punch of queer jubilation, too, because you think this fucking movie is going to conclude like every fucking movie with the fucking gals going their separate ways in absolute dreary misery and no queer love ever gets requited, but GUESS THE FUCK WHAT, ASSHOLES, THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN HERE. And this final sequence—where Therese runs to go find Carol (during her all-dudes party at some club—weirdly very hot) and finally asserts some fucking agency—it’s so beautifully shot (like the rest of the film) and so perfectly silent and just. UGH. FUCKING CAROL. FUCK. WAY TO GO, CAROL. YOU FUCKED ME UP AGAIN.
So that’s all, folx. We got to live the HoliGay miracle of a moment by moment breakdown of the great queer Christmas classic, Carol. I hope we all learned something. I learned that I must be fucking ANNOYING to watch movies with, which is probably why I do so alone most of the time. It’s my holiday wish that the queer cinematic landscape—especially the POPULAR queer cinematic landscape—expands and diversifies, encompassing the multitude of identities that make up the queer community.
And remember, Tempranillo should never, ever, be $3.95 (but I am going to buy 4 more bottles and smuggle them back up to Pittsburgh).
Happy HoliGays, weirdos.