Carol ★★★★

Under capitalism, they treat it not as a state of being, a fundamental part of us, but a choice, a decision, an action, a behavior. A pattern of behavior, but a behavior. Until the mass LGBTQ movements of the mid-20th century forced a shift in the narrative, this is how the law treated us, how society viewed us, and even how some of us viewed ourselves. It was people like Harry Hay and Sylvia Rivera and the movements they led that forced the misconceptions--born under patriarchy--to start their slow death.

This is the world of Carol. Carol Aird is accused not of being queer, gay, lesbian, dyke, faggot, homosexual, but of a "pattern of behavior." All she wants is to be herself; society views it as a choice, an action. The outrage Harge feels is at her choices. The answer is psychotherapy (read: torture) to "cure" whatever drives her to this behavior.

The threat hanging over her is the loss of her child. The choice she makes isn't to engage in homosexual behavior. It's to give up the lie of patriarchal domesticity, to let go of the shackles of the closet. Even before we pushed back against the capitalist lie of heteronormativity and carved out our identities renewed under their oppression, the closet was there. We hid ourselves, our behaviors, our identities. We hid deep in closets, as we do now, to protect ourselves. Some of us clung to the lie of domestic bliss (some still do) and sought "normal" lives, playing the role of the heterosexual. Carol, whether she is lesbian or bisexual or queer or whatever, finds the lie unbearable.

Therese has bought into the lie. The idea of a gay love affair is terrifying to her (but better than boat tickets). For her, the risks are just as severe--losing the protection of the closet--but presented as lower stakes because she has yet to reap the benefits of living the lie. She's working class. Her livelihood, her job, could be lost. She could lose her family. She could lose everything, but the film focuses more on Carol and her decisions. When Carol comes into Therese's life, trailed by her wealth and privilege, she sees something she desires and goes after it.

What this gets undeniably right is that the nuclear family myth is the core of (upper petty) bourgeois society. That's what Carol loses, aside from her daughter. Therese avoids living that lie; Carol has to destroy it to escape. Therese is simply the final straw. The film's centering of Carol's struggle on losing Rindy instead of her wealth and privilege humanizes Carol, whose icy demeanor inexplicably failed to freeze Harge solid years ago. It also distracts from her personal relationship to her class position and shifts that to be a prison for her. While the sympathy for the rich woman (who, remember, is living off stolen wealth like all other rich people) is a flaw in the narrative, it also illustrates how intrinsically tied the ruling class's values are to the construction of the closet.

They, after all, have all of the power. When one of their own betrays them, they can take everything away.

This is all to say that the film is impressive in its ability to both humanize these characters and call subtle attention (if you know what to look for) to their roles in their own oppression. Carol Aird is only reluctantly part of the oppressor class because of its impact on herself. That impact is portrayed in a way that condemns the oppressor class while keeping Carol sympathetic. Most films fail at this--and this one certainly doesn't do so perfectly.

But the storytelling lets us forget that and focus on the love story, the intense passion, the glorious illusion of freedom from the closet on the road trip. The film lets us feel Carol's love for Therese and for Rindy. And when she renounces the world of the patriarchal lie, the impact of that moment is incredible.

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