By Heinrich Domingo
Queer cinema is often associated with a coming-of-age theme that portrays gay characters as sexual creatures whose libido cannot be controlled. In popular cinema, gay men are represented by Brokeback Mountain and gay women by Blue is the Warmest Colour, both known for their raunchy sex scenes. Carol’s entry changes the narrative. It offers a glimpse of a gay relationship devoid of stereotypes – that lesbians can still be mothers, that there is no need for a “masculine” figure in lesbian relationships, and that even old women can come out. It tells a lesbian love story as simply a tale of two people falling for each other.
Set in the year 1952, a mother (played by Cate Blanchett) is going through a difficult divorce. While shopping for a train set for her daughter, she met a shop girl (played by Rooney Mara). The two developed a friendship and later on fell in love with each other. In an effort to keep his wife, Carol’s husband threatens her with battle custody for their daughter. He petitioned the judge to consider a morality clause citing Carol as being homosexual. This film tells the sad reality on how the world can be cruel even to people whose love is real. It delivers gender discourse in a mature setting paired with issues of marital woes and child custody.
Despite the rise of gay films today, there remains to be various aspects waiting to be uncovered. While arts and humanism have exploited the topic of heterosexual romantic relationships, we still lack knowledge on how cinema could capture love between same sexes. Thus, Carol’s plot opens a new door for gender discourse. The question of would you choose your lover over your daughter is a conflict that extends our understanding of forbidden love. It confronts us on our biases towards choosing between maternal love and romantic love but more so, it makes us think why would Carol even need to choose? If only we live in a society that allows diversity, her tale would be of a happy ending.
A complex character like Carol is difficult to embody in front of a camera. She is a person who is strong enough to admit her sexuality but can easily fold for her little daughter. Cate Blanchett’s performance gave justice to such character. She stood in the middle of the big screen depicting a proud but troubled woman. With her is an equally good performance of Rooney Mara who rightfully portrayed a naïve beautiful girl about to unleash her beauty.
The production design wraps the movie into one complete package. From the character’s wardrobe to the iconic cars of their era, the realistic backdrop completes the vibe of the whole film.
This film notably discusses the topic of gender identities inside gay relationships. It quashes the butch-femme culture and allows the two characters be who they are. This is one stereotype that has been continuously fought by the LGBT community. Love does not require gender, it just generates more love.
Five decades later, Carol’s plight is no different from many of us. They continue to unfairly choose between two equally important matters. This film is meant to provide us a map on how we have progressed through the years. But where we are today is the same scenario they have in the past.