#RoadtoOscars… Reflections on CAROL.
I must confess — I have been avoiding this film. There was something about the wistful trailer overlaid with piano music that signaled the kind of drama I would resent for its resonance, particularly given all the crap I’ve had to deal with in Nigeria. It seems it doesn’t matter what time period or continent I escape to; girl meets girl can never just happen in peace.
In Carol, the film’s subtle narrative is sporadically interrupted by reality, be it sudden jolts back to the present from a female utopia with the intrusion of men’s voices; or stunning street scenes that the camera can’t seem to hold in focus. And while watching two women wade innocently towards their curiosities makes for good melodrama, the world all around them, made simple and nonsensical in juxtaposition, brought my own discouraging circumstance to the forefront.
I recall an evening my partner and I went out to dinner for a semi-business meeting. One of the men began to hit on me hard, and then put his hand on my thigh. I winced, and after a few minutes of my courage failing, asked him to remove it. I felt my partner freeze next to me, then reach for my glass of water, from which she took a long slip, most likely to keep from screaming. Loud music played in the background. The guy removed his hand laughing, then rubbed my shoulder in parting, almost the way you would pat a dog on the head for bringing back a ball. And our bond broke a little, in that moment, as we shared the dessert he had paid for, and then again, as the two girls who sat across from us chair-danced in sync. No one would know.
In Carol, much like being in love with another woman in Nigeria, the building and breaking of a forbidden intimacy in between the tiniest cracks of conversation, lingering moments, and the invisible parts of the mundane carry all the weight, and yet yield so little satisfaction. Girl meets girl and chases a happily ever after that seems to be constantly around the bend, and yet somehow, always out of reach, or dangerous, or both.
Cate Blanchett gives an absolutely breathtaking performance (as always). And Mara Rooney, though I don’t quite get the Supporting Actress nomination (more on that later), captures the curious innocence that so many of us, now fully bloomed rogues, can recall from our early days awkwardly navigating the thick hegemony of heterosexuality all around us, burdened by a latent, yet gnawing dissatisfaction, and armed only with a gut feeling that we could be loving, laughing, and f**king so much harder. Incidentally, Cate and Mara’s on-screen chemistry is refreshingly convincing, a testament to the two actors, and delicate direction by Todd Hayes.
The Verdict: I’m not sure this film will stay with me the way the “Saving Face,” or “Pariah”, pioneers in queer POC cinema did — two white ladies trying to figure out their lives and damning everything in the process, though typical of mainstream lesbian dramas, ain’t all that relatable on the surface. Yet, it’s hard not to appreciate the deference the film grants so many of us, especially those like me, worlds away, who have had to conjure and re-conjure love for each other, and ourselves, within the confines of society’s outdated definition of “normal.” CAROL’s courage to imagine a world in which girl meets girl could end with a happily ever after, though predictable, is perhaps exactly what we need to keep fighting for the same in ours.