Carol (2015)

Directed by Todd Haynes
Running time 1h 54m
Core concepts this week


compulsory heterosexuality

queer discomfort

View on Amazon Prime

Film background

Carol is a romantic drama directed by Todd Haynes. It received six Academy Award nominations. Todd Haynes is a central figure in the New Queer Cinema movement that emerged in the 1990s, which involved LGBTQ directors making independent films that focused on LGBTQ protagonists who defy social conventions; the films tend to reveal and challenge heteronormativity. Haynes’ films include Poison (1991), Safe (1995), Velvet Goldmine (1998), and Far From Heaven (2002). Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt.

Plot summary

As Carol opens, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) drink tea in a New York City hotel. They are interrupted by a friend of Therese’s, whom she leaves with. Following this scene, the rest of the film is a flashback to the events leading up to this moment. Therese is dating Richard (Jake Lacy), a co-worker at the department store she works at. One day, during the Christmas season, Carol comes to the store to buy a present for her daughter and meets Therese. The two have a charged encounter, and when Carol accidentally leaves her gloves behind, Therese returns them. Carol calls Therese and invites her to lunch to thank her for the favor. Meanwhile, Carol is separated from her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), and they share custody of their daughter. Carol and Therese struggle through the claustrophobia and boredom of their lives, as Carol attends Christmas parties with Harge and Therese socializes with Richard’s friends. The dull nature of their lives is punctuated by their encounters, such as a lunch time meeting and an evening at Carol’s home that upsets Harge. Furthermore, Carol learns that Harge is suing her for full custody of Rindy, based on a “morality” concern due to Carol’s close friendship with her former lover, Abby (Sarah Paulson). Distraught, Carol decides to plan a trip out west, and invites Therese; Therese accepts her invitation, much to Richard’s dismay. The pair travel through the Midwest, at first tentative about their desire for one another. When they reach Waterloo, Iowa, they consummate their relationship, only to discover that Harge has had them followed by a private detective who recorded them having sex through the wall, in order to buttress Harge’s custody claims. Carol leaves Therese and has Abby drive out to bring her home, writing Therese a letter saying that she can’t see her anymore. Therese is heartbroken. However, after some time has passed, she meets Therese for tea at the New York City hotel where the movie opened. There, she asks Therese to come live with her at her apartment. Therese declines. Carol asks her to come meet her at dinner with friends that night, which Therese also declines. However, after Therese goes to a party with her friends and feels the weight of Carol’s absence, she ultimately goes to meet her at dinner, and the two find each other face to face again.

Content warnings

Carol contains one non-explicit sex scene with brief nudity.

Materials for this week

  • Lesson plan [Word doc]
  • Screening quiz [Word doc]
  • Secondary texts:
    • Day 2: Smith, Victoria. “The Heterotopias of Todd Haynes: Creating Space for Same Sex Desire in Carol.” Film Criticism 42.1 (2018): 1-27. [pdf]
    • Day 3: Ahmed, Sara. “Queer Feelings.” The Routledge Queer Studies Reader, edited by Donald E. Hall and Annamarie Jagose, with Andrea Bebell and Susan Potter, Routlege, 2013, pp. 423-441. (Excerpt provided: p. 423-430) [pdf]

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