but did he understand that she would have felt the same way if carol had never touched her? yes, and if carol had never even spoken to her after that brief conversation about a doll’s valise in the store. if carol, in fact, had never spoken to her at all, for it had all happened in that instant she had seen carol standing in the middle of the floor, watching her. then the realization that so much had happened after that meeting made her feel incredibly lucky suddenly. it was so easy for a man and woman to find each other, to find someone who would do, but for her to have found carol — (132)
over the weekend, i read patricia highsmith’s the price of salt (dover, 1952), which i liked, and saw carol, which i didn’t love. part of it was that i didn’t think cate blanchett and rooney mara had any chemistry together, despite the film’s best efforts to contrive some (cinematography can only do so much). another part was that i found mara to be so lifeless and flat that therese lost all dimensions and came across as robotic and feelingless, with none of the naïveté and complexity and emotional angst she has in the novel.
it was also that i had issues with the narrative as it was adapted, and maybe this is why i shouldn’t chase a novel immediately with its adaptation. the film takes the romance for granted and is eager to rush into it, throwing aside all the emotional tension and uncertainty that runs through the novel. it does address the social crap around being queer in the mid-1900s (and i talk more about this later), but all that seems to exist outside the romance, instead of those fears manifesting in carol and therese’s relationship, which is something the novel does pretty well.
that wasn’t my biggest problem with the film, though. i’ll use carol to refer to the film, the price of salt to the novel.
the price of salt isn’t necessarily a book peopled with characters you like. therese’s naivete sometimes makes you want to roll your eyes, and there’s a selfishness, a distance, to carol that makes her almost unlikable. she keeps things to herself and doesn’t really allow therese in, especially when it comes to her impending divorce with her husband, harge, and the custody battle they’re in over their young daughter.
as readers, we’re made to understand that there’s a fear underlying all of carol’s distance, that carol might reciprocate therese’s feelings but is aware of the real consequences of pursuing said feelings. it’s what i liked about the price of salt, this contrast between a woman who’s been hurt by the world because of who she desires and a younger woman who’s just discovering that she is capable of love and desire, that sex is not something that should leave you questioning, “is this right?” — and, maybe most importantly, that there is love that exists outside the expected man-woman relationship.
(it should be noted that the price of salt is written in very limited third-person, and we’re with therese the whole time. we see carol and interpret her words and actions through therese’s eyes.)
my main problem with carol was how it made people and things nicer than they maybe should be, than the price of salt portrays them to be.
carol herself is made nicer, her more brittle edges sanded down and made soft, and she’s more genial, kinder, less selfish. we see more directly what she’s going through, so she’s more accessible to us and, thus, more understandable, but her interactions with therese are absent that hesitation and caution that come from carol’s fears and, consequently, trap therese in her emotional vacillations. in some ways, carol actually demonstrates less fear in being found out in the film, though her fear of losing her child is still present.
seeing more of carol means we also see more of her husband, harge, and it’s this that bothers me most.
i think the film frankly gives us too much of him, and it’s as though we’re to feel sympathy for him, the sad privileged white heterosexual man whose wife would rather be with another woman than with him. maybe that wasn’t the film’s intention; maybe the film just wanted to bring a semblance of balance to the story; but that still bothers me immensely, just this idea that the only way we can bring queer stories to the center is by giving straight people space, like we cannot exist without being fair to them, though we shouldn’t dare to expect the same fairness from them. it’s about power, pure and simple, and it puts a bad taste in my mouth.
what the film does do is portray heteronormative life. it shows us what was (what is) expected of people and gives us visual depictions of social mores and behaviors. it takes us into parties, into homes, into carol’s attorney’s office, and, by taking us out of the narrow third-person of therese’s POV in the price of salt, carol shows us what carol’s reality actually is, and it’s here where the film’s value lies.
we’re there when carol is told that her husband is attaching a “morality clause” to their divorce to keep her child from her. we’re there as she’s made to see a psychotherapist, and we’re there to hear her attorney say the psychotherapist will give testimony that she has “recovered” from her affair with therese. we’re there to know that she’s been barred from seeing therese again. we’re there to see that carol has to make these concessions so that she can even be given the chance to negotiate a fairer custody agreement with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and we’re there to see the toll it takes.
in the end, she can’t take it and gives up custody of her child and settles for supervised visits. some might say this makes her a bad mother, but can you imagine what it’s like, to have to sit there and essentially have your humanity challenged, to have your love used as a weapon against you? to be made to live in a cage, against your nature, your identity? to suppress such vital parts of you that others simply take for granted?
and this is what i appreciated about carol — that we see what carol is put through, how she’s broken down and has to make a huge sacrifice simply for a chance at her own happiness — and, no less importantly, that she has a chance for happiness. she has a chance to thrive, to love and be loved, to live her own life.
it’s a narrative we need to see more, that being queer doesn’t mean ending in death and tragedy. at the same time, though, i think it’s worth noting that carol at least has the freedom and financial ability to be able to walk away from her husband, from that suburban life, but how many people don’t? how many of us still live in fear of being cut off, exiled, cast out? because the reality also is that it might be 2016, but we’re not much safer now than carol was then.
while we’re talking media, let’s also talk this gilmore girls revival.
i love seasons 1-3 of the gilmore girls, and i do have a fairly deep fondness for the show, so i was excited for this revival. i hadn’t read any reviews or much commentary about it before i sat down to watch it, so i went into it wanting to love it, fully expecting to enjoy being back in stars hollow with lorelai, rory, and emily.
alas, it was not meant to be.
i’ve always known the gilmore girls was a white show (it doesn’t actually win points for lane and michel), but it’s like the revival took any criticism it might have received about its straight whiteness and decided to fuck the critics, dismiss them as being hyper-critical and sensitive, and placate them by hiring more people of color to sit in as extras. i almost want to hope the creators were trying to be offensive because i’d rather have the deliberate racism and homophobia than this, whatever the hell this revival was.
i knew we were off to a bad start in the first episode (“winter”), with lorelai’s sulking over sooki’s absence at the dragonfly and her inexplicably flipping out at roy choi (plus a david chang diss) — and i actually did make myself step back and ask whether i was being oversensitive because choi and chang are both korean-americans and i do admire both greatly. but, then, there was the international cuisine festival (or whatever it was called) when mrs. kim trotted out her choir of koreans “fresh off the boat,” and i started squinting my eyes and shaking my head because i still want to know from which ass the gilmore girls is pulling its korean stereotypes.
(yes, i know palladino’s bff is korean-american. that actually explains and excuses nothing.)
and then there was berta, emily’s new live-in maid who becomes a running gag because emily doesn’t even know what language she speaks and berta’s family members keep showing up to fix things in emily’s house. (because that’s what immigrants are here for, to fix shit.)
and then there was that town council meeting in “spring,” where taylor announces that they’ve had to scrap plans for stars hollow’s first pride parade because there aren’t enough gay people living in stars hollow. this elicits shocked reactions like “why aren’t there more gays here?! we’re such a cute town! blah blah blah,” before the show uses literal minutes for the townspeople to remonstrate their offense that neighboring towns won’t “lend us their gays.”
at which point i said, “fuck you,” and stopped watching. which was apparently a good move because there’s fat shaming in the third episode, plus more racism all throughout.
if you want to think i’m being oversensitive, fine. (i don’t know why you’re reading me, anyway.) it’s sad that it still needs stating that people of color are not props. LGBTQ people are not props. diversity is not simply adding people of color to the background. it is not presenting them as caricatures and stereotypes, as foreign figures whose accents are to be made fun of, whose languages are to be mocked, whose sexual orientations are to render them as objects.
and here’s the thing: i don’t necessarily give a rat’s ass how white a show, a book, a film is. i’d rather have that because there’s at least some measure of integrity there, instead of this pathetic, lazy, disrespectful attempt at diversity. if you want to diversify your show, do the work, and do it properly. do your research. talk to people of minority groups, and note that that’s plural — people, not one person. show some respect, and do your due diligence because simply adding people of color to your background and having one or two token diverse characters are not enough.
and, if it is that impossible for you to look past the bubble of your own white heterosexual privilege and see all people as dimensional human beings, then, well, what can i say.