“Some people change your life forever.” This quote is shown on the main poster of [Carol] which is famous for being the first meeting scene where Carol and Therese avert their eyes deliberately from each other. This movie has received overwhelming acclaim since it was first unveiled at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival in 2015, and when the Palme d’Or, which is the highest prize in Cannes, was not given to [Carol]; this decision was widely criticized as a wrong choice by Cannes. At the same time, there was a controversy, because it was about the homosexuality between women. In our society, where homosexuality is still at the center of controversy, this movie has presented social implications for homosexuality, along with the content of true love. The Argus compares and analyzes the movie [Carol] and the original novel [The Price of Salt] to assess the changes in the composition and the content of the two works.
Introduction of the book
[The Price of Salt] is the original novel upon which the movie [Carol] is based. It is the only romance novel by Patricia Highsmith, a master writer of crime novels. When Patricia Highsmith, a lesbian writer who worked at a department store, was stirred by a wealthy blond-haired guest, she returned home and wrote this novel down in an instant. Because, she did not wanted to be considered as a lesbian novelist, it was first published in 1952 under the pen name Claire Morgan. In 1990, however, she admitted to use the pseudonym Claire Morgan and re-published [The Price of Salt] as [Carol].
Introduction of the movie
[Carol] is a 2015 movie directed by Todd Haynes. The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is based on the 1952 romance novel [The Price of Salt] by Patricia Highsmith. It was released in February 2016 in Korea, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Also, [Carol] competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where Rooney Mara tied for the Best Actress award. The movie received many accolades including six Academy Award nominations.
The Four Main Characters
Carol Aird - Carol is a wealthy woman who is in the process of filing for divorce. She wants to keep custody of her daughter Rindy from her husband, Harge, and falls in love with Therese.
Therese Belivet - Therese works as a department store employee and is timid in making decisions. She is in a romantic relationship with Richard, but feels insecure in it. After meeting Carol, she falls in love with her.
Harge Aird - Harge is Carol’s husband who wants to preserve his marriage at first. However, after he confirmed that Carol was determined to divorce, he takes issue with her sexual orientation during their legal battle.
Richard Semco - Richard is Therese’s boyfriend and wants to marry her. Throughout everything, however, he appears to be selfish, not knowing what she really wants.
Therese, who works in the toy section of a department store, is strongly attracted to Carol, who visits there to buy her daughter a Christmas present. Because Therese becomes infatuated with Carol, she sends her a gift with a product; a Christmas card in the novel, gloves that Carol left behind in the movie. Knowing that Therese sent the presents, Carol offers her a meal in return, and then invites Therese to her home. At Carol’s house, Therese meets Harge, and finds out that Carol is trying to get custody of her daughter, Lindy, in the process of filing for divorce.
Tired of divorce proceedings, Carol suggests Therese to accompany her on a trip together. Recognizing that there was a strange atmosphere between the two, Richard tries to stop Therese from going. However, as Therese is unsure unsures of her relationship with Richard, she accepts Carol’s offer. During their trip, Carol and Therese realize their love for each other, but that was just a quick moment. Carol then decides to stay away from Therese for a while, which ultimately becomes the reason they break up.
Over time, after the end of the divorce suit, Carol contacts Therese again and suggests as Therese is unsure live with her. However, Therese refuses because she does not think herself and Carol would be able to maintain the same relationship they used to have. After her reunion with Carol, she attends to a friend’s party, but finds that she cannot connect with anyone. Soon she goes back to Carol, realizing that Carol is the only love in her life.
Three major differences between the book and the movie
Top 1. Variation of “Therese” character settings
In the novel, Therese is an apprentice who designs the sets of theater stages. However, in the movie, Therese was set as a would-be photographer. Also, in the novel, Therese expresses her love to Carol in direct words like “I love you, Carol,” while in the movie, her feelings are expressed through the photos.
For example, on their way to visit Carol’s home on Christmas Eve, Therese shoots Carol getting out of her car and buying a Christmas tree. This suggests that Therese felt a sense of love toward her. Moreover, when Carol asks, “Were those pictures of me you were taking at the tree lot?” Therese replies, “Well, I have a friend who told me I should be more interested in humans.” In addition, the first thing Therese did after her breakup is to print pictures of Carol. In this regard, photos serve to illustrate the time they spent together.
Top 2. Dramatized legal battle scene
In both the novel and the movie, Carol is in the process of filing for divorce from her husband, Harge. In the movie, one portion of this battle is that in which Carol faces her husband over taking issue with her sexual orientation. The scene of Carol’s legal battle, which is important in the movie, is not directly shown in the novel. It is just mentioned briefly by Carol when she tells Therese what she has been up to.
After a private investigator tapped Carol and Therese’s room, Carol, Harge, and their lawyers gathered in one place for a legal battle. During this fierce battle, Carol suddenly stopped everyone from talking by saying, “Now what happened with Therese, I wanted. And I will not deny it.” She also stands up with anger and says, “What use am I to her, to us, if I am living against my own grain?” Then she gives up custody of her daughter. However, in the novel, she only quietly talks to Harge that she cannot go on with her life giving up herself, and there is no drama about Carol giving up her own custody.
Top 3. Implications for conversion therapy
Unlike [The Price of Salt] there are hints about conversion therapy in the movie. Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.
After the middle part of the movie, Carol’s conversations with her lawyer indicate that she was forced to take psychiatric treatment to gain legal custody because she was suspected of being a homosexual. Also, she tells Abby, “How many more tomatoes?”, a connotation related to the practice of conversion therapy. There are scenes that reveal the social atmosphere of homosexuality of the 1950s, United States. According to psychologist D.C. Haldeman’s 1991 book, [Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy for Gay Men and Lesbians], in the past, a drug that causes vomiting was used as one of the ways to cure homosexuality. Patients who did not eat properly for several hours after that treatment were said to have consumed ground food such as pastes or food in a jelly form. This is a background of the tomato jellies that Carol prescribed. Lee Young-soo, a movie critic said, “The movie reveals a social atmosphere about homosexuality rather than the original one. Unlike the original, the movie represents Carol’s conversion therapy as a fairly long process, with references to psychotherapists and distaste for tomato jellies.”
The price of homosexuality
- How did [The Price of Salt] and [Carol] affect the perception of homosexuality in individuals and society?
Lee Young-soo, a movie critic: First, [The Price of Salt] had tried something very new at that time. There were a lot of queer novels in the American Pulp magazines* market at the time, but Highsmith was the first in the industry to conclude a queer novel with a happy ending. The movie [Carol] featured this revolutionary novel as an English classic. Therefore, it contributed toward homosexuality being among the mainstream narratives in the movie industry.
As for the social impact of this book and movie, the US when Highsmith wrote the novel was a very different time from now. Homosexuality is not a secret to hide now, and more people are coming out of the closet. So, even the same queer character is seen differently depending on the views of the times.
Kim Byong-don, a movie critic: Ordinary queer movies emphasize the “difficulties” of budding love in a society that is contrary to homosexuality, Though [Carol] does reveal the anti-homosexuality atmosphere as well, the movie primarily focuses on “the love” itself. While most of the queer movies say, “This is also a form of love,” [Carol] says, “This is true love.” Because they focused so much on love, I think it remains a romance movie rather than being remembered by people as a movie about homosexuality.
However, I rather think that this characteristic of [Carol] has helped our society accept homosexuality more naturally. A nondiscriminatory society is one that does not necessarily say that discrimination is bad. I think that being able to evaluate [Carol] as a romance movie rather than as a great queer movie has contributed to a nondiscriminatory society.
Lesbian Suzy, a college student: It is impressive to see their eyes glued to each other for a while at the department store where the first meeting between Carol and Therese took place. I have also been in that kind of air a few times in clubs and bars. Carol also leaves her gloves at the counter at the department store where Therese works, and I am sure she intentionally left her stuff behind. Because, I have been like that before. A few months ago, I had an offline meeting through an online contact. I liked her, but it seemed rude to ask her for more informations, and I had no courage. Therefore, I left my things at her house on purpose. I pretended that I had forgot to take my things, but I wanted to make an excuse to meet her again.
Since I am a lesbian, there is not much a change in my personal perception about homosexuality through the movie. Also, I do not expect the public’s perception of homosexuality to have changed much after watching this movie. Because, I do not think it is easy to get rid of hatred just because of watching a lesbian romance movie. There are many people who have enjoyed [Carol], but that does not seem to have greatly improved people’s perception of lesbians. Nevertheless, I still hope many lesbian-themed movies could come up in the future, and that they will be a little bit of a boost to “lesbian visualization”.
Sung Hyun-bin, Sookmyung Women’s University ‘18 student: Before I watched [Carol], I thought homosexuality was special. However, after watching it, I was able to see homosexuality as a human-to-human romance without looking at it as only “homosexual” in nature. Also, watching certain scenes, such as driving and sex scenes, seemed very free. But the moment it is discovered that a private detective hired by Harge was eavesdropping on their words and actions, their freedom disappeared. This led me to think that if there were no narrow-minded members of society in the first place, homosexuals would be freer to love.
It is said that Highsmith brought the motif of the title “The Price of Salt” from the Bible. While escaping from the depraved city of Sodom, the wife of Abraham’s nephew Lot became a pillar of salt because she disobeyed the order not to look back. Does it mean that Carol and Therese in the novel also crossed a river that cannot be returned at a moment they face each other? Would not it be “The Price of Salt” to be a homosexual against a society that demands heterosexual love, and to make themselves responsible for that love?
By Choi Yun-jeong
Staff Reporter of Culture Section