Twelve Days of Completely Secular Yuletide: Carol is perfect for your December melancholy

Ever since moving to Vancouver, I’ve always found it a bit difficult to get into the holiday spirit each winter. There are too many stressful papers and exams, I’m not yet with my family and there’s rarely any snow, just endless rain. Even though I love the rain most of the time, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘Christmas cheer.’

If you, like me, feel a bit more subdued about the holiday season, why not give Carol a go? Carol is the perfect movie to give you a bit of that romantic-holiday-vibe without being too cheesy or in-your-face about it.

Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, tells the story of Therese (Rooney Mara), a young shopgirl and aspiring photographer, and Carol (Cate Blanchett), a beautiful woman going through a divorce, as they meet and develop a relationship. The movie isn’t exactly a Christmas story, but Christmas in 1950s New York City is the backdrop of the film. Therese and Carol meet when Carol purchases a gift for her daughter and forgets (or maybe intentionally leaves) her gloves on Therese’s department store counter.

To begin, Carol is a beautiful movie to watch. The period costumes and set designs are beautiful, as well as being important to the plot. As the movie goes on, Therese begins to see Carol all around her, and the film’s attention to detail trains the audience to see what Therese sees. The costumes also change to reflect the characters’ journeys throughout the film — even Carol’s manicure shifts alongside her emotional state.

The film renders a vivid image of Christmas in 1950s New York, and the set design and costuming are essential to constructing this slightly melancholy atmosphere. Carter Burwell’s score and the jazz soundtrack set the mood, and if you’re at all like me, you’ll keep listening to it long after you finish the movie! Finally, all of the film’s performances — especially the central two — are amazing, perfectly capturing the characters’ emotions, and particularly their vulnerabilities.

Throughout the movie, the camera places the audience in Therese’s point of view as she observes the world from behind windows or her camera lens. This motif frames her as an outsider, similarly to how her sexuality — and Carol’s — mark them as outsiders within 1950s society.

However, in contrast to many other films portraying Queer characters in the past, Carol doesn’t portray them as anguishing over their relationship and desire for one another, but instead celebrates the love they have for one another. Further, they are not portrayed as isolated and alone in their sexuality — Haynes develops the relationship (friends, then lovers, then friends again) between Carol and Abby (Sarah Paulson) as perhaps the second most important in the film, and portrays other Gay characters as an inherent, but unremarked upon, part of Therese and Carol’s lives.

Though they do experience emotional turmoil, the film also doesn’t give Therese and Carol a tragic ending, but instead has a more nuanced and true-to-life ending, with some happy and some more sorrowful elements.

The holiday season isn’t a happy time for everyone, especially when we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Carol is the perfect movie to watch if you’re looking for a more subdued and melancholy film that still has moments of joy and passion, while also having a hint of Christmas spirit.