by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
Rooney Mara, looking a lot like Audrey Hepburn, plays Therese, a “shop girl” in the toy department of a nice New York City department store. She appears to be shy and reserved. Walking on the wild side is foreign to her. Cate Blanchett looks the part of the early 1950s wealthy New Jersey “housewife” she plays. The two meet as Cate shops for a Christmas gift for her young daughter.
A short chain of events brings the two women together in a sexual relationship that is not a new experience for Carol. Therese wears her heart on her sleeve and begins the exploration of a relationship with Carol that provides awakenings in her that had previously gone unacknowledged. Subdued by the “morality clause” in her potential divorce, Carol is initially intimidated. Interestingly enough, many states still employ such a “moral clause” as a standard part of a divorce settlement.
It’s important to remember when this story takes place. There are no civil rights laws. In many states it’s still illegal for mixed race marriages. Forbidden love abounds. There’s no such thing as women’s liberation. And we’re still a long way from the Stonewall riots of 1969, the beginning of the gay rights movement.
But ‘Carol’ is a tender film, in fact, a love story. We are reminded of the social environment for women in the 1950s. For women the focus was on the wedding ring. Getting married, having children, tending to “hearth and home,” a husband preempted a college degree and the idea of same sex relationships was unheard of. The challenges women faced, particularly lesbians, are portrayed in a poignant and heart-rending fashion.
Since the Episcopal Church has been dealing with full inclusion of lesbian and gay Christians there have been numerous heart-rending and poignant real-life stories. Not long after the 2003 election of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire a now retired diocesan bishop recalls visiting a parish where he expected to hear a lot of complaints. As he remembers it, one older woman said, “Sometimes you can’t help who you fall in love with.”
The simple melody that winds through this film is a song of love, encouragement for the human spirit and the reward wrought from the perseverance it sometimes takes for us to be the human being that God has created us to be.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels