CAPTURING THE SOUL THROUGH THE EYES : on CAROL and LIFE (2015)

**

CAROL (2015)

CAST : ROONEY MARA, CATE BLANCHETT, SARAH PAULSON, KYLE CHANDLER, JAKE LACY, CORY MICHAEL SMITH .

DIRECTION : TODD HAYNES.

**

Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) are people who don’t wage a war against conventional diktats. Still a quiet uproar they do stir up within a tiny coterie of people. The filmmaking gravitas of Todd Haynes is so astute and alive to the cadences of the heart in this 2015 feature film that we instinctually become participants in the two women’s quest for seeking purity in their friendship and expressing clarity for their strong mutual connection that overrides the challenges that an open declaration will invite. They are people who don’t intend to create a simmer of scandal because they know their love is equivalent of the humanity they try to possess within each other and extend to the one they deeply love sans any ulterior motivations.

They don’t hurt society in any way because their own internal battle has defeated them to be resigned to a private space that limits their evolution. They plan to negotiate with nobody for the freedom to be with each other. A QUIET CHAOS. A BURNING SENSATION. The poetry of love and fear of loss. So can’t they just be two dignified souls left to explore the world together?

CAROL makes you ponder these dilemmas of two individuals who are already beset by certain expectations within a male bastion. However, Todd interlinks them with emphatic men who don’t know better than to love them and when conventions of the world get sidestepped as the women bond with each other like nothing they have ever known, mounds of anger and hurt come to occupy the conversation. Kyle Chandler and Jake Lacy, hence, bring pathos to their parts. Their concerns are stronger than the tempests that draw them to an empty inner world.

**

A gripping conversation occurs between Therese and the man she is seeing played by Lacy where the idea of falling for someone of the same gender is discussed ; he doesn’t express disgust towards it but like the thinking we still hold, says there is always some background behind it while her surprise, confused temper and rejection of his idea that she can fall in love with Carol when he poses a casual enquiry exhibits the full concentric circle of identity. Their friendship is normal to him, the term ‘love’ also implying deep admiration for someone of the same gender. But to her, it’s something unique.

**

CAROL is also, for me, a beautiful example of approaching relationship dynamics from a perspective that sustains the permanence of bonds rather than the supposed physical ardour of two people coming together in the name of attraction. It’s sensual which is worlds apart from the exploitative, sexualised depictions we have come to expect in recent years in cinema. The moment where the two adults at the heart of the story commit to all the tenderness and longing they have been withholding for perhaps lifetimes is enlightening then. For me this was reflective of the kind of flexible, honest stance I, personally, like to maintain in terms of two people coming together, that is in a deep unspooling of the soul and not arising from a place of lust although the latter sentiment often blinds us to submission. That deep unspooling doesn’t have to necessarily be between men and women only. The nature of attraction is fluid and CAROL is opposed to a binary evaluation of it. It’s beautifully pensive about it.

In fact, it is very much a coming of age tale for Therese and a meeting of the twain for Carol and her, beginning with their first meeting at the department store to the revelatory moment where Carol enunciates Therese’s name like nobody in the world will; it is such a sensual moment aglow with passion and a lack of verbosity just like the rest of the film.

I hope the LGBTQ tag, one day, ceases to exist because for me the individuality of two people in what they share as a bond is sacred. If there exists a pure soul, no way of the world can break it down into smithereens or atomised shells of a former ideology. I’m glad our world is opening up to an inclusive, universal approach with each passing day on that important tangent. Human beings should be far removed from the certitude of labels and dogmas.

**

CAROL is set in the 50s and so the surface is idyllic in the absolute sense. Hence the dignity and studied stoicism of these women are products of the era. But then that’s often the facade we associate with that era or any other and a refined nature is a personal strain, applicable to anyone, anywhere. Music composer Carter Burwell, cinematographer Edward Lachman and editor Affonso Gonsalves are successful in beautifully evoking an era as also the persistent battle for identity wrought through the ages and timelines. It is like a distillation of experiences reaching the present era, expressing the universality of it all.

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are excellent, flawlessly tuned to the inner workings of their connected selves. Blanchett as Carol is a woman with the power to have an inimitable sway over others owing to her sophistication but also the fragility to be completely helpless, as with her role of a mother coming under scrutiny and her passage of separation from Therese. Class strictures bundle up here with gender fluidity and the path to its optimistic resolution is ultimately earned. Till the end, CAROL proves that a sustained look or gesture can transfer a million worthy signals of an extraordinary awakening, the kind we feel once.

Sarah Paulson, too leaves her mark here in a good supporting arc. Above all are Carol and Therese. They endure as individuals and part of a collective whole representing the sanctity of a ‘live and let live’ principle.

**

LIFE (2015)

DIRECTION : ANTON CORBIJN.

CAST : ROBERT PATTINSON, DANE DEHAAN, BEN KINGSLEY, KELLY MCCREARY.

**

LIFE operates on an observational standstill in terms of pace and narration, which is kind of an ironic thing to say considering the title of the film. But a month after watching it, I can reckon more with its style of presentation as it chronicles the eventful life and times that iconic photographer DENNIS STOCK shared as he captured the enigmatic rising star JAMES DEAN and helped establish the mystique of those deep eyes and intense gaze that has been etched in popular culture till the end of time. To think Dean passed away at 24, shortly after this masterful partnership and having scored success in motion pictures with REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, it’s surreal how his images still convey a thousand words indeed. The unassuming star was hence heralded to the front ranks by the equally down to earth Stock.

He (Robert Pattinson) had survived active duty in World War 2, a teenage marriage, divorce and the cold impasse of non communication with others and then he met James (Dane Dehaan) Capturing him in images, he also found an equal who communicated with his quiet force than mere words.

In delineating this partnership, director Anton Corbijn, photographer extraordinaire and director behind some of U2’s iconic videos and cover art, keeps things languid, composed, in slow simmer. In low whines and moans of voices, the soft spoken protagonists do well in establishing the lazy idyll before glory beckoned both or it could be the muffled beginnings of interpersonal bonding that makes this biographical sketch apart from the star- making ethos cinematic renditions usually strive for. This slow burn is both the predisposed way of conducting things for essentially people who were always mentally alert to minute sensations and is the langour of the burden of inherent genius. Silence is preferable to this personality. It is effective in showing us the two men as they are, without a hint of artifice.

Note also that it’s set in the 50s and hence the quietude. It shares the tale of a person discovering the world through the camera with Therese in Carol.

**

Photography captures the essence of a person and Dennis achieved that with Dean. LIFE is also like an unlikely love story between two men whose natures mirror each other and who fatefully assimilate in the fabric of bonding through the prism of common decency. It is love that mixed friendship with deeper understandings. The film recreates the great, moving images Dennis created of Dean, especially when he visited his hometown and seemed most at peace. It is a tale of nurturing creativity.

No wonder the film begins with the lighting of a bulb, particularly the focus on its filament, in Dennis’ redroom. LIFE is a little short on narrative hold but as a person slowly inching towards the intricacies that come with maturity as a cinephile, the langour never strikes me as odd. Now when I look back on it, it is a way of broaching the idea of introverts being some of the best architects in public spheres of the movie world. Their work does the talking. It was the case with both men portrayed here.

Away from the prying eyes of shallow stardom, Dennis made Dean accessible and sensual without thinking about the legendary status he was to occupy. The behind the scenes quality of LIFE then is a novelty. Both actors do well in maintaining that rhythm. KELLY MCCREARY (Dr. Maggie Pierce on Grey’s Anatomy) as James’ friend and fellow artistic savant EARTHA KITT , Sir Ben Kingsley as monumental producer Jack Warner and Joel Edgerton as Dennis’ editor are competent.

**

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