Carol: Circular Narrative and Mirrored Characters

2015 has been a big year for the LGBT movement – not least of all in Ireland, with the world’s first passing of a bill legalising same-sex marriage by popular vote. In Hollywood, perhaps entirely by accident, we’ve been hit with two films that address homosexuality and transgenderism in a world not yet ready for such phenomena of social acceptance: Carol, and The Danish Girl.

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Since 2007, I’ve made it a habit of going to the cinema at least once per week; most recently, I sat down to watch Carol, not sure what to expect before heading in. I don’t read reviews before I watch a movie – my cinema has a membership card that allows me to see as many movies as I want for a monthly cost, so I don’t need to be overly picky – so I missed all the positivity that Carol had already generated, and instead went in with the mind-set that, given it’s December, we were looking at Oscar-bait. I’m of the opinion, now, that it deserves any and all nominations it receives. Be warned, while I’ve attempted to avoid specific details of the plot, there will be general spoilers in this article.

As the trailer suggests, Carol is a circular narrative. This is a fact clearly stated and barely understood until it has been seen; the film does not seek to explain itself, much in the same way that Cate Blanchett’s Carol Aird denies any explanation about herself to the people she meets throughout the events of the film. Set in the 1950s, she’s a closeted lesbian in a failed marriage, spending more time with her female friends than her husband. She’s figure of mystery and adversity, seemingly unconcerned with the consequences of her actions.

Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, is her opposite. Unassuming, petite, and plainly dressed, she is everything Carol is not. Where Carol is presented as a wealthy socialite, Therese is a working girl living the daylight of New York, an aspiring photographer unwilling to accept the bonds of social pressure in the same way Carol did in her youth.

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Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird

Their lives are mirrored throughout the movie, from their simple beginnings and through their transformations. For Therese, her appearances in the park echo the changes in her life; her working life and the photographs on the way in her kitchen tell different types of stories, challenging her dreams and managing her expectations. Carol’s transformation is reflected in her lawyer’s office, in her restaurants, and in the appearances of her best friend, Abby Gerhard (Sarah Paulson). There is a role reversal in the relationship between these women from opposing worlds.

In a pair of scenes, the women look for the other in their worlds – Therese looks for Carol in the night, and Carol for Therese in the day – from the point of view of a cab, bookending the ways in which the women and their relationship changed them as people. In the beginning, they fulfil a need in the other. Therese needed direction in life, Carol needed love. As they drive through New York looking for one another at different points in the movie, we’re given the impression that what they need in someone else has changed – and neither woman feels fitting for the role, anymore.

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Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet

Alongside an incredibly powerful narrative, we’re given lingering shots of the women throughout their relationship. When they talk, when they drive, when they kiss, we are given an insight into the lives and their emotions, looking long enough at them as they listen to the other to more fully understand the weight of the words as they are spoken. The camera directs us to what is most important: how Carol and Therese make each other feel. It does not matter how one or the other looks as they speak. As their relationship is less conventional than we as an audience as used to, so too is the cinematography.

Powerful performances from Blanchett and Mara, with support from Paulson, Kyle Chandler and a host of others from Therese’s life guide us through a story that cinema needed, the normalisation of same-sex relationships on the big screen. This is a tale of love and transformation, and the effects of other people on our lives; while it seeks to challenge the romantic and sexual expectations of the women involved, such relationships are not uncommon in heterosexual circles. As Therese asks of her courter, Richard, “How many times have you been in love?”, we can be expected not to view Carol as a story of forbidden sexuality, but on the demands of love and romance on a life, and how it can bring out the best and worst in someone, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Carol has been nominated for several Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion-Picture – Drama (both Blanchett and Mara). Have any thoughts on the film, or anything to contribute – comment away!

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Six Christmas Movies to Get You in the Mood (Whatever Your Mood)

Christmas is coming. It’s December, so it’s finally okay to admit it, to let those words come out of your mouth. As I write this, there are less than three weeks before the big day. To help get you in the mood, here are six Christmas movies, whatever sort of mood you might be in.

1. Elf

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Let’s get things started with one of my all-time favourite Christmas movies, and one of my favourite Will Ferrell movies: the tale of Buddy the Elf on a great big adventure in New York. Featuring many other things I love, like Zooey Deschanel’s singing voice, Peter Dinklage’s almighty acting talent, and book publishing, along with many critical lines such as “Smiling is my favourite” and “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear”, it’s sure to get the whole family laughing.

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It also features many great gift ideas: a good book, some classic toys, clothing, and candy. Also creative gifts, like handmade decorations, or songs.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol

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If you’re too much of a Scrooge to really get in the spirit, then meet the original Ebenezer himself. Dickens’s classic Christmas story is reinvigorated with the Muppets, and caries the plot along with whimsical music and an array of early 90s special effects.

3. Jingle All the Way

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Maybe you’d prefer a more modern example of the extents to which people go for their children. Maybe Scrooge isn’t doing it for you, and you need Arnold Schwarzenegger to make the season truly jolly. It’s cheesy, but it’s fun, and it’s held a special place in my heart since I first saw all those years ago. (I seem to recall seeing it in my Nanny’s house before she passed away, so it must have only made it onto the television a bit before that. Or I’m misremembering it.)

4. Bad Santa

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All those are very well and good for the kids. But when they’ve gone to bed, the adults need something. Something with some violence, some drinking, some swearing – a bad sort of Christmas. While some families honour the tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life every year, we watch Bad Santa. I never said my family was normal, but we know how to have fun.

5. Love, Actually

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For something a little bit different, try a Rom-Com on for size. It has the kid from A Game of Thrones in it, with Liam Neeson trying to be a good father. It’s one of those large-cast, many-stories sort of movies, but it manages to pace itself well enough that we get a sense of who they all are, what they want, and the different sorts of Christmases there are to be had. But before you watch it with your kids, maybe skip the opening scene.

6. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

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Last, and most certainly not least, the third instalment in the Harold & Kumar series. I developed a soft spot for these movies when I saw this one, with its intentionally bad 3D effects, its portrayal of Neil Patrick Harris as Straight Neil Patrick Harris, and the tale of friendship it tells over it extended arc. It’s crude, rude, and a little bit filthy, but there’s an awful lot to love about this movie. Not least of all being Jake Johnson as Jesus.

On my watch list this Christmas: Krampus and The Nightmare Before Christmas – which I still haven’t seen! What about you? What are your Christmas favourites that I should check out this year?

8 Sci-Fi Comedies to Watch Before The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming out on December 17th. For many, that seems like a long time away. For those of us who attend the cinema on a regular basis, we’ve already reached saturation point with advertising. A walk through Dublin city centre is a painful experience, with Star Wars clothes on sale in Penneys, LEGO on sale in Arnotts, assorted merchandise  on sale in Forbidden Planet, a new game available in HMV and Gamestop, and books and other items to be found in Eason – all within a short walk of one another.

Remedy time: Sci-Fi Comedy movies. They’ll keep you in the mood, but you’ll get a whole other experience.

1. Attack the Block

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Set in modern-day London, Attack the Block pits a gang of inner-city kids against a pack of furry aliens. There’s swearing, there’s banter, there’s a whole heap of laughs, and there’s a sense that – while these kids were more than willing to mug a stranger in the street – the hooded youths really care about their flats and the people in them.

2. The World’s End

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In a similar vein, we have Simon Pegg on a session in his home town. Who doesn’t love a good drinking movie, right? Well, when people start acting strangely – as they do in Pegg’s movies, quite often in fact – we get a whole different sort of film. With a great supporting cast (including Martin Freeman and Nick Frost), and the relatability of Pegg’s character Gary King to the audience, it’s one to watch during these dark winter nights.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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If drinking movies aren’t your thing, but you still quite fancy the idea of seeing Martin Freeman in a Sci-Fi movie now that it’s been brought up, then look no further than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Based on the novel of the same name, it’s a film full of weird aliens, improbabilities, and British-isms, and the voice of Alan Rickman as Marvin the Paranoid Android.

4. Evolution

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If the witticism of British writing and actors are too much for you, and you want something a bit sillier, there’s always Evolution – a humorous flick exploring extraterrestrial lifeforms, shampoo, and Darwin’s theory of evolution on overdrive.

5. Dude, Where’s My Car?

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Considered more of a stoner film, it still passes my base-level Sci-Fi test: it has aliens in it. In this case, you have a choice between a pair of vaguely Norwegian muscle-men, and a pack of incredibly attractive women with a fetish for sexual innuendos.

6. Paul

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If human stoners aren’t your thing, perhaps an alien one would be better for you. Featuring Seth Rogen as the voice of Paul – and essentially playing the same role he plays in a number of his other films – with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kristen Wiig, it’s the story of grown-men with alien-obsession meet real-life alien, and all the disappointment that usually goes with it.

(Side note: My name is Paul, and I was essentially a third wheel when I went to see this with some friends a few years ago – they took a lot of pleasure out of the fact that I shared the name of the titular character. It didn’t help that one of the toilet paper companies ran an ad at the same time with the line “I’m going to have a poo at Paul’s”. That made for an interesting few months.)

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Okay, not exactly a comedy, but given the comedic tone of the film, the 80s cringe, and some of the best dialogue of the summer blockbusters that year, and the fact that I’ve already included a stoner film in the list, I’m giving it a pass.

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Fun for all the family, and equipped with exactly the sort of emotional manipulation Disney depends on to make people care about Groot. It’s also got an amazing soundtrack to help make your Christmas/New Year’s playlists that much better.

8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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If you’re still not satisfied, and you just want something a little bit freaky to go with your funny, look no further than cult-classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Featuring the most remarkable transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania – Frank N. Furter, played by Tim Curry – and a whole host of weird songs and weirder characters, it’s one for when the kids are in bed, and the wine bottle’s been opened.

And there we have it! 8 comedies. 8 vaguely-Sci-Fi movies. Less than three weeks to go before The Force Awakens. What would you add to the list? Which would you recommend most highly? And how many times do you think we’ll need a list like this to distract ourselves from the Disney marketing budget for Star Wars movies?