30 Days of Carol: Day 11 – I’m Really Sorry

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Look, I don’t like this any more than you do. I don’t want to be doing this. But we have to keep ourselves honest. We the Carolhead Nation are nothing without our integrity.

That means admitting the hard truths, or at the very least leaving space for their possibility. Or at the very, very least cracking the door to that space with a visual aid and letting people infer from that what they will.

This picture of Therese, Carol’s angel, and Rindy, Carol’s sweet pea, could be chalked up to coincidence, sure. This hairstyle was popular for women in the ’50s. The page boy, or “pudding basin” cut, was experiencing a… renaissance, and so of course you’ll find instances of it repeating itself. But let’s also consider its lively entourage.

If you think that the prominence of “Mommy’s baby” is not a purposeful eye-draw the first time Therese faces Carol, you’ve got another thing coming. Literally, 30 seconds later, when Therese explains that the Bright Betsy doll cries  “…and wets herself,” with the knowing cadence of someone looking to expose a person’s last speck of modesty to a white hot heat. Tying all of this together is Rindy as what drives the scene.

I would love to say it ends there. Except we know soon after their initial meeting, upon the news that Harge is seeking full custody of Rindy, as in taking her away, Carol’s first instinct is to gone-girl Therese with a cross-country trip on what would be their fourth time seeing each other. Yes, Carol operates at a baseline of medium-to-high bold at all times, but the timing of this one is hard to explain away. Not long after that, we get this beautiful hair brushing parallel shot rounding out the first time we see Rindy and the last time we see Therese as the Therese we first met.

Anyway. Attraction is complicated! Hahaha! Have a good Thursday!!!

Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 207 articles for us.

116 Comments

  1. I remember soon after Carol came out (lol) having a conversation with this cool queer woman with a tattoo that just said ‘chips’ in a heart – and she said that Carol is attracted to Therese because she’s a daughter-replacement, and Therese is attracted to Carol because she had a distant relationship with her own mother —– and I was like, Oh Shit, Questioning All My Choices, thanks so much cool chip tattoo gal

  2. I’m dreaming of good lesbian movie,
    Unlike the ones I already know,
    This one will take top position,
    And everyone will listen,
    As Carol seduces her baby beau

    I’m dreaming of good lesbian movie,
    Unlike one that’s passed before my sight,
    Where the cinematography will shine bright,
    And “Room in Rome” will be forgotten tonight

  3. Remember when she goes over to Therese’s for a anything-but-photo-chemicals-in-your-fridge and she sees the baby photo on the wall and asks if it’s Therese and it is and it looks JUST like Rindy and then Carol wistfully walks away?!?!? REMEMBER????

  4. After thinking about this for 20 agonizing minutes I will never get back, I am wondering what you think of the idea that this is a cinematic issue created by Todd Haynes, blessed be thy name? In the book Rindy’s not described as having the same haircut (is she?) and there’s no eye-line shots (are they? )and I can’t remember if there’s hair brushing parallel (DON’T RUIN THIS FOR ME). It’s like Black Swan all over again

    • from the screenplay, written by phyllis nagy (about the waterloo scene): “Instead CAROL gets up from the bed, takes the brush from THERESE and begins to brush THERESE’S hair, slowly, carefully. When she’s done, she puts the brush down and turns THERESE around to face her.” i think it’s not todd. (btw phyllis knew/worked with patricia highsmith at one point in the 80s so…)

    • I think it’s in the book too. I mean, I didn’t notice it as much in the book until the movie drew out those themes, but it’s there.

      In the book, Therese’s mother abandoned her at like age 12. The mother literally remarried, decided she wanted to start a new life, and dropped her off at a Catholic orphanage. So once you see it, it’s sort of impossible to un-see the way Therese’s attraction to Carol is tangled up with her yearning for a mother figure.

      It also makes the end of the book that much more complicated, because in order to stay with Therese, Carol needs to “abandon” her own daughter. (There’s no option for visitation rights in the book, and Rindy’s definitely going to believe her mother abandoned her, even though it’s really the homophobic legal system keeping her away.)

      So when Carol and Therese end up together, on the one hand there’s relief that this time Therese’s mother-figure doesn’t abandon her, but on the other hand, her being with Carol still caused the “abandonment” of a child, and she knows first-hand how awful that can be.

      • Also in the book, she has a weird longing/disgust relationship with her favorite nun (who I think she called ugly) and the older woman who worked at the department store with her (who she also wants to please, but is disgusted by her at the same time. Interesting.

  5. I kept trying to write something about how the imagery was about Therese changing and seeking understanding, but like… you can’t undo that Carol is the lynchpin of the parallels BUT I refuse to be weirded out by this because I don’t think it says something creepy about Carol, so much as the intimacy two women can experience, how it blurs some lines, not in like a creepy way, but some of the intimacy and care we show each other are more than just partner or best friend, their also nurturing…

    Right?? Something?? Ahhhhh… *Grasps frantically at straws*

  6. Maybe I have a different perspective on this, because when I was young I had the same haircut as Rindy, and when I was slightly less young I had the same haircut as Therese, and we all know this is the same haircut so what I’m saying is…

    …time travel?

  7. I wasn’t paying close enough attention and didn’t realize that one of the hairbrushing pictures was of Rindy until I read the next paragraph. That made all of this feel soooo much worse.

  8. Okay I have a different take on this.

    I kind of figured that the department store scene was there to show us how Carol aspired to much more than motherhood in her life. Yes she adored her little girl but it wasn’t enough, and she was totally restless. That train going around and around that closed track at breakneck speed. Not to mention, Carol dressing to the nines to go trolling department stores for any kind of a distraction.

    She’s trying to buy a doll but gets Therese instead, who points out quite plainly what a baby is (and by inference, what she is _not_). Therese is _not_ “Mommy’s baby”, the colours, the horrible blank-eyed baby vs. Therese’s lively curious (fuckable) eyes. Carol is not really interested in the doll, but she is interested in Therese ; she’s carried away by the power of her own flirtation, and sufficiently flustered to leave her gloves behind.

    When Carol sees the picture of Therese as a baby, she gets emotional, but in the very next scene, starting with such ambiguous dialogue (the first time I thought they were talking about their attraction to each other, not Carol’s divorce woes), Carol doesn’t say Hey I’m leaving town with my daughter because I love her so much and can’t bear to leave her to my crappy ex-husband, wanna come ? Nope.

    In another type of movie where women are mothers first, I’m pretty sure that would have been the story. But here again, Carol makes the leap from crying about losing her daughter to running away with her would-be lover.

    In Waterloo, I don’t think Carol is trying to reenact her nurturing ways ; I think it’s finally how she wants to act, all sexual. She brushes Therese’s hair the way she _really_ wants to brush a woman’s hair, as foreplay.

    In my reading… Carol was never nurturing. She was never a mother. She had a child to try and save her marriage but that turned out to be a fiasco. Of course she loves Rindy, but not in that “Not without my daughter” way, she loves her in a way that she can ultimately give her up for the sake of Rindy’s well-being, but mostly for the sake of her own sanity and her true nature.

    So, as far as I’m concerned THERE IS NO WEIRDNESS!!! It’s a tract against the enforced role of women as mothers.

    Infinitely more subversive.

  9. I read this post earlier, and had to spend some time thinking about my response. I think that the film-makers intentionally drew some parallels between Rindy and Therese, but I don’t think the point was “ew incest”. I think they did it to emphasize, not just the age difference between Carol and Therese, but their life experience difference as well. At the beginning of the movie, Carol is a fully grown woman with a family and a number of previous relationships. Therese is still girlish and naive.

    Carol becomes aware of this discrepancy (and the inherent power imbalance between them), which is why she chooses to let Therese go. It’s all there in the letter she writes Therese when she leaves. She wants Therese to make strides in her own life/experiences/career so that they can come back together as equals. She wants a lover, not a daughter stand-in.

    • i also don’t think it’s ew incest for the record and agree that this is a commentary on therese being green and just made a lil comparison for the internet to tear at a bone u know

      • No, it’s worth talking about it. It’s something that struck me as a little icky the first few times I watched it (until I thought it through more), and I would hate for some fundamentalist jerk-ass to point to it as proof that homosexuality is in the same boat with incest or pedophilia. Good post!

        • oh yesyes i get that, and hopefully this is a wild enough post for people to know that i’m not coming from a serious (shocking for me) standpoint, but also if not we could just point to the 19088754380 movies or life instances where older men date women who are their daughter’s or grandaughter’s age, etc.

    • Agree the letter seals the deal. Age-gaps are complicated.

      I think Carol also wanted to relive that experience of first love through Therese since her own first love with Abby wasn’t really allowed to flourish…it was new-danger, not new/exciting//life affirming

  10. You finally vocalized the truth I’ve been forcefully ignoring with more effort during every rewatch of Carol. I want to tell you to fuck off, but in a way I’m glad I’m not the only weirdo who noticed these slightly disturbing parallels. Like my therapist needs another thing to worry about…

  11. Carol’s erotic desire for Therese directly compromises her future with her child, Rindy, who she loves. I think the visual similarity between Rindy and Therese exists to remind the viewer of the punishment that comes with loving a woman in the 1950s.
    The first time Therese comes to Carol’s house, Rindy is taken away. The second time, Carol sees the photo of young Therese, who looks like Rindy, and must contend with the reality of losing her child should she pursue a relationship with Therese. This undercurrent of loss threads through the entire film; punishment (Carol losing Rindy) and desire are different sides of the same coin.
    Rather than the similarity in looks between Rindy and Therese functioning as a proxy for Carol’s attraction to a specific ‘type,’ they serve as a reminder for what Carol must give up to pursue romantic and sexual desire. Carol ends up foregoing her entire lifestyle (class status, husband, house, etc), and most important to her, Rindy, after she decides to pursue her desire for Therese.

  12. I picked up on the movie’s many parallels between Therese and Rindy gradually with repeated viewings. Some are more subtle than others, but the Mommy’s Baby sign was one of the first to jump out at me and give me the giggles. Not the nervous “eww, ick” giggles, but the “God, this is some funny shit!” giggles. I think of them as Easter eggs Todd left for us to discover and delight in. One of my favorites is the scene of Rindy coloring when juxtaposed with the scene of Therese writing in her datebook, their pageboys dangling around their innocent little faces. With that music playing behind Therese, at any moment I expect her to stick out her tongue in a body English effort to achieve perfect penmanship.

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