The Seven Stages of Watching “Carol”

There are some movies for which you start the grieving process not even halfway through your first viewing. Carol is one of those movies. If that sounds like it belongs in a prompter at an awards show, it’s because it did, on Sunday night, at the Golden Globes, where it was largely and wrongfully ignored.

But what’s been most telling about Carol isn’t its significant nominations despite making only $7 million at the box office since November of last year, the critical praise it’s garnered, or that it’s created such a space for itself among straight audiences — it’s the viewer reaction pattern that’s developed since the film’s opening. Here’s how people are coping with the loss of Carol once it’s over.


Leveling Up

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Throughout the movie you are unknowingly on an ascent. Perhaps you felt a slight rocking of the platform when Cate Blanchett as Carol growls into the phone asking Therese to ask her, or at Therese’s face with the tug of that nightgown, but it’s not until the movie ends do you realize how high you’ve climbed. This place, you’ve been here before. It’s spacious and beautiful. Why do you feel so small? The ocean’s like that too you remember. For now you’d like to live in this place.

Implosion 

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Also known as “spiraling”, this is the emotional comedown. Like drugs, your serotonin levels have been depleted and possibly you’re dehydrated. You’ve witnessed for maybe the first time in your life a realistic portrayal of all of those times your heart has screamed until it got short of breath and girl you are reeeeeeeling. Implosion often presents the first time you’re confronted with an everyday reality. Maybe on your way home from the movie a commercial that’s like three times louder than the other commercials comes on and breaks your train of thought so abruptly that you scream, “OH MY GOD,” or maybe the next day you’re trying to pay a bill online but you keep getting locked out. Either way, take heed.

Enabling

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This is where you feed your emotional captor as a means of survival. Oh, you should watch this Carol press junket interview about their first day of filming! (JUMP CUT: Three hours later of you watching related interviews.) Remember Notes on Scandal? “You want to f**k me, Barbara?!” Haha, that movie was crazy! Should you read the The Price of Salt? Eesh, some weird things about the author of The Price of Salt on Wikipedia. What’s up with Cate Blanchett’s husband? Attraction is subjective! Why doesn’t Rooney Mara have social media? What if Cate Blanchett hugged you? Rooney Mara’s boyfriend looks like he’s styled from the boy’s toddler section in Target. The Carol soundtrack is so good.

Outreach 

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Soon enough, your engagement with the movie becomes too isolated and finding an outlet for your thoughts about Carol is necessary. Whether it’s posting an image you found on tumblr, liking a tweet that just says “carol”, or texting with friends you haven’t heard from in awhile, you’ll need to unpack. You’ll ask them the questions you’ve been asking yourself, like who do you think really initiated that night on New Year’s Eve — Carol or Therese? Therese when she insists on the presidential suite at the check in counter, or Carol when she asks Therese to smell her neck even though they had on the same perfume? Or, everyone you know either saw Carol like a month ago and are no longer in the same headspace or they haven’t seen it yet. Sorry!

Speculation

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Left again to your own devices, you’ll have to come up with new ways to indulge. Obviously, the “everybody’s gay” game is great for this. Sure, this is a movie and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are not together, but like, what if it were? The closest you’ve ever come to looking at one of your co-workers like this is when they brought in doughnuts for everybody. Also Rooney Mara has been in three movies where her character sleeps with women (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects, Carol), and those are the only movies you’ve seen of hers. No way that could be a coincidence!

Visualization 

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With the passing of time comes some clarity. You’re able to distance yourself from the scrambled intensity you felt since your first viewing, and can now think of the movie and its characters as concepts you can incorporate into your life. How Cate Blanchett as Carol is both casual and wild reckless in her propositions to Therese like, “I found the most wonderful dry cleaner since we last spoke, I thought you might want to use them for your dress when you get married to me.” Or how direct and vulnerable Therese is in her truth. These ideas seem as decadent as someone suggesting you try on Carol’s coats, but what if they looked good on you, too?

Anticipation

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All of the stages above are distractions you’ve created for yourself until you can see the movie again, which you plan to do tomorrow during the day by yourself.


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

Erin has written 208 articles for us.

78 Comments

  1. Amanda

    But like, isn’t watching the movie close to twenty times in the two months it’s been out part of the process? That’s the stage I’m in.

    Also, I read the Price of Salt in two days.

    This is all normal, right guys?

    • I’m not sure about the movie. But I also experienced reading the book very fast.
      I was disappointing they changed Terese’s job to photographer (and also took away all her small jobs?!) I wanted to see cardboard set design models!

    • I read the script AND the book the day after I saw the movie, barely taking time time to eat or pee. Totally normal! (I am so glad I’m not alone…)

  2. cb

    i wouldn’t know anything about watching carol, but i can tell you a lot about thinking that it’s coming to a theater near you (which was shocking because the deep south) only to realize that the theater website was teasing you and it was a lie.

    *sobs*

    • Danielle

      Ewww, that happened to me in December. But it eventually showed up about an hour away. What a jerk theater.

  3. Sam

    This is timely for me – having watched and seriously enjoyed Carol last week, I keep thinking about the film and finally got around to downloading some of the soundtrack today. I’m also wondering whether I should give the book another chance (it didn’t hold my interest the first time around and I don’t think I finished it but I can’t remember exactly why). I want to watch the film again, but am now back in Spain.

  4. “All of the stages above are distractions you’ve created for yourself until you can see the movie again, which you plan to do tomorrow during the day by yourself.”

    Yes, I was actually making this plan in my head while reading this post. Which would be the third time that I’ve see this movie during the day, and alone. So glad to know I’m not the only one.

  5. I bought a faux fur coat when it was 70% percent off at modcloth. Now I am Carol!

  6. Ok, how many of us have seen this movie in the day and alone? I feel like we should be starting Carol watching groups or something!

    • SpaceMouse

      Or read Highsmith’s book and talk about it. It isn’t a tough read or long, but there is so much more intimacy between the two women between the pages, as well as background on Therese, on Carol’s prior relationship with her BFF, and her legal tussle, re: predatory husband’s use of the courts and a sneaky private detective in the custody battle.

    • Dia

      First time as a couple, next 4 times in the day and alone!

  7. CD

    This is scarily accurate. I’m about two weeks in now. What stage is it when you start reading the script to relive all your favorite scenes?

  8. katte

    OK so.

    For anybody who has read The Price Of Salt (or anything else of Highsmith- Talented Mr Ripley?? Strangers On A Train??) and enjoyed it, and is interested in learning more about Highsmith as a person/author/queer/very troubling but interesting individual, you should (MUST) read The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar.

    It is… an ASTOUNDING exploration of Highsmith’s life and work?? It doesn’t gloss over her messy, nasty, rougher edges as a human. The very first words are ‘She wasn’t nice.’ But I promise that it’s Super Interesting and very queer to boot. SO. Yes. Autostraddle, get on it.

    • Amanda

      Annddddd I’ll be reading this too. Thank you!

  9. Dia

    Told a friend I wanted Carol to win for everything at the Golden Globes. She responded she “didn’t like any of the characters and it was (gasp) boring. Our friendship will never be the same.

    • NM

      Yeah, *those* people. Oddly enough, they do exist. They’re also the people who insist that Carol was “overpraised”. And then get mad when you argue with them. They get to be all negative, and people like us are totally wrong for being positive in response. They are very weird people and need to be avoided, and that’s easy: go see Carol *again*, because none of them will be there :)

  10. I don’t think I’m going to be able to see this movie. One, I don’t really have any uhm friends x.x And two, my sister ignored my question about maybe taking me to one of the showings and just letting me go in by myself.

    I think I’m going to wait until it’s out on Netflix or on DVD or something. So anyone that is planning on seeing this movie, please, oh please, enjoy it for me <3

    ~Crystal

    • B

      Don’t do that!. I mean, yes, watch it on Netflix/buy the dvd, but go watch it on a glorious cinema screen. Is one of those films you just have to experience that way. I completely understand you (I been there myself, i have a sister and all haha), but go alone. I did that several times. It’s just fine, believe me :)

      • So it’s okay to go alone? lol I heard stories that it’s weird.

        Alright, I’ll see what I can do to catch a showing near me and watch it myself :) Thank you, thank you so much <3 *HUGS!* Omg, I'm fucking excited, B! :') lol

    • Yes go alone if you must! I was on a road trip from central California to Arizona with my sister and it was playing in L.A. on the way to San Diego. We stopped to eat and then I told her we were watching Carol before we left L.A. If i was alone I would’ve went alone. It’s not playing anywhere in North Dakota or I would be there all weekend… alone or not!

  11. Val Brooklyn

    I’m so deep into Carol. I’m quite relieved to know I’m not alone in experiencing these stages of “grieving” including reading the book, reading the script, buying the soundtrack, watching other movies featuring the stars, watching too many interviews, reading reviews from about 50 publications and of course seeing it 3 more times.
    Time to see it again!

  12. Maria

    I just came back home from the movies and I’m sure ready to watch it again. Can I merry Therese yet?

  13. via

    I would like to make a coloring book for the movie that we can all use when movie theaters are closed. Except I would also have to make Todd Haynes perfect 1950’s shade colors and name them things like Carol’s Grey Leather Gloves and Therese’s Perfect Pink Nipples.

  14. I’m at the change your voicemail to random lines from the script in the voice of Carol Stage.

    My new voice-mail greeting in the voice of Carol: I’m sorry I missed your call earlier..I was horrible..will you forgive me ?, You don’t have to go out and buy me cigarettes!Leave a message”

    • That’s awesome. I’m having a hard time not saying, “well . . . that’s that” WITH a mid-century upper class accent.

    • DDouglas

      Now that is hilarious…great idea! Love everything about this beautiful film.

  15. What stage are you at when it’s never coming to your town and all the straddlewebs are talking about it all of the time? Sigh.

  16. God. I first watched this movie via a gritty internet link while not exactly sober, meaning I missed 90% of the dialogue and bawled when (SPOILERS!) Carol reassured Therese that she still wanted to share a bed the night after they were caught. Because how often does the married/partnered character declare it all to be a Big Gay Mistake and run off to beg forgiveness? None of that nonsense here.

    I did have an issue with feeling like Therese didn’t have much of a personality (possibly due to the fact that, again, I missed most of the dialogue). But I remedied this by reading The Price of Salt. I loved it. It fleshed out the characters in exactly the way I hoped it would.

  17. Oh! Carol opens in Australian theatres tomorrow. And. I. Cannot. Wait. :-O

  18. I feel so left out, I wish Carol was shown in a cinema where I live. Maybe it would have made more money at the box office if it had a wider release.

  19. I think this was a lovely article, I just couldn’t really focus on it, due to the pictures.

  20. I really didn’t like Carol! I don’t need movies to be realistic but they do need to be convincing.
    -I just can’t imagine two people falling in love purely through gazes. Literally 90% of their conversations are Carol inviting Therese to her house/life but why? Therese seems great and all but they don’t converse??
    -Not a moment of laughter or humor in the whole movie! Don’t you think lovers would laugh together at least once in the process of falling in love?
    -Therese being an aspiring photographer, really? I mean that’s not a bad thing, it just seemed kind of clumsy character development, like character-development-by-Vespa.
    -I did find alot of the movie compelling! Like the way Carol refuses to choose between her daughter & Therese, everything about Therese’s life – I wanted to know more! Is she from New York? Where are her parents?
    -I was glad I saw it but still disappointed.

    • I was disappointed as well. Saw it opening night last month and my hopes were way too high. It was fine, it was elegantly crafted! I didn’t hate it or anything, I just thought it was a little too careful and I, too, struggled to believe the relationship (I also didn’t think the leads had any chemistry). My poor girlfriend had an even worse time because she was in anguish the whole movie about whatever Cate Blanchett has done to her once-perfect face!

      Anyway, I’ll see myself out of the club forever now!

      • NM

        Uhhh… 1. C.B’s gotten older. 2. She’s lost a lot of weight and is keeping it off via exercise. Her face is leaner and the muscles of her face are more visible; the muscles of her neck more visibly affect her face as well. I’ve sketched Cate at least once for every year of her public life, and there’s no plastic surgery happening there. If you do that kind “research portraiture” (for want of better to call it), you can tell immediately if there’s been a structural addition/subtraction, and C.B’s had none at all. It’s kinda like her (magnificent!) back: it didn’t look that way just 3 years ago, definitely didn’t look that way around 2000. Hit the weights, swim as many lengths as she does every single day, and your body changes, but so does your face.

          • NM

            Those sketches (and others of other people) were my dark lil secret until several hours ago. I didn’t think they’d ever be discussed, but Weez gave me good reason to say, Nope, no surgery, yay!” My fascination, personally, is with aging as a natural progression. When it’s rudely interrupted by plastic surgery, I am not a happy camper. And then I feel guilty about being mad at people for doing what they have every right to do… but they messed up my natural progression sketchbook! :P

    • Same here. I mean, they didn’t really… DO ANYTHING together. They never felt like people falling in love or anything, just two people who were around each other and then I guess it’s time for a sex scene with swelling dramatic music.
      It felt like Oscar bait from 10 years ago.
      Lovely costumes and sets and props and acting and all that. But there was just a whole lotta nothing there.
      It left me wanting to watch But I’m a Cheerleader again with my lady love.

    • I had a lot of the same issues, but found that reading the book filled in so many gaps.

      The story is largely that same, but there are more interactions between Carol and Therese, and Therese’s background is much more full. We hear about her parents and her aspirations to be a set designer (a detail changed for the movie), among other things.

  21. calderapen

    Oh my Goddess, thank you so much for writing this. I saw the film last Friday with my wife and I have been through all the aforementioned stages, including reading the script and the book multiple times. While my wife enjoyed the movie, it did not have this affect on her and I therefore have been alone in this “lost weekend plus half another week” obsessive-depressive grieving process. Thanks to you and all the commenters I no longer feel like the lone crazy person.

  22. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but now I feel left out that it wasn’t a life changing experience! It was good, but it wasn’t amazing – I agree with some others that the characterization of Therese was a bit weak. I also would have pefered if Therese had walked away in the end, as I thought she might, and maybe persued something with someone she had more in common with. What she had with Carol didn’t seem like love – they barely knew each other – but simply an infatuation, and not an entirely healthy one.

  23. ann

    wow great thread. i don’t think I’ve ever had an actual ‘crush’ on a film like this. ever. it truly does feel like grieving. i feel like a nut trying to explain how amazing it is to people who haven’t seen it yet. it’s a film that i look forward to owning and watching repeatedly. hopefully they’ll do some kind of triple disc lotr-style dvd special edition with director’s commentary and like a million special features.

    • I did comment on here that I wanted a double disc. I totally forgot about the triple disc option!

  24. Kay

    I went through all of these as well :D Plus I became so obsessed with the soundtrack that I spent hours writing out a piano reduction by ear because the sheet music hasn’t been published. Now every time I walk into a practice room at uni instead of getting caught up on all that work that I’m supposed to do, I play through my favorite Carol themes over and over again.

  25. Lesley

    I’m at the stage of wanting a gold cigarette case (despite having never smoked in my life) and a martini (despite not really drinking now). I’m also spending far too much time wondering what perfume Carol wears.

  26. Meags

    this write up is absolutely spot on…i’m still in the Outreach stage.

  27. mashenka13

    It’s been a couple of weeks since I saw it for the (second) time and recently found out the soundtrack is now onSpotify. Made the mistake of listening and now I’m back at square one with all the feels. Like a combo of longing for the movie, for those emotions in my life, and getting punched in the stomach because the movie is over and I have actual stuff to do. Sigh….sooo good!

    • I feel like this and I haven’t even seen this movie yet! Not to get all cliche and stuff but I feel this movie in my soul O.O I can’t explain it, but you know?!?!?!?

    • Alright, thank you so much! :) Unfortunately, I don’t drive so it looks like I’ll be taking the bus or subway.

  28. I FINALLY SAW IT
    I took my male friend (who is gay) and he didn’t like it and thought it was BORING and I wanted to SCREAM AT HIM especially when he was like “yeah the lesbian sex scene didn’t do anything for me” WHO CARES WHO CARES SHUT UP WHO CARES WHY DID I EVEN INVITE YOU TO THIS MOVIE???

  29. Would reading and liking people’s comments on articles they’ve read about Carol be the eighth stage? Maybe… co-obsessing?

    • Don’t worry, you’re not alone! I do that too. And look, I just liked your comment lol ^^;

  30. I honestly don’t think I’m going to be able to see this on the big screen because there’s no money and I’m now depressed. I’m sorry but I need to vent this.

    I went to my cousin’s birthday party on Saturday and one of them drives a car, has a job, greets people well and speaks well. And well, I haven’t seen my cousin’s for 10+ years and naturally, I’d say, “Wow, she has changed a lot!” and my mom said that she’s basically everything that I’m not.

    I want to get the fuck out of the house, be away from my mom for a while and go see “Carol” but I can’t :'(

  31. i am stuked at stage “im sure Cate Blanchett is gay and there must be a way i’ll be her next girlfriend” is it ok ??…. no dont answer….

  32. Maresa

    Laughed a lot and identified with everything while reading this. Thanks!

  33. I just came across this article (having watched it a couple of times on DVD I am back in the ‘enabling’ phase. This article is so totally perfect. I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking like this. Thank you

  34. Dass puffs 67

    Petition Todd Haynes for a director’s cut DVD? Carol was soooo not long enough! I know you cut things out, Todd. I know you did.

  35. Rachel

    Love this. Because I’m seriously out of control.
    Carollllllllll!!!

  36. Alexis

    Did anyone have this same OMG, mustputmyhandsoneverythinghavingtodowiththis after seeing the Danish Girl? If you haven’t seen it, please do. Then read everything you can and look at the ART ( by Gerda) …and think about the time this was all done. Mind. Blown.

  37. Carol obsessed

    IM FUCKING DYING HOLY SHIT THIS WAS CREEPILY ACCURATE LIKE LEGITIMATELY THIS WAS ME IM SCREAMING

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