The Rhetorical Situation
Carol is based on the (my favorite) book, The Price of Salt (1952) by Patricia Highsmith. The film is set in 1950s New York City and tells the forbidden love story between Carol Aird, an older mid-divorced woman, and Therese Belivet, a younger, aspiring photographer. They first meet at the mall where Therese works, and Carol leaves her gloves at the counter. Entranced and intrigued by the woman she just met, Therese mails them to her using a slip Carol filled out with her name and address in order to have the product she bought shipped to her. Therese is invited to her home and Carol’s husband is skeptical of Therese because he knows about Carol’s homosexuality from a past affair. Since they are in the middle of a divorce, Carol’s husband wants to have a judge consider a “morality clause” as a means to keep their daughter, and Carol flees the city, taking Therese with her. The two meet a traveling salesman who ends up being a private investigator following the two. The PI ends up recording Carol and Therese kissing and having sex as evidence, and Carol leaves Therese abandoned to try and make things right with her husband. The two meet again later after Carol decides to allow her husband to have custody of their daughter so she can be her authentic self. The end of the movie implies that Therese goes back to Carol after being hurt and rejecting Carol’s advances.
According to Sellnow, a neo-Marxist perspective allows rhetors to “expose how material conditions and economic practices shape dominant ideology regarding taken-for-granted assumptions about who ‘ought to be’ and ‘ought not to be’ empowered,” (135). More generally, how texts in pop culture reject or reinforce the status quo. I chose Carol for this perspective because the entire movie is about rejecting societal norms in order to be happy, even if it is a huge obstacle. In Carol, Carol and Therese are rejecting hegemony, the “privileging of a dominant group’s ideology over that of other groups,” (137). This is because instead of following the social order of heterosexuality, they are engaging in a romantic and sexual relationship with each other. Because of this, Carol’s husband is trying to take everything he can away from Carol – especially her daughter. This is the consequence she faces as a result of rejecting hegemony. Othering is the “devaluing consequence of hegemony that perceives those not in the empowered groups as different and as a them,” (137). In the 1950s, homosexuality was seen as a disease. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I), homosexuality was described as a “sociopathic personality disturbance”. During the ’50s homosexuality considered hard to treat. Psychiatrists back then believed that it could be treated with psychoanalytic treatment, which Carol ends up receiving as part of a court order in the divorce.
Sellnow describes interpellation as something that occurs when a text leads readers or watchers to identify with certain roles. Using characters as models and anti-models is one way texts do this. According to Sellnow, models are those who act “normal, attractive, and desirable” while anti-models are characters who act “abnormal, unattractive, and undesirable” (139). I believe that in Carol, the audience is led to identify with the anti-models. In societal terms, Carol and Therese are the anti-models because their behavior is “abnormal” and wrong. This means that the audience is taught to reject hegemony in order to side with the anti-models since the movie also perceives characters who reinforce hegemony as antagonists. This makes Carol an oppositional reading because it “challenges the status quo argument about who ought to and ought not to be empowered” (140). More specifically, Carol is a subverted oppositional reading because it rejects hegemony outright, from the very beginning.
Implications of Carol
With the setting of the film, I think Carol shows how far the United States has come with the idea of homosexuality. Given that 70 years ago, it was seen as a disease and now we have the federal right to get married, there have been huge strides for the community. A potential implication of the film could be that it is okay to love who you love even if others say it is wrong. The empowerment that occurs in the movie only does so when the leading women reject the status quo in order to do what they love.