The Bi Community Keeps Winning With “Loki” Episode 3

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

I can’t tell what’s more mind-boggling to me: that in a single night, the Marvel Cinematic Universe went from having precisely zero canonically queer characters (leaving aside Gay Joe Russo because I will do literally anything in my power to expunge that atrocity from my mind) to having not one, but two whole canonically bisexual characters, or that it took thirteen years to do what ultimately cost Loki (Tom Hiddleston) only about ten seconds in today’s episode of Loki – confirm, in a single line of dialogue, that he’s attracted to both men and women.

Loki
Loki and Sylvie | ew.com

And yeah, thirteen years is a long time to wait, but take into account the fact that Loki has been depicted as queer in Norse mythology for literal centuries, and the MCU is alarmingly late to the party. The perfect time to organically reveal Loki’s bisexuality in the movies was ages ago – at the very least in Thor: Ragnarok, where the sexual tension between Tom Hiddleston and Jeff Goldblum was so palpable you could feel it even without the script slyly hinting that Loki had seduced Goldblum’s Grand Master, or vice versa. But remember Marvel’s excuse for why a single shot of a woman exiting Valkyrie’s bedroom had to be cut from that film, thereby entirely erasing the only hint of that character’s bisexuality? Because it was “distracting”.

Apply that same faulty logic to all instances of queerness, and it’s no wonder why Loki had to be three episodes deep in his own solo TV series before he could even so much as address his sexuality, with a line straight out of Shadow And Bone bicon Jesper Fahey’s playbook: “A little bit of both.” My hope is that, in the near future, it won’t have to take this long before Marvel characters can be queer upfront instead of having to Trojan Horse their way into audiences’ hearts for decades: and the fact that the writer of today’s episode, Bisha K. Ali, is also presiding over the writers room for the upcoming Ms. Marvel series (as concerning as some of that show’s casting choices have been) is a promising sign. I also hope that Loki director Kate Herron is able to return to the MCU after this series is completed.

And while fans had been hoping for Loki to be confirmed as queer for years because it was just the logical thing to do, I also appreciate that Marvel took an additional tentative step forward, and did the same for Sylvie Laufeydottir (Sophia Di Martino), whom last week we only knew by the title of “Lady Loki” – a title I will no longer be using for her, since it’s become abundantly clear that while she appears to be a Loki Variant, she doesn’t identify with him or many of his experiences. But like Loki, she does seem to be queer – or at least Loki says he suspects as much, and she doesn’t argue the point. It’s hard to say if that makes her canonically queer or not…kind of?

But yeah, apart from (possibly) being bi and doing crimes, Sylvie actually has surprisingly little in common with Loki. The exact details of where/when she came from, who raised her, and why the TVA wants to eradicate her from existence are still unclear, but we got a couple of hints. She was adopted, like Loki, but her adoptive parents never hid that from her. Crucially, she doesn’t seem to have had a strong relationship with her mother – which shocks Loki, given how instrumental he considers Frigga to be in nurturing his talents from a young age when Odin regarded him as a hostage rather than a son. Sylvie therefore learned magic on her own, and seems to have tapped into a vein of chaos magic that allows her to manipulate minds much like Wanda Maximoff.

Lastly, it seems she chose to live permanently as Sylvie, as evidenced by her telling Loki that she doesn’t use his name “anymore”. So the character’s gender-fluidity is apparently an element in the story, and not just on literal paper. But Sylvie mentions that the Time Variance Authority has been hunting her for her entire life, meaning she varied from the confines of the Sacred Timeline at a very young age, perhaps when she chose to live as a woman. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder why she’d get so angry at Loki for calling her by his name. It would also explain why she’s going after the mysterious Time-Keepers who supposedly preside over the TVA – because what right do they have to judge who gets a place in the Sacred Timeline, and who doesn’t? We know other timeline alterations have been authorized by the TVA, so what does ultimately inform the Time-Keepers’ decisions?

Sylvie is looking for answers to all those questions when the episode opens, and we find her infiltrating the mind of a captured TVA agent named C-20 (Sasha Lane), probing for information about how to reach the Time-Keepers, and who guards them. You see, Sylvie is still operating under the assumption that the Time-Keepers actually exist, and I simply don’t think that’s the case. It’s telling that C-20’s intel leads Sylvie straight to the offices of Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – the same Ravonna Renslayer who, in the comics, was the one true love of Kang the Conqueror, a tyrannical villain intent on controlling his past, present, and future, by bending time to his will. It’s not like Renslayer has historically been a TVA operative in the comics: Marvel gave her this role for a purpose, and I think that purpose is abusing the authority of the TVA to destroy anything that could threaten Kang’s chances of conquest.

Loki
Sylvie Laufeydottir | cinemablend.com

It wouldn’t be the TVA’s first shady deed. Sylvie later reveals that all of the organization’s millions of workers are Variants, whose memories of their former lives are deeply buried under layers of brainwashing and propaganda. Sylvie is able to briefly reconstruct an expensive resort restaurant from C-20’s memories during a trippy exchange accompanied by Hayley Kiyoko’s very apt “Demons”, but imagine if Sylvie – or Loki, with proper training – were to perform her trick on Mobius? I’d bet good money that in his past life, he was a jet-skier from the 1990’s.

Unfortunately, Sylvie’s attack on the TVA doesn’t go as planned, as Loki is forced to drag her through a time portal to escape from Renslayer. A lot happens in this sequence – which all takes place in the first few minutes of the upsettingly short episode – but Loki taking an opportunity to steal his daggers back from Hunter B-15’s locker, and Sylvie trying to use Loki’s life as leverage over Renslayer, only for the judge to encourage her to kill the God of Mischief, were definitely highlights of what I feel is only the warm-up to a much larger assault on the organization coming later in the series. Look back at the trailers, and there’s a shot of Renslayer standing on her desk wielding her baton that we still haven’t seen – so someone must get past her office’s gilded doors, and whatever they discover there will be huge.

The time portal unceremoniously deposits Loki and Sylvie on Lemantis-1, in the year 2077, shortly before a collision with a nearby moon is set to wipe out the purple planet’s entire civilization, unless they can escape upon a spaceship named the Ark. This survival quest gives the two characters plenty of time to bond and wear each other down a little – perhaps a little too much. Despite being given ample warning that “perverse fanfiction” would come out of the pairing, there’s still discourse around whether it’s problematic to ship what Twitter dubs “selfcest” – a thing that to the best of my knowledge is literally impossible in the real world barring any sudden advancements in cloning technology, and thus is not worth being alarmed about. That being said, Loki and Mobius are where it’s at, thank you very much.

In Mobius’ absence, however, I’ll give you that Di Martino and Hiddleston are loads of fun, and their dynamic is perhaps a bit more lively and energetic than Hiddleston and Wilson’s circuitous banter. Di Martino isn’t trying to parody Hiddleston right back at him, something that could easily have become grating: instead, her Sylvie has a world-weary frustration and cynicism that plays well off of Hiddleston’s nihilistic good cheer. There are some hilarious moments when the two accidentally discover a trait they have in common, such as when the two argue about who’s the most flagrantly hedonistic, but they also share a poignant outlook on love that comes with their timelessness, and an appreciation for sharp objects (although Di Martino carries a sword, and is a more efficient fighter all around – after shedding her burdensome cloak, ditching her tiara, and letting her hair down as she plunges into battle, she feels like she fully comes into her own).

The episode’s final battle, an experimental long-take sequence unusual for Marvel, is a beautiful display of both Sylvie and Loki’s magical abilities that makes me desperately want a video game based on the show, where a player could switch between the two characters. The frantic running and backtracking through the labyrinthine streets, the rotating camera movements, not to mention the central conceit of avoiding falling objects while progressing towards a prominent object in the middleground – the Ark – which blows up dramatically when a certain point is reached: all of it seems designed to mimic third-person gameplay, and it’s random yet glorious.

Loki
Lemantis-1 | screengeek.net

Unable to enjoy the visual splendor from their vantage point, Loki and Sylvie will have to find another way off of Lemantis-1 before it implodes. And with just three episodes left to go, I hope there’s enough time for them to explore the Multiverse that Sylvie created when she attacked the Sacred Timeline last week, while allowing for a satisfying conclusion to the mystery of the Time-Keepers. But the fact that Loki is all but officially confirmed to be getting a second season gives me hope that whatever happens, there’s more to explore in this bizarre, wonderful, corner of the MCU, and that by then Loki and Mobius will be the happy couple we honestly deserve.

Episode Rating: 9/10

It’s 2021 – Stop Queerbaiting Bucky Barnes, Please And Thank You

When I said I wanted The Falcon And The Winter Soldier to generate more conversation amongst the MCU fandom, queerbaiting discourse was not what I had in mind, I’ve got to be honest. Mostly because I had gone into this series basically resigned to the fact that the character of Bucky Barnes would probably never be revealed to be LGBTQ+ either in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or anywhere in the MCU, even after years of fans pleading for him to be. Yet here we are, a mere two weeks into the series’ run, already heading down an all-too-familiar path…[*sighs*]…so let’s talk about it.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | comicbook.com

Bucky Barnes’ sexuality has been a subject of fervent – and occasionally heated – debate for years. Fans took one look at his intense relationship with Steve Rogers, and realized what Marvel and the Russo Brothers either hadn’t, or didn’t want to admit: it was heavily queer-coded, and that was what made it alternately so compelling and so frustrating…because once Marvel saw what they’d done in creating the pairing commonly known as “Stucky”, it felt to many fans like the studio went out of their way to squash it.

Bucky had always been just as central to Steve’s character arc as Steve’s “best girl”, Peggy Carter…if not more so, given how little the Russo Brothers actually utilized Peggy when they had the chance. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was literally named after him, and revolved around the reveal that Bucky didn’t die in WWII, but was reborn from a potentially fatal injury as an emotionless assassin brainwashed by HYDRA to assist in the overthrow of democracy. Steve couldn’t bring himself to give up on Bucky, instead spending two movies chasing him down, doing everything in his power to save him from his own demons, and from those who would hurt and manipulate him.

Ultimately Steve is successful, but then Bucky – and by extension, Stucky – kind of disappears. In Endgame, he only has a few lines of dialogue at the end of the movie…just before Steve decides to go back in time and live out the rest of his life with Peggy, whose entire character arc in her Agent Carter series (which Endgame canonized earlier in the movie!) is thus scrapped. Some people like this ending for Steve and Peggy, which is fine. But whether you like it or not, there’s no denying it marked the death of Stucky, with Steve confirming through his actions that Peggy was his one true love.

So you can see why, going into The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to the matter of Bucky’s sexuality. Yeah, Marvel has talked a lot recently about the responsibility they feel to better represent the diversity of the modern world. But when it comes to finally getting an LGBTQ+ superhero onscreen, their policy has always been one of “maybe next time”, and it’s getting really old at this point.

Maybe in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2…no, to be honest, I don’t even know what James Gunn was referring to in that case. Maybe in Thor: Ragnarok…nope, just a deleted shot of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. Maybe in Black Panther, then?…nah, just a deleted scene of ambiguously gay flirting between Okoye and another woman. Well then, maybe in Endgame…of course not, just an unnamed civilian character who mentions going on a date with a guy. Maybe in WandaVision…no, Billy and Tommy Maximoff, both queer characters in the comics, have yet to be confirmed as such onscreen.

So even though The Falcon And The Winter Soldier featured plenty of lightly queer-coded scenes of Bucky and Sam Wilson tumbling on top of each other in the grass like Anakin and Padmé in Star Wars, or going to couples counseling to work out their problems…I wasn’t prepared to read anything into that. Sure, it felt like queerbaiting, but at the same time it felt like affection between men was being used as the joke in all those scenes, and I said as much.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | pride.com

There was, of course, that one puzzling line in the premiere where Bucky goes on a date with a woman, and mentions that he tried online dating but couldn’t get past all the “tiger photos”…something that confused the heck out of me, because I was not aware of the fact that tiger photos are a real thing on dating apps (or at least, were, before some apps banned the practice), and that specifically, they are a real thing almost exclusively found on men’s dating profiles. Men apparently pose, often half-naked, with tigers and other large cats. I don’t know why, but it’s apparently common enough information to spark a whole conversation on Twitter about the subject.

So of course, in a recent interview with NME, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s showrunner and head writer, Malcolm Spellman, was asked about whether that subtle reference was meant to imply anything about Bucky’s sexual orientation. And Spellman opted to answer as follows: “You just gotta…I’m not…I’m not diving down rabbit-holes but, uh, just keep watching.” It’s a non-answer, in line with non-answers Marvel content creators have given to questions before. But this wasn’t a question about Mephisto being in WandaVision. And this answer merely teases us with the infinite possibilities of an incredibly vague “maybe”.

Because a “maybe” isn’t exactly reassuring, but it holds out a lifeline to fans who are desperate for any LGBTQ+ representation…and if you’re gonna extend that lifeline, you can’t tug it away at the last minute. Because that is the definition of queerbaiting: the tried-and-true process of luring queer audiences into a show or film with the promise of meaningful LGBTQ+ representation, then never following through in any substantial way, or else revealing in the end that “surprise! They were straight all along! Fooled ya!”

I want to give Spellman the benefit of the doubt and dare to hope that maybe, maybe, he really is hinting that Bucky is queer, because that kind of reveal would be incredibly powerful and important: and because I don’t want audiences to use this conversation about queerbaiting as a way to ignore or actively undermine everything this series has already done for Black representation in superhero media – although confirmation of Bucky’s queerness would inevitably be weaponized for roughly the same effect. Even leaving potential queerness aside, Bucky is already used by some audiences to distract from Sam’s character. It’s racist, and needs to be called out.

Bucky Barnes
Falcon And The Winter Soldier | rollingstone.com

And if fans “keep watching” only to come out the other side with nothing, what then? If it hadn’t been for Spellman’s non-answer, I’d probably be regretful but unsurprised. Mark me down as frustrated and unsurprised now if we don’t even get another “exclusively gay moment” akin to LeFou dancing with a guy for about 0.1 seconds in 2017’s Beauty And The Beast. Because up until now, I was prepared to write off every instance of queer-coding in the series as simply being interpreted differently by fans than by the creators.

So a word of advice to Marvel, and all of Hollywood: don’t tease what you can’t or simply won’t follow through on, when it comes at the expense of queer fans who are still looking for representation in mainstream media, and keep being lured in different directions by series’ and films each promising to be the one that finally gets it right…but only if you “keep watching.”

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Review!

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four months since the world suddenly, shockingly lost Chadwick Boseman to cancer. Despite most of us having never known or met the man personally (and I will forever regret I never had the chance), I and millions of others around the globe were left devastated by Boseman’s death, which cut short an extraordinary career and a life lived honestly by a humble, kind-hearted, man. It’s natural to think of “what would have been”: the films he would have gone on to make, the awards he would most surely have won, and so on. But Boseman’s posthumous filmography, which includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and numerous episdoes of the animated What If…? series for Marvel, reflects not only Boseman’s versatility as an actor, but his determination to create a lasting legacy for himself that would span vastly different mediums and genres; a legacy that stands on its own.

Ma Rainey
Levee and Ma Rainey | theguardian.com

And that’s what makes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so incredibly painful to watch, as the film now feels almost too cruel for illuminating the setbacks that Black creatives have always suffered due to the efforts by mediocre white people to hijack their art and culture, not because it’s wrong to depict this by any means (quite the opposite)…but because it’s Chadwick Boseman’s character, underdog horn player Levee, who is actively being cheated out of his legacy in the film by a system that rewards theft and punishes integrity. But while some may find the pain still too raw to revisit (and as always, I encourage you to decide for yourself if that’s the case), I believe that the film makes one thing clear unintentionally: that even Chadwick Boseman’s sheer ability to carve out the beautiful, incredible legacy he has is something that cannot be taken for granted, although by rights it should – because for centuries, and right up until this present day, Black art, talent, and culture has been appropriated by white folks. And it’s up to white folks and allies of the Black community to call out that appropriation, and help to protect and preserve the legacies of Black creatives.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is entirely focused on this concept of trying to build a legacy, and the harsh toll it exacts on the Black creatives who have to fight every single day to protect their work. Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis, who herself famously called upon Hollywood to stop calling her the “Black Meryl Streep” unless they were going to start paying her accordingly) is seen as a difficult and unreasonable diva by her white manager and producer, but that’s because – as she explains in a brilliant monologue to her trombonist, Cutler (Colman Domingo) – she can’t afford to be fair and reasonable, because she knows that as soon as she lends her voice to the record album her production studio is creating, they’ll have no further use for her. She has to demand better, or she won’t be treated any better; whether that means requiring that she be served a Coca-Cola (in a prolonged sequence that, let me tell you, really made me want a Coca-Cola), or insisting that her nephew, who stutters, be featured on her biggest song, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, even though it takes six tries and six vinyl records to get it right.

Davis commands attention from the moment she appears onscreen, decked out in feathery finery, and literally glistening under lighting that is somehow both deeply uncomplimentary and strangely flattering to her mesmerizing stage persona. Maxayn Lewis provides Rainey’s rich, soulful, singing voice on almost all the songs in the film, but the rest is an intoxicating blend of Davis’ physical presence, her costuming department, and the particularly noteworthy efforts of her hairstyling and makeup team, whom I predict will be the Oscar frontrunners in their category. The final result of all their contributions is a bundle of joyous, irreverent charisma – a proud Black woman owning herself, her body, and her sexuality.

Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey | detroitnews.com

Her sexuality is a particularly interesting topic because the real-life Ma Rainey is strongly believed to have been a queer woman. And although the character of her girlfriend in the film, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), is entirely fictional, there’s evidence to suggest that Rainey did have a romantic relationship with one of her contemporaries, blues singer Bessie Smith. Depicting Ma Rainey authentically is important for several reasons, not least of all because we’ve seen very few stories of real-life Black LGBTQ+ historical figures depicted onscreen: and even fewer in a context where their sexuality is not the defining feature of their character. Ma Rainey is queer and a great singer and a savvy businesswoman…she’s allowed to be multi-faceted, and I love that.

Boseman’s Levee, meanwhile, spends a considerable amount of time trying to seduce Ma Rainey’s girlfriend away from her, much to her annoyance. A cocky, easy-going young playboy making his own music and gradually distancing himself from his older, wiser, bandmates, Levee is an antagonist to Rainey’s ambitions, but one gifted with warmth, charisma, and humanity: all talents innate to Chadwick Boseman, and which the actor easily imbues into his character…particularly in one beautifully written monologue sequence that I imagine must be taken word-for-word from the August Wilson play upon which Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based (like the recurring motif of Levee’s yellow shoes and the closed door in the recording studio that Levee repeatedly tries to break down, both of which came off as obviously theatrical devices to me). My biggest gripe with stage-to-screen adaptations tends to be dialogue, which can feel gratingly unnatural in movies: but while I wouldn’t say Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom doesn’t sometimes have that problem, I do think the actors – particularly Davis, Boseman, and Domingo – make it work in all the scenes that count.

The one aspect of the film that has drawn criticism, however, is the one crucial scene it adds to the screenplay: drastically changing the overall tone of the story – rather like the inverse of The Boys In The Band, which added a single, hopeful scene to the film adaptation’s ending to address criticism of the original play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom adds one scene that, without context, is completely mundane and uninteresting…but with context, is haunting, deeply disturbing, and a bleak reminder of how far we haven’t come since the 1920’s, and how much further we still have to go. Without getting into spoilers, I will say this much: it directly addresses the topic of cultural appropriation, and forces you to re-evaluate the entire film from that perspective. The original play did touch on this subject too, from what I understand, but not in this manner. I get why this scene was added – it’s not merely shocking, but also extremely important to the film’s central theme.

Ma Rainey
Levee | seattletimes.com

Cultural appropriation, an extension of white supremacy and imperialism, is the ultimate act of theft: the grand robbery of an entire art-form, or fashion, or tradition, or way of life, in most cases carried out by white folks who either think they’re being funny by contributing to harmful stereotypes, or are actively stealing an idea because they’ve decided they like it so much that they want to market it as something socially-acceptable for white people to buy/wear/whatever, and don’t understand or care how their actions keep the violent spirit of colonialism alive in the modern day. The latter is the more insidious of the two, and has been deeply engrained in the music and entertainment industries for over a century. How many great legacies were set in stone by Black creatives, only to be overwritten and overshadowed by white people stealing their ideas? We’ll probably never know. But I hope that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for many, will be the wakeup-call they need to the terrible effects of cultural appropriation, and the need to address it now, as we head into the roaring 2020’s.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Carol” Review! Is It A Christmas Movie Or Not?

Is 2015’s Carol a Christmas movie, in the proper sense of the phrase? Some would argue it is simply by virtue of being set in the last few weeks of December (and because one of the most memorable scenes in the movie revolves around the subject of Christmas presents), but in my opinion, it’s even a bit deeper than that.

Carol
Carol Aird | cinemablographer.com

Carol utilizes Christmas for more than just pretty set dressing. The overwhelming noise and chaotic hustle of the holiday season provides the perfect backdrop to the quiet, intimate, love story at the film’s core. The crowds of confused and hurried shoppers rushing to find gifts is an unmistakable parallel to the confusion of any whirlwind romance, but particularly one shared by two women in an unaccepting era – when even the terminology for sexual orientation was still unclear and mostly derogatory. And Christmas brings with it a whole slew of constraints and restrictions on the time our heroines can spend together without being watched. But…whenever the romance finally has a moment to breathe, everything goes quiet. The noise dies down until it’s little more than a murmur in the background; Carter Burwell’s Oscar-nominated score gently reinforces the building passion; and the spirit of Christmas is discovered in simple things like snowfall on a terrace at night, a Christmas tree purchased on the spur of the moment, or an abrupt winter getaway out west.

Based on The Price Of Salt (a semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1952 by Patricia Highsmith under a pseudonym and later republished in 1990 as Carol under her real name), Carol remains a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in film: the movie that launched a thousand awards-friendly atmospheric period dramas about introspective white lesbians. The story is small-scale on the surface – a series of electric interactions between two women that quickly becomes a fling, and then a romance – but the stakes couldn’t be higher for either character: Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is at risk of losing custody of her daughter if her sexuality is discovered, while Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is already engaged to a man for whom she has no feelings. The chemistry between the two actresses is the primary reason for why the movie works as well as it does, and for why it feels so genuine and impactful.

Carol
Therese Belivet and Carol Aird | artforum.com

Carol, the mysterious, multi-faceted woman around whom the story revolves, is the older and wiser of the two; but while her years have given her a flippant attitude towards life and a steady, self-assured command over herself, her surroundings, and her sexuality, they haven’t quieted her desire to finally live freely. Blanchett owns the role like a revelation wrapped up in an epiphany and a sensuous mink coat. And what’s brilliant about Blanchett’s performance (here and elsewhere) is that she never feels the need to overdo anything. Every one of her movements, mannerisms, facial expressions, winks, and subtle half-smiles is loaded with purpose – but so casually conveyed that Blanchett never comes off as fishing for Oscars. Oftentimes, the philosophical dialogue spouted in dramas can come off as inorganic and bizarrely forced, but Blanchett’s line-readings, delivered in that famously deep register that she might as well trademark, are equal halves relatable and enchanting.

The strength of Mara’s performance is in how clearly and vividly she expresses her love for Carol. While the extent of Carol’s feelings toward Therese Belivet are necessarily mysterious and unclear until the very end of the film (and Blanchett easily sells that aura of mystery, where you never know if something she’s said has a double entendre or a hidden meaning), the entire story hinges on Therese’s immediate attraction to Carol. It sounds quite simple – Cate Blanchett is a magnetic personality, after all – but Mara succeeds at convincing us that Therese’s devotion goes deeper than a surface-level. And although the film can’t take us into Therese’s head like the novel, it gets as close as it possibly can. Director Todd Haynes stages each romantic scene as if from Therese’s point of view, as she absorbs every tiny detail about her lover. That subtly allows us to also learn about Therese’s own self-doubt, which prevents her from recognizing her own worth until much later in the film, when the tables are turned.

Alongside powerhouse talents like Blanchett and Mara, it’s hard for anyone else in the movie to carve out much space for themselves. Sarah Paulson comes closest, playing Blanchett’s former lover Abby. Paulson, herself one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood (and whose wife, Holland Taylor, was one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood), has a key supporting role, holding her own opposite Blanchett as the latter’s foil. Also, her ability to slay in brown plaid is admirable, and I would totally watch the Carol prequel Paulson wants to make.

Behind the scenes, pretty much everybody deserves some measure of praise, because the film is a technical masterpiece: but I would especially point out Carter Burwell, whose score beautifully compliments the action; costume designer Sandy Powell, the mastermind behind Carol’s assortment of fur coats, headscarves, and sundresses; and cinematographer Edward Lachman, whose decision to shoot in grainy 16mm film is a large part of why the entire film feels so engrossing.

Carol
Carol Aird | bloomberg.com

But the key to Carol‘s success and popularity (and something which many of its predecessors and successors have forgotten or ignored) is its happy ending, something that stunned readers back in 1952 and viewers in 2015. Little has changed between those two dates, if a simple happy ending is still perceived as groundbreaking in stories (particularly romances) about LGBTQ+ characters, and too little has changed even in the five years since Carol came out. But onscreen representation matters: it has the power to uplift and to inspire. And that’s exactly what Carol‘s ending did for many viewers, by promising something better. Even if it’s not a traditional Christmas movie, it invokes the true spirit of the season far better than some.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10