Carol (2015, dir. Todd Haynes)

From its opening shot Carol declares the world a prison, a place of constriction and immobility. The incapacity to move or the experience of obstacles in one’s way, delimiting the capacity to become mobile, underline the film; with the ideas expressed consistently in the blocking and framing of the characters in relation to the environments that they inhabit.

The attention to this dynamic creates a claustrophobic mood, wherein the character’s come to exude a loneliness that nothing less than the world has written upon their very being: “I always spend New Year’s alone. In crowds.” The fear that presents comes out of this all-encompassing atmosphere of imprisonment in a world wherein one is, despite being constantly rooted in place and surrounded by those who would proffer one’s own self-definition, lost; and even as this oppression exists alongside a coextensive longing for contact and an otherwise proximity. The sum effect is that one is subject to a persistent reassertion of the World’s order from its well-adjusted, unassuming inhabitants, regardless of one’s agreement with that order.

In this deeply constricted environment—wherein we are brought close to characters who emote profoundly through what is often left unexpressed—that we witness movements, expressions, and reactions that—as they breach the emotional distance constructed to counter the physical closeness of the unwelcome—enact a decisive touch, a site wherein a being known and marked that one had never even conceptualized as possible becomes real—and this as world breaking potential.

The vital importance of touch, and being marked in and by that touch, is seen as the idea is visually developed over the course of the film. Indeed, the film opens at the close, with the reality of what will become possible; which is then immediately contrasted with the unreality of the actual in the new world to be ushered toward. Yet, even as the film opens with the touch, it, so to speak, begins with a ghost, the glove as the insinuation of touch, of the possibility of intimacy and emotional connection in a world of constrictive closeness. From thereon, reaching out and pursuit of this touch is made and becomes known and real, before it collapses and is withdrawn under the rules and due to the reassertion of the nomos of the earth.

In addition to the integral place of touch and how it is visually worked out, one cannot miss the manner in which space is a vital means by which it is developed. The film is essentially chiastic in its movement and expression of how the central marking relates to proximity, with infinity of vertical space becoming mirrored in the other who marks.

The chiastic structure here comes in the distance of the characters from one another and how the rules of the world realise themselves as effective, rather than de facto, obstacles: “I’m sort of trapped behind this desk.” The touch that shocks one into a new world, that renders proximity for the first time unoppressive, that sees even real distance closed—as the close-ups of the phone conversations make plain—mobilises one to pursue the other as the one who marks, and is themselves marked in the process, collapses space even in spite of spatial restriction. As the film proceeds the nature of the de facto obstacles morph to antagonistic impositions and then to part of an order to be resisted.

Further, as distance is closed and proximity realised, one finds in the central positioning of the other as unknowable depth to become lost in a reflection of the infinity of space itself, a vertical and outward expansion is also found in the horizontal and inward. It is a position in which one way become lost and a new world found, with its own nomos, its own law, its own rules.

However, as the world reasserts and the infinity of the other is barred one finds in the film a movement back to the spatial restriction that was hesitantly transgressed before. The collapsed space remains collapsed, even as it is obstaclised, leaving open the possibility of touch even as it is now known to risk punitive measure. There is in an intuitive staging to the latter conversation (that which also opens the film) and the first conversation following the film’s true beginning. Each are shot in shot reverse shot, but the former is set with wooden boards closing the characters off to the world around, signalling their preoccupation with the other. The latter is staged in the open, both having become starkly aware of the World and its orientation against them.

Further heightening the chiastic organisation, we close with shots that mirror the beginning, not the open, with body-obstacles no longer obstacles or occupying attention, and with character positions reversed. Yet, the conclusion, while a visual repetition or echo of the beginning, is markedly different. It exists as revolutionary for it enacts itself as a new world not on the run or hidden from the World, but in resistance to and with full knowledge of the order of things. It exists as a declaration of love, courage, and desire; existing, in all its fragility, as a daring thematic and compositional culmination to this hypnotic and often confining rumination on oppressive and freeing proximities and infinities.

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