Two Movies With One-Word Titles: Brooklyn And Carol

Is it my imagination, or were there a whole lot more movies than usual with one-word titles in 2015? Burnt. Room. Minions. Spectre. Trainwreck. Trumbo. Phoenix. Pixels. Grandma. On and on the list goes. Luckily for me and my readers, this article will not be an examination of how, if at all, movie quality correlates with title length. I’ll leave that project to PhD candidates frantically in search of an original research topic. However, I am going to write about Brooklyn and Carol, two more movies with really short names. They hit theaters in the latter stage of 2015, which is when my wife Sandy and I saw them. I thought that both were very good and that they had some things in common besides the title situation.

Let’s start with the interesting but unimportant. It’s pretty cool that here we are with two movies partly set in New York City circa 1950. Dig the voluptuous cars and snazzy hairdos. Brooklyn spends much screen time in, who’d have guessed, Brooklyn. Carol takes place in various places, most prominently in Manhattan. And, amazingly, each movie features a girl employed as a sales clerk in a department store but not destined to remain there. What’s more, both flicks are based on novels. Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn came out in 2009. Carol is drawn from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 opus, The Price Of Salt.

But none of the above is glue. Where the movies, to me, really seem to reflect off one another is in their multi-angled looks at the meaning and value of a big-time human concept: Home. What is home? Is it a place, a state of mind, both? Do people know when they are home? Does feeling at home matter? Where does live fit in with all of this?

Whew! Tough questions. There’s a good chance I’ll get nicely tangled up trying to address them. Before that happens, though, I’ll make what probably are my most important comments: Brooklyn and Carol are thoughtful movies, and they have different tones. The former has its slightly unsettling sequences, but overall is bouncy, laden with brightness and bon mots, and maybe too stagey. Still, it firmly gazes at human relationships and life’s pitfalls, as does Carol. Carol, though, is deliberately paced and dead serious. Muted lighting, a quiet jazzy soundtrack and ubiquitous cigarette smoke add a dreamlike quality to its decidedly realistic proceedings. If you need some laughs mixed in with the cerebral, then Brooklyn likely is for you and Carol isn’t. But both are strong productions. Fluid direction (Todd Haynes helmed Carol, and John Crowley took the wheel for Brooklyn) and excellent acting propel them. Brooklyn‘s leads, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen, are terrific. Likewise Carol‘s main players, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

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Brooklyn and Carol are love stories of the heterosexual and homosexual varieties, respectively. Brooklyn follows the ups and downs of Eilis Lacey (Ronan), an 18-year-old or so Irish lass living with her adoring mother and adoring older sister, Rose, in County Wexford. Rose wants the best for Eilis. Duly noting that career opportunities for her younger sister are limited in Ireland, Rose arranges for Eilis to live and work in America, in Brooklyn, where presumably a fine future will be attainable. Large numbers of Irish and Irish-descended already populate Brooklyn. There, Eilis might feel as if she almost were home. But she doesn’t, not at first. Far away from everything that matters to her, she flounders. Then she meets Tony Fiorello (Cohen), a young guy of Italian background who seems for real, who loves her, and her world changes. But life, as is its wont, throws curveballs at Eilis. Where is Eilis’ heart most at home? In Brooklyn? In Ireland? With Tony? The answers mutate over time.

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Carol presents a similar mix of conundrums.  Therese Belivet (Mara), maybe a few years older than Eilis, lives alone in a small Manhattan apartment. She has a loving boyfriend, Richard. But she feels unsettled. She doesn’t know herself, hasn’t come to many conclusions about her needs and likes and directions. At her department store sales counter one day she meets an intriguing customer, Carol Aird (Blanchett), a polished and moneyed missus living with, but divorcing, her husband. Carol Aird is twice Therese’s age. They take to each other, feel comfortable with each other. Start spending a good deal of time together. And ultimately take a road trip, a trip necessitated by Carol’s wish to try and make her unhappy marriage a distant memory for awhile. Carol and Therese are platonic partners at the start of their adventure, but not for too long.

At a restaurant during the journey, Carol asks Therese if she misses Richard. Therese says she hasn’t thought about him since hitting the road. In fact, she says, she hasn’t thought about home at all. Carol looks at Therese and, with a gentle snort and slight shake of the head, mumbles “home.” Carol knows that she has no home, not really. She feels unanchored in the stately house she shares with her spouse, has no real connection to her community. Both she and Therese are homeless in spirit. But they are discovering each other.

Gentle readers, little more will I divulge about Brooklyn and Carol. Except for this: Both movies reach clear and understandable conclusions. Which, being on the slow side, is something I appreciated. But those conclusions sent my mind into overdrive, and I projected past the closing scenes. Life’s complicated. Answers and resolutions do not come easily. And even in those instances when the fogs eventually lift, as they do in Brooklyn and Carol, who can say what the future will hold?

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