How ‘Carol’ and ‘Disobedience’ Won My Heart in Similar and Wonderful Ways

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Several weeks ago, I saw Disobedience with my wife. And, almost immediately, I experienced some serious déjà vu. Two years ago, we were sitting in the exact same theater (on discount Tuesday yet!) watching and falling in love with Carol. As Disobedience unfolded, engulfing me in its richly rewarding drama, the swooning fangirl in me once again became enthralled. Maybe TOO enthralled. Was I forgetting my allegiance to Carol? (God help me, I even changed my Facebook cover from Carol and Therese in bed to Ronit and Esti touching noses!).

But the writer in me thought “well wait a second…I can love both movies, right? These movies have some wonderful similarities, don’t they?” So I decided, what fun it would be to do a checklist on the similarities between Carol and Disobedience. Two conflicted women? Check. Man in the middle? Check. Yeah, I know. I’ve read the reviews, the comparisons, the clever “Jewish Carol” headlines. I also know the two movies REALLY couldn’t be more different. But for an older woman like me, who grew up with some pretty dismal lesbian tv and movie experiences, the comparisons go much deeper.

My lesbian viewing history began in the 70s when our movie choices consisted of lesbian killers on the loose, alpha males fighting for their lesbian wives and, worst of all, suicide, death or murder as the “happy” ending. And lesbian affection? Forget it. A director was considered “brave” if a woman slowly placed a quivering hand on another woman’s shoulder. 

But all that is behind me now, thank God. Carol and now Disobedience have become the happy bookends to my nightmarish lesbian viewing history and I can move on.  So I would like to share my deeply personal checklist of the ways Carol and Disobedience have won my heart in many similar and wonderful ways.

Women In Front of the Camera and Behind the scenes

Carol had been in development hell since 1997, when Phyllis Nagy first started writing the screenplay based on Patricia Highsmith’s pioneering novel. Thanks to her persistence, producer Elizabeth Karlsen’s determined nurturing and Cate Blanchett signing on as both star and co-producer, Carol became a wonderful reality in 2015. The success of Carol paved the way for Disobedience star Rachel Weisz to snag the rights to Naomi Alderman’s novel and co-produce the movie. But we need more. Much more. I still hold out hope that one ambitious woman will cast Eva Green as Radclyffe Hall’s unapologetically butch lesbian Stephen Gordon in a long overdue adaptation of The Well of Loneliness.

Honorary Members of the Lesbian Sisterhood

Disobedience movie

Don’t you love when straight actresses get gay schooled for their lesbian movie roles? My new favorite pastime is watching the casts from Carol and Disobedience gush about their newfound lesbian education. How many lesbian books they have read to prepare for their roles. Or how soft their co-star’s skin is. Or how kissing a woman beats kissing a man. It’s all adorable publicity, I know. And I don’t care. I’ve already shipped Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in every press conference and interview out there and I am now doing the same with the Rachels.

Forbidden Society Is a Big Loser

I’ve grown weary of lesbian films where the big, bad society wins out. Too many of us know in our real lives how dangerous or frowned upon our love can be. Why have it rubbed in our faces at the movies? That’s why it’s so satisfying to watch Carol and Therese buck societal conventions in one era, while Ronit and Esti fight religious oppression in another. And for once, both couples triumph.

Smoking is Wrong but It’s Also Smoking Hot

This one is wrong, I know. Smoking is unhealthy and will kill. But can we take a moment to salute the mesmerizing ways in which Cate Blanchett and Rachel Weisz hold a cigarette? I’m endlessly fascinated by Carol’s unfettered smoking in restaurants, parties and when Harge is being a dick to her. Ronit also puffs away, but her smoking is a gorgeous act of defiance. Even when Dovid banishes her to smoke on the balcony (in a brilliantly subtle move against his competition), Ronit delights in throwing darts at the status quo.

Photographers Have the Strongest Fingers

In many ways, Carol and Disobedience are movies about the art of photography and capturing awakening passion. Therese, the quiet, shy beginner becomes an artist while taking breathtaking photos of Carol tossing her blond locks in front of Christmas trees. And Ronit, who IS a professional, doesn’t take one, single photo in London until she sees the magnificent work of art that is Esti in bed, after sex and thoroughly saturated.

Cathartic, Erotic and Bittersweet Love Scenes

Todd Haynes and Sebastian Lelio are lesbian soul sisters. They get it. They get US. They know how often we still cringe the second we sit down in a theater and dread the upcoming Male Gaze Lesbian Sex Scene. I love seeing the urging, yearning, release of repressed desire explode in both films.

I love Carol’s tentative untying of her robe, or Ronit removing Esti’s symbolic wig.  Haynes’s daring decision to film Carol and Therese’s passion upside down can be frustrating (a big thanks to the YouTube user who turned that scene right side UP!), but it’s also a searing reminder of the danger of their love: the walls can cave in on them at any minute.

Sebastian Lelio amps up the eroticism in a much longer, much more explicit sex scene. And the “to spit or not to spit” question that has divided the community? I’m firmly in spit territory–it’s one of the most erotic moments I’ve ever seen captured on screen. But the way the male critics creamed about it, I envisioned one Rachel hocking a loogie from across the room into another Rachel’s mouth. When I actually SAW it, the beauty of that moment struck me immediately. It’s a sealing of two souls. Or, as a member of my Carol Facebook group wonderfully puts it, “it’s like watering a parched woman.”

Supremely Satisfying Endings

When I think about Carol or Disobedience on any given day, I recall with pleasure those glorious final scenes which leave the viewer to fill in the rest of the story. Will Carol ask for the check and take Therese on another cross-country trip? Will Esti make a beeline for the airport to get Ronit back? I play again, over and over the fervent glances between Carol and Therese in a crowded restaurant, oblivious to others; the final urgent kisses shared by Ronit and Esti in a cramped taxi as they grapple with their future.  Both films leave me breathless, happy to be alive and seriously wanting some sequels. Best of all, no man is left standing.

Box Office Successes

As of this writing, Carol’s box office gross is $40 million worldwide, while Disobedience has so far grossed $3,498,201 according to the website Box Office Mojo. I don’t usually care about box office receipts, but these numbers are proof that lesbian audiences are major contenders. Our wallets are speaking out loud and clear.

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