What Two Key Features of the Source Novel Does “Carol” the Film Strive to Preserve?

At a New York City panel discussion in November, 2015, screenplay writer Phyllis Nagy addressed the two most important features of the source novel that Nagy fought to preserve in the film adaptation Carol (2015).

Nagy states, “There are two things about the novel that struck me. One was this extraordinary lack of banal psychology or psychologizing about the state of being in love with a woman. Neither character in the novel experiences a moment of guilt about their attraction to each other. There are other things of course that are brought to bear on that, but that’s very pure and one of the hardest things to preserve.” In many respects, the film presents a very forward and modern approach to homosexuality in that it remains free of judgment, free of pyschology that often underlies a story about same-sex relationships.

“The other thing was Highsmith’s really astonishing view of motherhood and what makes a good mother and what are the things we should and shouldn’t pass on to our children.” In the story, Carol Aird (played by Cate Blanchett) painfully agrees to relinquish custody of her daughter to her ex-husband. She tragically laments that she cannot be a satisfactory mother if she must deny her true nature - that of loving and being attracted to women. Carol’s perspective on motherhood reflects a relatively radical notion of maternal love, suggesting that a mother cannot truly do right by her child if that mother is forced to conceal her true self and endure an inauthentic life.

It took Nagy more than 18 years to develop the project and through it all she has fought to retain these two core elements on the big screen.