People in the queer community often have to find alternative ways of self-expression. These new, “other” ways don’t always fit cultural expectations, and they can be isolating. The movie, Carol, explores this concept, as does a new article by Victoria Smith, “The Heterotopias of Todd Haynes: Creating Space for Same Sex Desire in Carol,” published in the Film Criticism. In the article, Smith uses Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias to argue that the spaces that gay protagonists create are both liberating and limited.
Carol, set in the 1950’s, is a story of a budding queer romance between the affluent, alluring older Carol (Cate Blanchett) and a young, indecisive Therese (Rooney Mara). Lesbian romance was taboo in America during the 1950s, and Smith argues that director Todd Haynes meticulously used dialogue, framing, colors, and camera angles to create an “other” space, hidden from social propriety and expectations. “Haynes encourages viewers to consider what the space consists of, who occupies it, and in what ways,” Smith writes.
Smith also argues that space itself is a concept that the movie explores. The plot is set during a time period noted for its conservative ideals and emphasis on conformity. Even when the film’s couple finds a space to exist freely, not only are they violated, but the space they have found is dingy and decrepit. “Haynes thus creates a distinct visual space—of dirty, dismal colors, and a bleak urban environment—that is inextricably tied to its time of post-war anxiety and transition,” says Smith. These storytelling choices are a commentary of the limitations of existing outside the cultural norm.
Smith’s article helps explain the necessity of “other” spaces in a way that film critics, and the queer community itself, could appreciate. Her article helps us better understand film theory, film making and the queer community.