The cafe isn’t full nor completely empty, but despite the choreographed action around, two tables hook our eyes. In one of them, Therese has what seems to be one last conversation with Carol Aird. In another, Laura Jesson speaks with her lover, doctor Alec Harvey, for the very last time, in David Lean’s masterpiece, Brief Encounter (1945). The two conversations are connected by a same interruption, which forces the performance to reorganize itself, leading up to one silent, totemic gesture: as Carol and Alec stand up to leave, they put their hands on their lover’s shoulders.
If David Lean made an entire film just to lend proper meaning to that apparently casual gesture, repeating it at the end of the film in bookend fashion, Todd Haynes makes an entire movie to actualize the filmic experience and the world of affection deposited in that one image of a hand on a shoulder.
In an apparently unimportant moment of the film, chit chat peels off the layers of this obsessive relationship, by the way of compulsively rewatching Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, to the point that you can concentrate on “the correlation between what the characters say and what they really mean”. When we see this hand resting on a shoulder for the first time, here, we’ve already seen it before; hence, we know exactly what it means: if Laura and Alec were the adulterous romantics of their time, now the same song sings for the seemingly impossible love between Carol and Therese. May us weep for them, for they speak for us.
[…] Purified by purposeful saturation, cinema once again finds the time and space to contemplate the one true, vital question: how can a hand rest on a shoulder in a way that carries not only the weight of every hand that ever laid on any shoulder, anywhere, at any time, but every gesture as meaningful as this that ever happened in the world? (x)
Brief Encounter (Dir. David Lean, 1945) / Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2015)