CarolThe Catalonian Candidate Part Three:

The Lady or the Tigress

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Introduction: Criminal Desire / Us and Them

Patricia Highsmith - Criminal Desire

One of the main characters in Candidate gets his name from Alfred Hitchcock's film version of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train. Since the central conflict revolves around the desire for power and how desire can rob you of power, it's time to recommend Patricia Highsmith's second novel, The Price of Salt, and the superb film adaptation which took much longer to make it to the screen. It's all about desire and power, too.

The following (lightly edited) quotes from interviews with the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, and the film's director Todd Haynes shed some light on how Carol relates to Patricia Highsmith's other works.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross (Phyllis Nagy, Todd Haynes)

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith (Phyllis Nagy)

WTF with Marc Maron (Todd Haynes)

Phyllis Nagy: Carol is not a crime novel, but it does have elements of criminal in it. So it's still a Highsmith novel. There is a gun, there is an air of menace, there is paranoia, all of those things. (FA)

RooneyMaraTodd Haynes: Therese is so enthralled by the depiction and representation of femininity that Carol represents to a degree that she says I, myself, could never achieve. In Carol the character, there's something unhappy, there's something mercurial about this woman. She's sort of disinclined toward happiness or spontaneity. What we have the opportunity to see in a character like Carol is the facade, the alluring surfaces of this woman that immediately draws and attracts Therese, and then the layers begin to fall away, and you start to see a very complicated and conflicted person underneath that. And you see her taking a curious leap, both of them, out of their worlds to the other, almost against all logic. And I think there's something so lovely about that being the way love often begins in the most irrational, inexplicable circumstances, where you put yourself out there and you keep going, What am I doing? Where am I? Why am I here? But you keep going back. (FA)

The moment of attraction that the film manages to capture occurs in the book right here:

"Their eyes met at the same instant moment, Therese glancing up from a box she was opening, and the woman just turning her head so she looked directly at Therese. She was tall and fair, her long figure graceful in the loose fur coat that she held open with a hand on her waist, her eyes were grey, colorless, yet dominant as light or fire, and, caught by them, Therese could not look away. She heard the customer in front of her repeat a question, and Therese stood there, mute. The woman was looking at Therese, too, with a preoccupied expression, as if half her mind were on whatever it was she meant to buy here, and though there were a number of salesgirls between them, Therese felt sure the woman would come to her. Then, Therese saw her walk slowly towards the counter, heard her heart stumble to catch up with the moment it had let pass, and felt her face grow hot as the woman came nearer and nearer."

And here's how the men in Patricia Highsmith's works deal with their desire.

Phyllis Nagy: Ripley is the kind of character, as opposed to the women in The Price of Salt, who would rather have his throat slit in public than admit that he's gay. This is the thing that really fuels everything that he does: a denial of identity. This is more typical of Highsmith's protagonists. Carol is the anomaly. (Q&A)

Todd Haynes: So much of what she is better known for are these male criminal subjects in Ripley, Bruno (in Strangers on a Train) where homoeroticism is the unspoken engine that the criminal act is the manifestation of. And so there's this real questionable, fascinating pathology around homosexuality as the underpinning of criminal activity, and it drives so many of these stories. This is the only book she wrote, The Price of Salt, that's about homosexuality that's not a pathological depiction, and it's between women. (FA)

Todd Haynes: All her other novels are about the criminal mind, and you're locked inside that festering mental state, and this is about the amorous mind, but it's a similarly festering state for both, particularly the one that's in the more powerless position. (WTF)

Todd Haynes: It made me look at how point of view functions so interestingly in love stories where you're on the side of the weaker party. In war it's the object that gets conquered, and in love it's the subject that gets conquered. So we're on the side of the vulnerable in love stories. And that changes in the course of the movie. (WTF)

Here's an excellent New Yorker article. Forbidden Love The passions behind Patricia Highsmith's "The Price of Salt." By Margaret Talbot

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homeland2Us and Them

In working on The Catalonian Candidate, I've been exploring a much more mysterious desire. Why in the world would anyone want to be President of the United States?

I watched the documentary Mitt on Netflix, which includes the Romney family meeting where the presidential run is discussed. The documentary The War Room shows the inner workings of the Clinton campaign, including the handling of the Gennifer Flowers incident (a crucial plot point). Best of Enemies speculates that ABC's bargain basement coverage of the 1968 conventions featuring debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal set media coverage on the slippery slope to today's shouting heads. And then, there's the 2016 presidential campaign...

This blast from the past from 1964 not-too-subtly suggests that voting for one candidate will lead to nuclear war. The two party system has always been a contest of "us" and "them." View on YouTube.

In Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate, (from the book and movie that inspired my title) the "us and them" of choice was the ideological struggle between democracy and communism. The tone of the 1962 film is serious, and the plot is sort of ridiculous. In this year's election cycle, there are so many "us and them" combinations to choose from that in trying to keep my plot realistic, I find myself working on a farce.

As Pierre Luoÿs observed in his nineteenth-century farce The Woman and the Puppet, there's a little more of them in us than we care to believe. "You know that in Spain they call hidalgos the descendants of families who are free from any mixture of Moorish blood.... They will not admit that during seven centuries Islam took root on Spanish soil. I have always thought it ungracious to deny such ancestors. We owe entirely to the Arabs those exceptional qualities which have drawn in history the great design of our past. They bequeathed to us their scorn for money, their disdain of lies, of death, their inexpressible pride. We inherit from them their rigid attitude against everything that is low, and likewise an unaccountable laziness toward manual labor. In truth we are their sons and it is not without reason that we continue to dance their Oriental dances to the tune of their 'ferocious songs.'"

This month's mystery/thriller viewing recommendation is Homeland (Season Four), which manages to steer clear of farce and does a very good job of demonstrating why the war on terror is much more complicated than some candidates would have us believe. It's built around the life and death decisions of the current drone program. I wasn't sure where the series was going after it ended a three-year storyline about a returning POW suspected of being a terrorist. The answer: the series creators managed to find more than enough no-win situations, plot twists, and edge-of-your-seat suspense cliffhangers to induce binge viewing.

And if you need something to buck you up after an onslaught of negative campaigning, here's a little dose of "Us and Them" from Pink Floyd.

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