The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
In 1949, Patricia Highsmith, waiting to hear back from a publisher about a manuscript ("Strangers On a Train", maybe you've heard of it) wrote a novel about a relationship between a shy shopgirl and a much older housewife. The book, "The Price of Salt," eventually published in 1952 under a pseudonym, has long been a staple of LGBT studies for its depiction of "the closet" and 1950s conformist America. The book features a forbidden love story culminating in an extended "Lolita"-esque travelogue-criminal-getaway-across-America. In all of her books, Highsmith was obsessed by duality, subversion and obsession. "The Price of Salt" is her most openly romantic book and it is hard to believe it was written by the same woman who created the sociopath Tom Ripley, and who also once confessed to her journal: "One situation—maybe one alone—could drive me to murder: family life, togetherness." But that's Highsmith. Always duality.
Director Todd Haynes has spent a career exploring repression and conformity in films like "Safe," "I'm Not There," "Far from Heaven," "Mildred Pierce" and now "Carol," based on Highsmith's novel (with adaptation by Phyllis Nagy). In "Carol," Haynes turns his eye on the "invisible" lesbian sub-culture of the 1950s closet. A lush emotional melodrama along the lines of the films of Douglas Sirk, Haynes' patron saint, "Carol" is often about its surfaces, their beauty contrasting with the scary duality of people, relationships. The surfaces in "Carol" are so seductive that one understands the ache to belong in that world.
Therese (Rooney Mara) works behind the toy counter at a department store in New York City. She has a sort-of boyfriend (Jake Lacy, so good in "Obvious Child"), and a swirling group of pals (all men), but there is something about her attitude behind that counter that suggests Therese is waiting ... for what she doesn't know. Then Carol, an elegant blonde, appears across the store floor (the camera floats past Carol, and then reverses back quickly: the camera version of a double-take). Their first interaction is business-like, but in reality it is a flirtatious scene, pierced with the thrill of danger.
Carol invites Therese to her house in New Jersey for visits. Carol and her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) are separated, and fighting over access to their young daughter. When Harge starts proceedings to get sole custody, Carol whisks Therese away on an impulsive road trip, and out into America they go. The road trip is running from something and towards a place where their relationship has a possibility of existing.
Haynes films all of this with his exquisite eye for detail. Production designer Judy Becker, art director Jesse Rosenthal and set decorator Heather Loeffler create various settings (crappy motel rooms, dark New York bars, Carol's home, Therese's apartment) in a way that highlight the romance and the treachery of the situation. The color palette is a wash of light greens, deep pinks, gleaming gold, with pale tail-finned gas guzzlers roaring down empty roads. Carol and Therese are often shown staring through green-smudged or rain-streaked windows, a visual motif of their outsider status.