New Documentary Examines 'Carol' Author Patricia Highsmith's Complex Love Life

"Loving Highsmith" takes an in-depth look at Highsmith's relationships with women, as well as her position in the queer literary canon.
Author Patricia Highsmith in 1987.
Author Patricia Highsmith in 1987.
Ulf Andersen via Getty Images

Author Patricia Highsmith achieved global fame with 1950’s “Strangers on a Train” and 1955’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but a new documentary reveals her private life to have been even more multifaceted than her novels.

Filmmaker Eva Vitija pored over many of Highsmith’s personal notes and diaries for “Loving Highsmith.” The film, which will be screened at the 2022 Provincetown International Film Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, this week ahead of a planned wider release, is a compelling look at Highsmith’s romantic relationships with women during her lifetime.

A Texas native, Highsmith spent much of her adult life in Europe, settling in Switzerland. She died in 1995 at age 74, just four years before “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was adapted into a smash movie starring Matt Damon and Jude Law.

The author drew heavily from her own life while writing 1952’s lesbian romance “The Price of Salt,” which was published under a pseudonym, Claire Morgan. In 1990, the book was republished as “Carol,” this time under Highsmith’s name. The book was the basis for the 2015 film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Catch the “Loving Highsmith” trailer below.

“Loving Highsmith” features interviews with several of Highsmith’s surviving girlfriends, and paints the author as a somewhat divisive figure in the queer literary canon. She is believed to have viewed homosexuality as a psychological defect and often mixed homoeroticism with homicide, most notably in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

“Patrica Highsmith was a child of her time. And she wasn’t fighting for gay rights,” Vitija told Variety in April. “For her, love is such a brutal experience that extinguished her as a person that it is an experience of death, so murder is never far. In the love-scenes of ‘Carol’ and how she describes them, death is always around the corner.”

Still, Vitija emphasizes that Highsmith’s “wildly romantic and poetic side” is the focal point of her film. “It was a Patricia Highsmith completely different from the one I was reading about in biographies or mainly articles in newspapers,” she said.

The Provincetown International Film Festival will screen “Loving Highsmith” this Thursday and Saturday. Other highlights of the five-day event, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday, include the Sundance Audience Award winner “Cha Cha Real Smooth” and the gay romantic comedy “Fire Island,” starring Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang.

Organizers say the festival will also showcase local filmmakers like Todd Flaherty, whose dark comedy “Chrissy Judy” will have its world premiere Thursday.