In this vibrant, funny, and heartfelt film, a widow and former songstress discover that life can begin anew at any age. With the support of three loyal girlfriends (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place), Carol (Blythe Danner) decides to embrace the world, embarking on an unlikely friendship with her pool maintenance man (Martin Starr), pursuing a new love interest (Sam Elliott), and reconnecting with her daughter (Malin Akerman).
If you cannot accept the idea that a somewhat eccentric old lady would name a male dog "Hazel," forget this movie. You are too much a literalist to understand anything except the surface story, which won't make sense or be very interesting.
Rat: A *thing* or "significant emotional event" that forces a person out of her comfort zone, i.e., the rut she has got into in retirement. Or rather than a "rut," is it her "grove?" Don't think of the rat as merely a black rodent. The rat is that "significant emotional event" that forces the protagonist to reexamine her life.
Home (house): Comfort zone.
Lloyd the Pool Guy: Youth - Don't think of Lloyd the Pool Guy as a male romantic interest – Lloyd is youth revisited, there to help Carol reexamine her own past and explore her values.
Bill (Sam Elliott): examination of a second life in old age to try and regain youth – offers consideration of staying active, as opposed to just sitting around watching TV and playing bingo (or bridge). Remember, opening scenes are Carol watching TV in bed and playing bridge. Bill is Romance personified. He helps Carol reexamine her feelings and emotions and whether she needs another person in her life.
"So What": Miles Davis blues song about fifteen minutes of fame, then you leave the stage and rediscover your grove.
Plot: Hazel the dog dies and leaves Carol alone. The rat chases her out of her home. She confronts Lloyd. She meets and dates Bill, who takes her out on his boat "So What." Bill dies. Lloyd sings Carol the title song and disposes of the rat. Carol gets a new dog (an old one) and, with the rat disposed of, moves back into her old home.
Speed Dating session presents an overt look at several objectionable stereotypical male personality types that a woman may face if she opens herself up to the possibility of exploring an autumn romance.
The song Lloyd sings at Karaoke night signifies that Carol is all alone with memories of her youth. The song that Carol sings says that she has cried over her lost youth, but youth can cry now because she is happy in her old age. The title song "I'll See You In My Dreams" speaks of seeing youth through dreams of the past; add "- th" to the word "You" throughout the song.
When Carol returns to the bar near the end of the movie, Karaoke is not available (no second chance) and she first orders the new drink she was introduced to the first time at the bar, but then she changes her mind and opts for the old drink she shared with "Youth" (Lloyd) when examining their relationship in song through karaoke during their earlier visit to the bar.
On display on Carol's mantle at the end after she has found her grove again are pictures from her youth, her dead husband's ashes, Hazel's ashes, and one of Bill's cigars, not reduced to ashes. There are many more metaphors. If you look for them, you will find them.
Don't feel sorry for Carol. Rather, rejoice in the happy fact that she has reexamined her life (think Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living"). In the end, Carol has examined her life and decided the route she wants to follow, her groove, is living with an old dog, not a man, and she enjoys watching TV and playing bridge with her friends. Do not be sad if her decision does not mirror yours. Just follow her lead and reexamine your own life, then live it the way you want, regardless of what others think you should do.
Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers and Millennials probably will not understand the movie, but people facing retirement who have confronted old Mr. Death will definitely love it if they get the metaphors. Literalists who cannot accept Hazel the dog as a male will be lost from the opening scene.
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