Written by Phyllis Nagy / Directed by Todd Haynes / Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Sarah Paulson
Carol: I like the hat.
Nobody does 1950’s nostalgia and repression like Todd Haynes. He has distinct appreciation for the elegance and the glamour but also has a succinct understanding of the tension bubbling under the perfectly pristine presentation of it all. He used his gifts brilliantly to look at marriage, homosexuality and racism in FAR FROM HEAVEN and he returns to the period now to look at a lesbian relationship that cannot find the air it needs to breathe in the stifling times it was born into. CAROL, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel “The Price of Salt”, is a beautiful film; I was instantly taken with it, and within minutes, I was fully enamoured. Only it will be much easier for me to express my love for CAROL than it was for Carol and her lover to express theirs.
I knew I was in love with the movie the moment I saw Rooney Mara, as a young photographer named Therese Belivet, in the backseat of a car staring out at the people on the streets going about their lives. She has just come from a drink with Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a woman twice her age and about five times more well to do. We don’t know the nature of their conversation or even if it was a pleasant exchange. We know there is something between the two women though, a secret. We know this from the way Carol’s hand lingered on Therese’s shoulder just a second more than it needed to; we know this from the way Therese has blocked out the world in the backseat of that car. They had a secret and the world was just going about its business as if it didn’t even exist. All the people she sees are living their lives freely and without restraint; they have no secrets – perhaps from each other, but not from the world. Carol and Therese’s secret, as it turns out, is love, something that should never be kept a secret in the first place.
Carol meets Therese in a department store one day. Therese sells her a toy train set for Carol to give her daughter as unorthodox Christmas present. Their exchange is pleasant and playful. Carol leaves her gloves behind (some moves never go out of style apparently) and then asks Therese out to lunch to thank her for sending them back to her. It is all so quaint but it is also all so dangerous because whatever is going on between them could unravel their entire lives. Carol is in the middle of a divorce and custody battle with her husband (Kyle Chandler) while Therese has a boyfriend (Jack Lacy, OBVIOUS CHILD) who wants to marry her. Though neither can necessarily explain it, they both decide to leave their lives behind for a road trip to Chicago together. To some, this may seem frivolous and irresponsible but that is often the path one has to take if one wants to find love. Their approach is sold firmly by the performances of the leading ladies; Blanchett embodies grandeur while Mara exudes curiosity.
CAROL is just a total stunner across the board, from Carter Burwell’s sumptuous score to Edward Lachman’s delicate cinematography, to the two perfect performances at the centre of it all. Blanchett embodies grandeur while Mara exudes curiosity; together they anchor the picture with all the weight it needs to be both credible and crushing. Haynes’s palette is a cold one but the tone goes aptly with the story being told. It isn’t that their love doesn’t burn with passion; its that the period doesn’t allow for it to burn that bright and that expressing that love meant doing so at the time with subtlety and grace. One had to find ways to show how they felt while making sure that those feelings would only be understood by the one they were intended for. Haynes is able to see these small gestures, these minor moments, and he infuses CAROL with a certain curious quality that reminds us that life and love are truly found in the tiny details one ordinarily takes for granted.