Carol (2015)

Carol (2015)
  • Time: 118 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance
  • Director: Todd Haynes
  • Cast: Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson


Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara & set against the glamourous backdrop of 1950s New York, Carol is an achingly beautiful depiction of love against the odds. From the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I’m Not There, Mildred Pierce) comes a powerful drama about a married woman who risks everything when she embarks on a romance with a younger department store worker.


  • Carol is a rapturous masterpiece of a film built on the simplest of stories: two people falling in love. The fact that it is a love story between two women set against the stifling societal backdrop of the 1950s may make it daring, but the film’s true transgressive power lies in how its seeming specificity masks a shared universality. Who hasn’t loved and lost? Who hasn’t lost a love because of some circumstance, be it race, religion or sexuality?

    Director Todd Haynes is no unfamiliar explorer on this terrain. His homage to the lustrously emotional Douglas Sirk melodramas of the Fifties, Far From Heaven, found Julianne Moore torn between her life as a perfect wife, mother and homemaker and her forbidden love for her black gardener. The film is a fitting companion piece to Carol, which mines a similar narrative: Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), trapped in a marriage already in acrimonious dissolution, endangers her standing by falling in love with shopgirl Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara).

    There is more than mere going against the grain that complicates Carol and Therese’s hesitant but blossoming romance. They may be united by their sexuality, but are separated by class, culture and experience. Certainly Carol’s undeniably worldly air makes as much of an impression on Therese as the older woman’s loneliness. There is much that she can learn from Carol who, bewitched by this strange, almost recessive girl, appears to hold all the power. Look again, and Carol is the one with everything to lose. Theirs may be a mutual attraction, but it is Therese who initiates the contact that will ignite their romance and the heart-stopping gesture that closes the film so stirringly.

    Expertly adapted by Phyllis Nagy from 1952’s The Price of Salt, which was written by Patricia Highsmith using the pseudonym Claire Morgan, Carol is a marvel, an achingly romantic melodrama comprised of nearly wordless looks, gestures and sideways glances that builds to bursting. Carter Burwell’s score captures the yearning and the longing, the surges of passion, the accelerated beating of one’s heart, the piercing pain of both intimacy and separation. Cinematographer Edward Lachman, who also lensed Far From Heaven, shoots the lovers through windows and doorways, creating frames within frames, highlighting their isolation and imprisonment. Visually, Carol possesses a less intense colour palette than Far From Heaven; compositionally and aesthetically, Lachman pays tribute to the likes of photographer Saul Leiter, who imbued pastoral qualities to his images of city life.

    Haynes’ direction has taken on a more emotional heft. Far From Heaven may have been his first foray into this era, but it was also the beginning of that emotional maturation. Haynes obviously loves the old Hollywood films of yesteryear but where he painstakingly recreated Sirk’s meticulous mise-en-scène nearly to a fault, his callbacks in Carol enrich and enhance rather than distract. Brief Encounter is echoed in the film’s opening scene, a despairing phone call harks back to Luise Rainer’s celebrated scene in The Great Ziegfeld. Mara is an Audrey Hepburn gamine whilst Blanchett is an amalgam of Dietrich, Crawford and Garbo. Stripped of its artifice and cinematic valentines, Carol would still be a triumph of the heart.

    Blanchett and Mara are two of the most metamorphic actresses to ever grace the silver screen. They hardly ever resemble themselves from film to film. It is thoroughly impossible to reconcile that this Therese is played by the same person who was the girl with the dragon tattoo; one can easily argue that Mara surpasses her breakthrough performance. Meek and mousy though she may be, Mara’s Therese is as alluring and irresistible as Louise Brook’s tempting Lulu in Pandora’s Box. Blanchett is astonishing, by turns predatory and fragile, disheartened and encouraged, self-sacrificing and, in a most memorable scene, unwilling to deny her true self no longer.

    Both actresses are beyond mesmerising, the love story exquisite, and there may be no more transcendent and triumphant final scene than the one in this superlative film. A must-see.

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  • Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes…you then watch Carol, and suddenly, you find yourself all over again.

    Forbidden love is a fruit that taste so bittersweet. It may quench of desires for an everlasting desire in our partner (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), or crash and burn and cause harm to those around you (Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, or my third ex and myself, if you follow me close on twitter…). Love reveals itself in its truest colors, whether accepted or not, and the 1950s was certainly not a time where two women could openly be in love.

    The entire film is riddled with props, and not in that Batman and Robin type of way. Carol is colorful, vibrant and enchanting in a way one has not pictured the 1950s to be. Director Todd Haynes enchants us in a world where love tries to avoid the time it is in, while dragging both loneliness and hope together.

    Carol’s rediscovery in her life in the unsure Therese is a wonderful synergy between youth and age, where romance has a healthy balance whose scale is enhanced by tour de force performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Accompanied by one of the best scores of the year, Carol is a film that reminds us that the battles and hardships that history has shown us, is, unfortunately, present today. Whereas this year’s Freeheld drills it over our heads about the fight that previous pelple had to go through, Carol instead focuses on our hearts, and not so much law and culture.

    Carol’s piercing eyes and glances are returned by Therese with gazes of wonder and willfulness, leading the two on a Christmas road trip away from Carol’s divorce, and into a new plot that is not as predictable as one would think.

    This film isnt the journey that’ll sweep you, but the unvoluntary movements that attract one another, whether from a crowded room in a New York department store, or in between their hotel window and door.

    Carol is 2015’s best love story, along with two of the best acting performances that both Blanchett and Mara have as of date. Whereas other films released this time of the year are Oscar bait, this instead is another experience that gravitates towards you from the moment the two characters meet. Naming the film Therese would have been just as deserving as is Carol, as this movie is now out the closet and will soon dance proudly when award season comes.

  • In the vote between convention and passion the eyes have it. Carol and Therese both express profound yearning and strength in their looks at each other.
    Therese in her innocence is wide-eyed, Carol powerful, drawn back and appraising. That difference catches the predatory element in Carol’s love and Therese’s various disadvantages in experience and power.
    In contrast to the two women’s emotional looks, a slammed door window frames husband Harge’s angry, violent eye. He has isolated himself, framed himself out of his wife’s emotions and in refusing to let her go imprisoned himself.
    Until Harge threatens to sue for sole custody of their daughter, Carol is confident, wealthy, assured. She dresses elegantly, in expensive style, asserting her blondness even in the fur she flaunts, against the more conventional dark mink of the era. Young Therese dresses trimly, in neat plaids and restrained colours and lines, except for the flourish of her bold, ballooning tam, which anticipates her unconventional sexuality. The assigned Santa hat is a brief diminishment which wins her Carol’s first encouragement.
    As in Far From Heaven Todd Haynes uses a 1950s setting, plot line, and characterization to address a contemporary tension. Carol has the perfect ‘50s heroine response to life: “Just when it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes.” But all the characters are frozen in the ‘50s confusion between love and desire and all live under the shadow of male-cantered sexuality.
    The period setting reminds us that we’re still not entirely free from considering same-sex love a moral issue. Gay lovers have an easier time today but there remains a stubborn prejudice against following one’s heart “against the grain” of social convention.
    When Carol accedes to Harge’s custody demand she admits two motives. The primary is to give their daughter the best possible life, to minimize her damage by her parents’ conflict. But equally important, she can’t “go against the grain” of her own nature, neither as a mother nor as a sexual being.
    That theme raises the film beyond “love story” and certainly beyond “a lesbian love story.” Love, after all, is a nebulous concept. Therese can’t get boyfriend Richard to explain what it is. It’s what he says makes her attraction to him different from the two women he’s already had sex with. (Did i mention that the film is set in the ‘50s?)
    Even when Carol tells Therese she loves her what do we know? Or they? Not much beyond the attraction they immediately had for each other — again, registered in their locked eyes across the enchanted department store. As Carol’s lifelong friend and ex-lover Abby notes, the passion erupts and then “things change.” The ardor once faded, what relationship survives? Confirming the ephemerality of ardor, Therese spots Richard dancing with his new girlfriend at the party.
    The film’s main theme then is not lesbian love or even love in general but the related question: how can we determine what we want. As Therese admits, “I don’t know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?”
    Of course always saying No is as restrictive as always saying Yes. When she recoils from the Times reporter, Therese says she doesn’t mind his premature kiss but clearly has to leave. From the yes she moves to her first tentative ‘no.’ Two exceptions result from Carol’s influence. The first is when Therese doesn’t wait to say Yes but takes the initiative to advance their relationship from friends to lovers. The second is when the “blossomed” Therese says no to Carol’s invitation to move into her new Manhattan flat. Otherwise Therese doesn’t know what she wants or needs and just goes with the drift.
    Finally Therese manages a yes and a no combined. When she declines another lesbian’s advance at the Village party she accepts her true nature and leaves to say yes to Carol. This time when they lock glances, Carol — at home amid her social and class peers — still finds another level of satisfaction when she sees Therese has returned. But it’s the ‘50s. She can only smile back.
    Both need what the other provides, including a rare intimacy. On the phone after their first break Therese says “I wanna ask you things, but I’m… I’m not sure that you want that.” Carol, crying, says “Ask me things… Please.” For all her experience and power, Carol needs to be asked because she craves intimacy. She learns from Therese how to determine what she wants by determining, issue by issue, when to say yes and when no.

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is highly recommended.

    In brief: A film so sensitive and emotionally satisfying with wonderful direction and production values.
    GRADE: A-

    The lesbian romance film, Carol, shows the world as it was, brimming with homophobia and societal proprieties. It grips the moviegoer from the start, with a scene that bookends its narrative and does a complete 180 degrees in its brilliant use of flashback. This is one of director Todd Haynes’ finest films, one that should not be missed. (That this film did not merit an Oscar nomination for its director and the film itself is a travesty.)

    It’s the Fifties, 1952 to be exact, a time when love could only be seen between the opposite sex and repression was the ultimate means of survival. Carol tells its tale so well, with a sensitivity toward its subject and a stylish flair that shies away from the full-blown soap opera aspects of the story: Two women share a secret passionate relationship and the complications they faced in the real world change their lives. The film is staggering in its solitude and nuanced in its superb acting by its two leads.

    Through a chance meeting, Therese (Rooney Mara), a saleswoman encounters a new customer, Carol (Cate Blanchett). She is suddenly quite taken by this beautiful socialite and the attraction is mutual yet mysterious to both women. Carol lives alone but has a loving boyfriend, Richard, while Carol is lost in an unhappy marriage to Harge and devoted to her young child. Their lives entangle as their romance begins to grow. But love, unfortunately, has its bounds.

    The artful vision of Todd Haynes crafts a film brimming with repressed passion…a cautious look, a somewhat lingering touch, whispered conversations. He fills the screen with images that evoke that era as he focuses on the women caught in a man’s world and the repercussions that their affair will undermine. The melodramatic elements are still there but everything is handled so subtly and honestly that one is swept into the emotional dilemmas of the film’s well-defined characters. Both the director and Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, downplay the theatrics and bring a modernistic sensibility to this literate adaptation.

    The acting is remarkable. Ms. Blanchett, channeling the icy sophistication of Grace Kelly, plays the title character and hides the vulnerability and anger seething beneath the surface. Her heightened composure, demure manner, and classic wardrobe serve to camouflage the fear and hurt from years of perpetuating a lie that brought her wealth and motherhood. Ms. Mara, resembling a young waif-like Audrey Hepburn, shows her character’s impetuousness and eagerness to confront her own inhibitions in such a convincing way. Their chemistry is palpable and each actress conveys the multitude of emotions that emerge from these oppressed times. Fine support also comes from its fine cast: Sarah Paulson, Cory Michael Smith, Jake Lacy, and especially Kyle Chandler as Carol’s brutish spouse.

    Special mentions go out to the artisans behind the camera as well: Ed Lachman’s camerawork captures a bygone era with his golden tones and pastel palette, production design by Judy Becker hones in on the period details, Sandy Powell’s costumes bring that style and elegance to the forefront, and Carter Burwell’s lovely melancholy score adds layers to the moody atmosphere of the film.

    Carol is superior filmmaking and one of the year’s best films.

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