Carol, directed by acclaimed director, Todd Haynes, is the story of two women in the early fifties who meet by chance in a department store, that chance meeting turns into something bigger than either of them imagine it could ever be. The film is based on the controversial novel by Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt, published under a pseudonym due to societal views of homosexuality at the time.
A period piece about lesbians isn’t one that gets made that often, if at all, especially a film that’s so technically well-made. The costumes, the cinematography, the direction, the acting and the music all come together on screen, not to make just an outstanding looking film, but one that’s also emotionally satisfying.
The movie begins differently than the novel, the camera following a man through the hustle and bustle of New York, and it’s through this that we catch a glimpse of our two leads in a conversation, and the man we’ve been following, interrupts the two, recognizing Therese (Rooney Mara) from across the room and calls to her. Therese turns in surprise. A strange look comes over the two, as if they’ve been caught doing something that they shouldn’t be doing. Therese introduces the blonde woman sitting across from her as Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and after the polite greeting, Carol excuses herself and walks out of the restaurant, saying good-bye to Therese.
Therese is next seen in a cab, caught in a far away gaze, looking out the window seeing someone who resembles Carol with a man walking down a sidewalk, the memories flooding back to a time when her life was a dull series of events, until Carol came along.
The movie is set almost entirely in flashback, going over how Carol and Therese met and how it changed both of them. Therese coming into womanhood, with a sense of who she is, and Carol, refusing to lead a life that goes against what she wants, in order to please other people, any longer, no matter the cost.
Cate Blanchett, has rarely, if ever, been better here. The use of her eyes and the tremulous looks she gives toward the end, letting down every wall that her character has put up in the previous three-fourths of the movie, is nothing short of amazing to see. It’s a remarkable performance and I suspect if she hadn’t have just been rewarded for Blue Jasmine a couple of years ago, she would probably be winning an Oscar for this.
Rooney Mara is excellent as Therese as well, though she is given less opportunity to show the shades of her character that Cate Blanchett does, nevertheless, she still somehow takes a passive role, that in the hands of another actress could’ve been disastrously dull, and nails it, every emotion bubbling just underneath, carefully written on her face and in every gesture.
Much has been made about the ending of the film, deservedly so. I would compare it to the ending of 45 Years. Though, different in tone, they both have that subtle simplicity that provokes a strong emotional reaction, 45 Years being that of devastation, while Carol has one of hope, which is rarely, if ever, seen in a movie with gay characters in this time period.
I’m happy to say that Carol fulfilled all of my expectations and then some. It didn’t come without changes to the source material but there wasn’t anything terribly important left on the cutting room floor, or changed. The soul of the book has been left intact and that alone makes Carol triumph.