By Darin Skaggs
Todd Haynes’ Carol is one of the most hauntingly beautiful romantic stories to come out in a long while. It is a tale of two women who start a friendship, and eventually more, in the 1950’s. The film successfully juggles the romantic angle, the taboo of the nature of their situation during the time, the perception of love by the young and the older and many more themes. It does all of this while being one of the most elegantly acted and gorgeously shot films I have ever seen.
Like I said Carol takes place in the 1950’s where reluctant toy store clerk, Therese (Rooney Mara) catches the eye of the elegant, beautiful Carol (Cate Blanchett). She is standing by a train set and sees Therese looking at her. Carol comes over and the two have a wonderful exchange where Carol is beaming with confidence, amused by Therese’s clear nervousness while talking to her. Carol leaves her glove and Therese feels the need to return it to her. This starts their friendship between the two. The two characters find a safety net with each other, Therese is with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy), even if she clearly does not want to be and Carol is going through a nasty divorce and an ugly custody battle for their daughter. After a while the relationship becomes romantic, the motivations are conflicting and subtle, but nevertheless they become a couple.
Therese seems to be using Carol as a gateway to find her true self as well as a person that temporarily, or permanently in her eyes, cure her loneliness. Carol at times is just a metaphor for the emotional dilemma for any one that has ever been in Therese’s position. Carol is also a fully-fledged character with her own reasons for entering this relationship. In her time without Therese, she fights for freedom from her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) and also time to see her child. They are both broken characters, one hiding her real self because she does not want people to hate her. The other knows who she is, and knows no one wants anything to do with that. They see the attraction for each other and try to cling to each other. After Carol has too much of her current life she invites Therese on a road trip where they just travel and spend time with each other. Here are moments where Carol seems like she has moved on to the next best thing. It is mentioned before Carol was with her husband she had another relationship with a woman and who knows before that. She is the kind of person who could be there for a while, but there is always the chance she will want to move on. Therese is lost and confused, much like a child, which Carol mostly treats her like anyways. During their lengthy road trip Carol does all of the driving and Therese spends all her time in the passenger seat, staring off distracted by all the new sites she is seeing or she spends her time sleeping, never taking the wheel for Carol so she could rest. That is there relationship throughout the movie, Carol protects her near the end and even when they become lovers Carol is the one to initiate it.
The whole script is masterfully adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s book The Price of Salt. It is incredibly complex, filled with powerful melodrama and heartbreaking character moments. It does borrow from movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s. The movie is set during the early 1950’s which not only is a look at how much harder it must have been to be homosexual during that time, but a time that influenced Haynes for this story. At one point Therese is watching Sunset Boulevard with her friends, not knowing she’ll meet a possessive figure just like Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond character and that she will be the possession. The movies beginning and ending is clearly influenced by David Lean’s Brief Encounter. Edward Lachman’s cinematography is lit in such a way that it even seems that this film could have been filmed during sometime in the 1950’s and at the same time looks so incredible it seems timeless as well. He really captures a feeling that cannot fully be described. Every aspect of filmmaking comes together here so perfectly, the melodrama is top notch, the acting performances especially from the two female leads is out of this world and the look is eloquent in such a heavenly way that you wish you could spend time with these characters for a long time after, even if it will break your heart, you still would want to be in this world.