While not completely perfect, there's a lot to like about Carol, from superb direction from Todd Haynes, to incredible performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, this film looks set to win critics' hearts, if not the general audience's too.
It’s very rare that a film can be described as luscious, but Carol certainly fits that description. A tender story that blurs emotional openness, repression, and longing.
Therese (Rooney Mara) is a toy shop clerk, a post-college pre-life adult frequently found staring into the middle distance wishing she was doing something else, but with no idea what. She idly surveys the sea of customers bustling by to get the latest doll, panning past mothers clutching their lists and fathers standing idly by – until Carol. From the name alone she’s mysterious, apposite, and by the first conversation Therese is hooked. Carol (Cate Blanchett) seems to glide through the room with the grace of experience, an air of mystery held by her secretive seductive edge and near Femme Fatale mannerisms; every move being both calculated and flawless, natural and façade. It’s this balance between the two that causes their relationship to be so intriguing, for everything we find about Carol, Therese finds something about herself.
The film is from the perspective of Therese in love, of a woman from that period (early 50’s) in love. Grainy Super 16 Ektachrome film casts everything into muted magentas, pinks, yellows, and above all green, the colour of Carol and subsequently their relationship. A subtly sweet view, rather than the pop colours and neon highlights of modern romance. While the compositions replicate Vivian Maier photographs – a fascination with the current world and the people within it, before adapting and focusing toward reflection and abstraction through mirrors or rainy windows, as though Therese herself is photographing her own love story.
This love story plays out as a classic romance, a forbidden love that no one understands and can only be realized by eloping from the world eager to tear them apart. What’s brave about the story, and certainly for its source material, is the lack of questioning behind their love. It’s not a strife that they love in a way currently unaccepted in the 1950’s world, only the way in which they are treated because of it. Their sexuality is never considered a curse or a burden, and they never wish themselves any different, only their conditions. It stops the film from being a possibly preachy subject and lets their love be presented realistically and honestly, saying more than a direct statement could.
However, despite the superb detail and thought behind the film it is not without its flaws, such as scenes away from Therese’s perspective, which seem almost detrimental to the aforementioned romantic storytelling aspect of the film. While they are included to allow Blanchett bigger acting moments, and add some appreciated tension to the proceedings, it strays from romance into melodrama. Similarly the amount of time spent building the relationship between the two was slightly lacking, in that there’s not enough information as to why they have fallen in love with each other specifically, rather than just the concept of a person, or the escape of another. However, it could also be argued that the large amount of restrictions between the two are telling of the period, which while helpful to establish dramatic elements does not help for the romance.
It’s not perfect, and agreeably a little slow, but theres so much character and detail behind every scene and shot that it’s clear as one of the most honestly human and romantic films of the year.
Carol (2015), directed by Todd Haynes, is distributed in the UK by StuidoCanal. Certificate 15.