- Director – Todd Haynes
- Starring – Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler & Sarah Paulson
- Writer – Phyliss Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)
- Year – 2015
- Running Time – 118 mins
Love comes in many different ways. It can be instantaneous, gradual or familiar, though when it arrives, is almost always surprising. Love is also often complicated and after the initial surprise and the elation settles, there are often barriers to overcome, struggles to surpass and it can feel like the world is conspiring to keep you apart.
This is true in Carol, the latest film by Todd Hyanes, based on the seminal novel by Patricia Highsmith, which tells a complicated and in 1950s New York, an unconventional and misunderstood love story about truth in the face of conflict.
Therese (Rooney Mara) first encounters Carol (Cate Blanchett) from behind the counter of the toy section, at Frankenberg, a Manhattan department store where she works as an assistant. As the pre-Christmas crowds throng, Therese seems captivated by the calm and radiating presence of Carol, an older, middle-aged, woman who approaches Therese for help in choosing a doll for her daughter. From this brief encounter, an unspoken bond develops between the two, which leads to a shared and complicated journey, putting them both in conflict with society and those close to them.
Therese, a mid-20s amateur photographer is the subject of the persistent affection of a young suitor, through clearly dreams of more than mediocrity and Manhattan, while Carol is trapped in a one-sided marriage by a tightly wound and conflicted husband (Kyle Chandler) and a daughter who she adores, though risks losing through her desire to remain truthful to herself.
In contrasting ways both Carol and Therese’s private lives match the grey, dark and damp streets of 1950s New York, however both characters immediately bring colour to this drab palate. This is not just through the strikingly red coat that stands Carol out from the crowd, or Therese’s bright bobble hat, but through the immediacy and intensity of their connection and the potential this tantalisingly dangles in front of them.
As the pair take their first tentative steps, their conversations are some of the most emotionally charged committed to screen in recent years and saying they contain layers of sub-text doesn’t seem to do the exchanges credit. Words are effectively by-products, it is the pauses that pulsate and it is clear each time their eyes lock, that the pair simply long for each other.
In fact, almost everything is left unsaid, it is the small gestures that speak volumes and in these tiny details the true heart of Carol comes through. Mara breathtakingly underplays Therese’s internal conflict of the longing she feels for Carol with the confusion and uncertainty she is so clearly racked with. Therese demonstrates more in the wringing of her own hands and the way she tightly holds herself than she could through attempting to vocalise her feelings, if she were indeed able to do so, which is by no means certain.
While Blanchett portrays Carol as more confident, she is equally conflicted and arguably faces more risk in the relationship. Outwardly, she often appears to be the stronger side of the pairing, though scenes with her husband and a childhood friend (Sarah Paulson) are jarringly honest and cut through this stronger exterior to reveal her own damaged truths.
The bond between the two permeates every facet of this film and Haynes impeccably restrained direction is respectful of this. Haynes often shoots the pair through glass, rain splattered car windows or other reflective surfaces, which seems to hint at both the societal and physical barriers between the two. The 16mm film stock, which was used to shoot the film, adds a gritty and occasional dreamlike quality to the screen, which is beautifully enhanced through the melodic and occasionally gleeful, though always enveloping score.
How Carol missed out on best picture Oscar nomination, and why Mara was relegated to the supporting role category is simply beyond me, as in contrast to the title, this is really Therese’s story and indeed Mara’s film.
Carol is a film of simply exquisite restraint, which flawlessly uses every aspect of the film’s production to demonstrate the all-consuming nature of the central relationship, and with Mara, contains one of the year’s strongest acting performances.
Simply, a must see.
Review by Will Malone
If you liked Carol. then try 45 Years.