When the awards come for CAROL, and come they will, it’ll be impossible (and unfair) to split Blanchett and Mara. One cannot exist without the other – the reason both actors work so well on screen how skillfully they play off of each other’s performances, how sensitively they covey Carol and Therese’s love. I doubt we’ll see joint Oscars, but you can hope.
When Therese (Rooney Mara), a shop assistant with artistic aspirations encounters elegant older socialite Carol (Cate Blanchett), the spark between them is instantaneous. Both have had disappointing relationships with men and live in an era where women are still shackled and homosexuals reviled and feared. How will they keep their love a secret as they embark on a romantic road trip and with the odds so stacked against them can such a relationship ever hope to survive?
I don’t remember the last time I saw a more convincing romance on screen. As far as I could tell, that was real love in Mara’s eyes! The very deliberate ways our two leads are introduced makes the incredible contrast between their personalities, social class and background incredibly stark. Therese wakes in a moldy urban flat that is so cold she has to turn on the oven in the morning to keep from freezing. Carol breezes through the toy shop Therese (awkwardly wearing enforced Santa hat) works at all glamour – fur coat, controlled posture, seemingly complete confidence in who she is and the quality of life she is used to. You have the grounded, more rounded person and her otherworldly opposite who has far more life experience but many more issues as well. Opposites attract and all that. The pair’s relationship heats up quickly following their cute and seemingly innocent first encounter, and before you know it these women from different worlds are fully indulging in their passion for one another. Mara and Blanchett are perfect as our beleaguered lovers and you want their relationship to work despite knowing in our hearts that it this will be near-impossible living in the time and place that they do.
Tasteful as the love scenes in Carol are, there is so much fabric porn in this movie! It’s a touching romance between two people, sure, but lovers of fashion and the materials to make fashion are extremely well-served as well. You’re almost too distracted by indulgent fabrics at a key character moment when Therese paws over her beloved’s elegant outfits while she is out of the room. Even when they are apart, they absolutely must have some form of connection through the senses to survive.
The heartfelt screenplay and gutsy performances envelop you with the help of Carter Burwell’s shamelessly romantic soaring score. The film has a very classical Golden Age of Hollywood feeling in general and this certainly feels like a novel that would have been adapted much earlier were it not for the sexuality of the lead characters. The pacing in measured, the plot upsets and heartbreak comes just about where you’d expect it, but when you’re spending time with such a lovely couple you don’t begrudge Carol’s old-fashioned construction.
The off-screen/page story behind Carol is almost as compelling as the script Phyllis Nagy adapted from the page. Semi-autobiographical and published as THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia Highsmith (under an alias to avoid scandal), you can only imagine the artistic and moral quandary the author was under in getting this particular work out there. She wanted to tell the truth about how two women can feel for each other but feared being branded obscene, ruining her reputation and destroying her career if she put her own name to it.
I love stories of affairs of the heart that are left unresolved, just like they usually are in real life. Director Todd Haynes leaves our lovers on an ambiguous but positive note. At least I like to read the film’s final shot – Carol giving Therese a knowing look from across a crowded room – as positive. Considering the time of year it’s set and theme of love conquering all, this could become a festive staple, that is if you don’t mind not quite knowing whether you feel uplifted or downbeat when the credits roll and you’re about to tuck in to your Christmas lunch. SSP