There’s an understated eloquence to director Todd Haynes’ work, and Carol is a lavish example of such beauty. His vision has a tenderness to it to enrich the frame without bombast or over the top production values. His passion for the emotive storytelling – people have been waiting for many years for this story to reach the screen due to complications with the rights to the story, and fortunately it proves to be a rewarding spectacle.
Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a housewife going through a difficult divorce from a controlling and neglectful husband who is struggling to maintain time with her daughter. Therese (Rooney Mara) is a completely different scenario; she works as a temp in a toy store, is unsure of her direction, and lacks the power to say no to anything. At a chance meeting, she sells Carol a train set for her daughter, and Carol accidentally leaves her gloves. Therese mails them back to her, and thus sets off an unlikely but intense relationship.
The film attempts to tread its own line between arthouse exploitation and mainstream cinema, working with a ground-breaking source material that had a rare happy ending for a novel dealing with homosexuality.
Naturally it helps with having the raw power of two remarkable central stars, with both characters having their own interesting complexities. Carol herself glamourises her surroundings; she’s articulate, sophisticated, and carries a form of social respect. Therese is clearly transfixed about the sheer presence the other woman carries, as she herself is somewhat of a recluse, socially awkward, lacks firm decision making and clear direction, whether it be sexually, professionally, or socially.
The pair are distinctly different, but they do possess a solid similarity. Carol does not want to give away her weaknesses and insecurities, possibly to not tarnish the respect she carries. Yet in the meetings her and Therese have – which are so intimately shot – Blanchett is professional at hinting the inner workings of her character. She hides an abundance of complex feelings within herself and rarely expresses them, but Blanchett’s power of stabilising this emotional turmoil is where the actress truly shines. Therese has the same inner workings, but she’s not sure how to expose them. She doesn’t want to say no to anyone or anything, but fundamentally she doesn’t know what she wants, and Mara’s performance perfectly displays the results of processes like these.
The most impressive feature of Carol is Todd Hayne’s attention to the period setting of the 1950s, and without distracting from the intimacy of the relationship, as the settings provide an easy way to immerse the audience without going too far. While you’re constantly worrying if Carol loves Therese, or if Therese really wants her life to proceed in this direction, you’re always in admiration of the dresses they’re wearing, the boldness of Carol’s lipstick, the authenticity of the cafes, and just how beautiful the 50s taxis are. It’s a line within a line that Hayne’s is treading – and yet again, his footing has never been stronger.
The drama is crisp, the central relationship is powerful and heartfelt, the performances stunning, and the production and cinematography pleases without overload. Top marks for Haynes, and awards aplenty to be inbound for Blanchett and Mara. It’s really, really quite good.