It is a special treat when a drama takes you beyond passive observer to feeling as if you’ve made the journey.
Carol supplies such an experience.
Director Todd Haynes has created a world so rich in texture, design and mood that it is easy to fall into its loving arms of emotions and get enveloped in its story of love and loss. The art direction, costume design and cinematography are so brilliant and honest, it is as if Haynes had found a movie shot a half century ago and dusted it off for a modern audience.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara turn in Oscar-worthy performances as women fighting against, but eventually giving in to, their emotional connection despite their 1950s world, where such relationships are considered taboo.
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Therese (Mara) is a mousy department store clerk who is as hesitant to expose her true sexual nature as she is to peruse her passion for photography. The first glimmer that she can act on both comes in the form of high-society shopper Carol (Blanchett). Their initial meeting is fleeting but charged with deep emotions.
Haynes invites the audience to ride along with the pair as they make their way through a perilous time and place.
The look of the film — from the stitching on the clothes to the toys under the Christmas tree — resonate with a truth that is vital because of the nature of the script by Phyllis Nagy based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. The topic of same-sex relationships have become so regularly used in modern film and TV shows that the pain and suffering so many endured no longer seems as deadly poignant.
Things aren’t perfect in the world, but movies like Carol are a necessary and important reminder of the progress that has been made. Films like this are vital to remind us of the emotional slavery so many faced.
The actors take advantage of this perfect setting to become lost in their characters. Therese stumbles from joy to pain as the younger member of this couple. Even the few years that separate the women is an example of how society’s views were beginning to change.
Blanchett’s character is smothered by her fears that the world will discover her nature. Her fear is only heightened when her ex-husband (Kyle Chandler) uses their child as a heart-breaking weapon. Chandler turns in a strong performance, but unfortunately, because of the way the movie is structured, there’s just not enough for him to do, and he’s reduced to being the foil.
That’s not a problem, because Haynes knows the heart and soul of this movie come from his two main actors. Seeing Mara and Blanchett slowly reveal their hopes and pains is like being invited into their secret world. Haynes paints a beautiful view and bitter reminder of the time.
Just like a tiny chip in a masterpiece, Carol has a small flaw. Sarah Paulson plays Carol’s confidant and former companion with too much 21st-century understanding. She doesn’t seem as true to the world she has been resigned to as the other women.
Carol is that rare example of a film that is nearly flawless in design, story and performances. The emotional conflicts are as powerful as any summer movie explosion, the scenery more fascinating than any elaborate sci-fi offering, and the acting eclipses the majority of performances that pass for high quality.
R for sexuality, nudity, language. 1:58. Kentucky.