Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price Of Salt, written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, Carol, at the time of the novel’s release was considered risqué thanks to its homosexual subject matter. But, thankfully, times have changed meaning Todd Haynes’ film acts as a poignant commentary on sexual oppression and a sweeping romance that draws to mind such classics as Brief Encounter and Casablanca, such is its ability to make you swoon.
Therese (Rooney Mara) is a shopgirl and aspiring photographer. When she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), a socialite going through a difficult divorce, her world is changed forever. Embarking on a stilted and tantalising friendship Carol and Therese’s relationship soon develops into something deeper but Carol’s husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is not ready to let her go. Using Carol’s previous relationship with Abby (Sarah Paulson) against her Harge looks to derail Carol’s life by seeking sole custody of their daughter.
Carol is an achingly beautiful film, both in style and tone. Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman have conjured imagery so sumptuous you long to leap into the screen such are its transportive abilities for harking back to the nostalgia of the 1950s. Shot on Super 16mm you are immediately reminded of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, that gilded, voyeuristic look into a time and place that feels both long ago yet warmly familiar.
Moments of the film are shot through breath fogged windows, dappled with rain and always masking parts of the world Therese is innocently navigating her way through. It perfectly plays into the sensation of timid discovery. Seeing this treacherous, unforgiving world through Therese’s naïve eyes is both haunting and seductive. The judgment with which people look at Carol and Therese’s relationship, Harge in particular, the possessive husband, anxious to prove his wife has a mental issue rather than a sexual preference not in keeping with his understanding of what he considers “normal”, is impossible to ignore.
The two central performances are heartbreakingly engaging. Blanchett all stiff-upper-lip and resolutely strong is a formidable force. But it is when she sees only one option in her life that her acting credentials truly shine, breaking down in such a way as to never lose her strength but rather reinforce it by taking the moral high ground. Meanwhile Mara is a delicate sparrow, a picture perfect porcelain doll feeling her way through a relationship and a world fraught with unpredictable hostility. She is the beating heart of the film and every time it breaks you break with her. Expect both to be talked up come awards season.
If there is a flaw to Carol it is that at times it feels overly long. At nearly two hours it just avoids the watch test but towards the end feels like it is milking things. But when a film is this visually gorgeous your eyes will be pleasantly occupied even if your mind wanders.
A delicate and powerful romance that shines through an intimate lens, Carol will have your heart skip a beat.