Film Review – Carol
When two women meet and fall in love in New York in the late 1940s, societal deviance becomes a search for safety in director Todd Hayne‘s (Safe, Mildred Pierce) latest movie Carol. Based on the novel The Price of Salt and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol follows a young department store shop girl named Therese Belivet (Mara) who one day meets a woman named Carol Aird (Blanchett), while shopping. The two women build a relationship out of immediate attraction and soon have to contend with the men in their lives who can’t quite comprehend their lack of autonomy when it comes to the women’s love.
Carol might be Hayne’s finest moment yet. With sophisticated elegance and exactitude in subtlety, Hayne’s weaves a tale of love that seeks to give autonomy to personage in a time when that autonomy was actively denied. A perfectly apt moral for these modern times, seventy some years later, when women are still seeking autonomy. Like with his film Safe, Haynes is exploring concepts of what safety actually means. Utilizing the time period of Patricia Highsmith‘s novel, safety for women is tenuously in the grasp of the men in these women’s lives. For Carol, a women in the throes of divorce, her soon to be ex, Harge (Kyle Chandler) is still very much an imposing figure on her life. Harge comes and goes into Carol’s home as he please and when questioned about his sudden and unexpected arrival is attitude is that of privilege. Why shouldn’t he be there? He’s still technically Carol’s husband, and as he himself points out, she’s still his responsibility.
Therese on the other hand is dating a man, Richard (Jake Lacy), who expects her to fold into the succumbing position of his wife, already placing himself as her liege while planning European trips and questioning her increasing involvement with Carol. Through the physicality of proximity and distance, safety is presented as a matter of space. Therese and Carol first encounter each other through glances across a busy department store, Therese watches a couple in love through the hazy window of a car, Carol watches Therese go by, herself behind the hazy window of a car. Later when having a meal in a public place Therese touches Carol’s hand, it’s a slight moment in terms of onscreen time, but to Carol, it’s significant. Blanchett’s face reveals the magnitude of the gesture in her eyes and the immediacy of her glance to Therese. Later in the movie, as Carol and Therese decide to road trip together, after finding a gun in Carol’s suitcase, Therese asks of Carol “Do you feel safe with me?” It’s through intimacy that safety is found, as evidenced by a lingering camera on two lover’s naked embrace.
Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy treat the nature of the subject matter with delicacy that it’s never required to be said aloud. Even when faced with a legal dispute from Harge, termed a morality clause, labels and names are never used. Harge, played with the perfect level of mannered frustration from Chandler, is not a bad person, or even a bigot, he’s just a man struggling with lack of autonomy over something he wants to control to keep. One thing that helps separate Carol from other period piece romances is the concerted effort to give real autonomy only to the women in the film. When questioned about her relationship to Carol from a man romantically interested in Therese, he asks, “Was it because I kissed you?” Therese merely brushes the question aside, removing any agency he may have in her decision making. Mara’s performance here is one for the ages. Like both Blanchett and Chandler, Mara balances the complexity of her character with such apparent ease, it’s so remarkably easy to be rapt by the delicate artistry in the performance. To elevate the elegance captured on screen, Carter Burwell’s melodious and heartfelt score mirrors both the melancholy of longing and desire, and the wonder and joy of relief in acquiring desire.
Carol achieves what so many films aspire to, a perfect balance between story and delivery. So meticulously crafted in design and so genuine in emotion, by the time the last shot, one of my now favorites of all time, appears before we cut to black, you’ll be torn between being impressed by such a perfect moment, and not wanting it all to end.