“Carol” Movie Review


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     “Carol” is a master’s lesson in creating the proper tone and mood for a period film taking place during a time significantly different than one we live in now.  The efforts in costume and set design must be flawless in their detail and the choices in lighting must reflect the soft conservative nature of the subject matter, which in this case is the early 1950s in NewYork City.  During that time, conformity with a number of well ingrained core values was the fabric of which society thrived.  Today, people in general are much more apt to question these values rather than basing their lives on them, but in the 50s, children were raised to be respectful, thoughtful, and mindful of the moral compass generations of Americans had established in order to maintain these important individual attributes.  Director Todd Haynes effectively recreates this setting as he tells the story of a young female store clerk who falls in love with an older woman she meets during Christmas time and sets off a seductive courtship seen as taboo during that generation.

     When compared to today, a time in which it is now legal for gay couples to marry, the relationship depicted in “Carol” may seem muted and lacking of the key components of modern love stories, but that’s also what makes the film such an original piece of filmmaking.  And that’s why the most important aspect of the film is the setting that Haynes and his team have so effectively created.  For lack of a better comparison, think how different a film like “A Christmas Story” looks and feels in terms of tone and setting.  The film and story is an absolute throwback to a completely different time when life was so much more simple.  That simplicity comes with a price; however, since society had established what was considered normal and created many traditions that didn’t exactly fit everyone’s personality or sexuality for that matter.  People who were attracted to the same sex would be an obvious victim to these standards, forcing them to live their lives in the proverbial “closet” as society was unwilling to accept they were different.  In much the same way director John Crowley did with “Brooklyn”, Haynes has painted a rich and lifelike canvas for his stars to occupy that effectively transports the audience to a time different in so many ways from ours.

     Therese (Rooney Mara) is a cashier in a New York toy store run in regimented fashion as the Holidays draw closer.  Haynes allows us to spend several scenes with her friends, acquaintances, fellow workers, and boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who seem to be all men and no women, indicating Therese confines herself within society’s expectations and plays the role of a young woman who someday will get married and have children.  While working, she is approached by Carol (Cate Blanchett), a separated but still married house wife doing Christmas shopping for her young daughter Rindy (Sadie & Kk Heim).  In these early scenes, you can tell when two people of the same sex are attracted to one another because in public they seem to be at a loss for words, instead relying on seductive staring and innocent touching of the shoulder or hand in which the touch stays in contact just long enough to let the person know it is more than just a greeting or a goodbye.  Therese and Carol display an obvious attraction in their first conversation, one in which a train set is picked out and set to be delivered for Carol’s daughter.  When Carol accidentally leaves her gloves on the checkout counter, Therese kindly mails them to Carol’s address, a deed that Carol wants to reward by taking Therese to lunch.

     As their relationship begins to materialize, Carol’s husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), begins to suspect his wife is reverting to behavior she displayed in a similar hinted at relationship with her best friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), many years before.  And now with Carol instead choosing to spend time with Therese, rather than go visit Harge’s parents in Florida for Christmas, he feels her recent history is beginning to repeat itself.  With their impending divorce, Harge takes advantage of the fact a same sex relationship is looked at by the law as being immoral and files for full custody of their daughter on those grounds.  This causes Carol to react in true “Thelma and Louise” fashion and embark on a road trip with Therese that doesn’t take them to any particular destination, but allows their relationship to flourish in a way Therese has been longing for, but didn’t know exactly how to communicate it.  Of course complications continue to arise as the couple find it difficult to navigate the substantial emotional obstacles in front of them.

     “Carol” is based on the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “Strangers on a Train”) and adapted by first time feature scribe Phyllis Nagy, whose script is highly dependent on the ability of Blanchett and Mara to exude the kind of nonverbal emotion needed to sell their budding relationship even when they're not actually talking.  It’s the way they look at each other so discreetly, so as to ensure no one in the room will notice.  It certainly helps that Blanchett’s eyes are endlessly alluring, so vast it would be easy to be lost in their silence even though they tell us everything we need to know.  Mara is equally adept to helping the audience experience her emotions as well, exhibiting the harsh realities of a woman who wants so badly to express herself but is trapped in a world that will question her morality for doing so.  Both Blanchett and Mara’s performances are Oscar worthy, making them among the best of the year, but “Carol” falters slightly in the third act when it seems to struggle with providing a worthy conclusion to the journey we have just witnessed.  Perhaps this was done purposely so as to demonstrate the fact it would be decades before same sex relationships would even begin to be accepted, meaning the immediate future for Carol and Therese was cloudy at best.  “Carol” is an engaging character study as it effectively explores the once solid line between forbidden love and society’s definition of the American family, doing so with an exceptional artistic quality and the soft touch of its two leading women.  GRADE: B