Emotional Health · Film & Television · Marriage & Life Partners

Movie Review: ‘Carol’ — A Love Story

CAROL-ONESHEETCarol, Todd Haynes’ new romance set in the early years of the 1950s, like most love stories, derives its drama from the obstacles the lovers must overcome. In this case, Carol, a sophisticated, wealthy New Jersey woman, is married, but that’s not the problem — she and her husband, Harge, are already in the process of divorcing.It is late 1952 and Carol is in love with Therese, another woman.

A beautiful rendering of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which she published under a pseudonym and did not acknowledge until late in her life, Carol has already won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Picture and Best Director, and is a sure to be one of the most celebrated films of the year during awards season. More than 15 years have passed since the screenwriter, Phyllis Nagy, first attempted to bring this project to the screen, and Haynes was not the first director associated with it. But we are very lucky that he is the one who ended up with it.

Haynes has made a film of great visual splendor, and he and cinematographer Ed Lachman have used the medium to its fullest. Carol is above all a story described chiefly not by what is said but by what is shown, especially in the eyes of the two heroines, played by Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Therese. The scenes are shot on 16 mm film, chosen by Lachman to approximate the muted colors of period films. Many are photographed through rain or angled car windows as the two travel back and forth to Carol’s stately home in New Jersey or through the wintery landscape on a post-Christmas retreat from Carol’s marital troubles.  Dialogue is sometimes intentionally muted, giving the painterly scenes all the more melancholy beauty, intensified by Carter Burwell’s lovely score.

The two women meet when Carol encounters Therese, who is a shop clerk in a department store, as she is shopping for a Christmas gift for her 4-year-old daughter.  Therese, it is clear, is thunderstruck by the sight of Carol, who is wrapped in an elegant blonde fur coat and moves with an ethereal, insouciant grace through the bustling store, like someone from another world. A few days later, when the two meet for lunch after Therese has sent back to Carol a pair of her gloves she (may or may not have) accidentally left behind on the counter, it is Carol who refers to Therese as a “creature flung from space.” One way or another, it is clear a relationship of unusual intensity has begun.

As backstory details emerge, we learn that Therese is an aspiring photographer who has a boyfriend, Richard, who wants to take her to Europe in the summer. She isn’t sure about him, as she explains to Carol, saying, “I don’t know what to order for lunch.” Meanwhile, Carol, we learn, is already separated and in the process of divorcing her wealthy, stiff husband, Harge, (Kyle Chandler) who is taking their daughter, Rindy, to Florida for Christmas. She has a best friend, Abby, played by Sarah Paulson, and they have a romantic relationship in their past, which Harge knows about, making him suspicious of Carol’s interest in Therese from the start.

One of the remarkable things about the film is that the issue of homosexuality is almost “incidental.” As I said, it is the obstacle the lovers must overcome, and in that it is the 1950s it is not inconsiderable, as Harge attempts to use it as a gambit to gain custody of Rindy. But it is not what the film is about per se. Rather, the film is a love story first, and the details of the lovers are secondary. Within the story, many of the familiar but important themes are present: How much pain can the lovers endure? What will they be willing to risk to be together? Can their love endure after they have hurt each other and is real forgiveness possible?

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