Directed by Todd Haynes.
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro and Kyle Chandler.
Carol and Therese meet over a department store counter. This chance encounter grows steadily into something neither of them were prepared to entertain. An encounter which leads to familial disruption, custody hearings and the breaking of social taboos. As someone once said none of us choose who we fall in love with.
Amongst its numerous Oscar nominations and LGBT credentials Carol is at heart a simple love story. Neither overtly flamboyant nor overly preachy, its depiction of same-sex relationships in the hands of Todd Haynes is voyeuristically non-judgemental. Playing with dialogue as well as the spaces between, his lead actresses engage in an often silent courtship. Necessitated as much by the period as anything else.
In their portrayals Blanchett and Mara skate the thin line between social expectations and gender limitations with skill. Neither wishing to upset the fifties applecart nor grandstand and thus eclipse their opposite number. Carol is clearly the more experienced in cloaking her desires and maintaining respectable relationships, just so her husband can save face. While Rooney’s Therese is enraptured by the older woman, learning moment to moment how dangerous it could be for her desire to outweigh propriety.
What Haynes does with his camera expands upon Phyllis Nagy’s dialogue, by isolating Therese and Carol behind car windows separating them from the outside world. Not only illustrating their burgeoning relationship but also their inherent isolation from those around them. You get the impression during the protracted dialogue sequences that everyone else is superfluous. In these more intimate moments Haynes concentrates on close-ups. Whether that is finger tips touching for a second, an eye line nervously crossed as pupils dilate, or the fact that other conversations cease to matter.
If anything Carol is just about two people falling in love and that they happen to be women is academic. Blanchett has never been one for engaging in Oscar baiting projects while Mara is equally picky about her projects. An accusation which could also be levelled at the director and some of Carol’s producers.
This film may start with some intentionally jettisoned gloves and a tentative phone call, but it ends with confidence, authority and a sense of self which few can lay claim to. Amongst its numerous plaudits Carol has recently been voted the top LGBT film of all time, which is ironic since the film deals in subterfuge and closeted necessity. Ultimately it should be celebrated for the simple depiction of love on-screen rather than anything else. Because conveying that sense of falling without fear for another person requires bravery whatever the medium. Once in a while however though such things do happen, for which we should all be grateful.