Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol (2015)
Carol [2015] is Todd Haynes’ sixth feature film. It is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt and features Cate Blanchett as our title character, Carol Aird, and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet. Set in 1950s NYC, Therese is a seasonal temp at a department store while Carol is unhappily married and going through a difficult divorce. One day, their paths cross, but unlike most interactions with strangers, which are largely inconsequential, this one evolves into something else entirely.

Some People Change Your Life Forever… Carol is a love story. But unlike the trailer I saw the film for The Choice [2016], which 1. just from those scant minutes already comes across like a steaming pile of offensively typical garbage (Yes, that is a harsh snap judgment. No, I’m not sorry.) and 2. felt like a misguided bout of if-you-like-this-then-you-may-also-like-this—Carol is subversive and beautiful. In fact, let me take a page from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and proffer my adoration: Oh Carol, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee for your quiet flirtatious glances that feel like an intimate secret. I love thee for your well-realized lesbian characters who aren’t defined solely by their sexuality. I love thee for your dreaminess. I love thee for your vulnerable characters who manage to be unshrinking and uncompromising. I love thee for eschewing stereotypes, for foregoing damsels in distress, for exercising restraint, and for avoiding hamminess. Carol actually is a fairly conventional love story—as most love stories are wont to be; there are, after all, only so many love stories to tell. What’s special and memorable is its texture, its grain, and its feel. Carol shows that Haynes can quite adeptly capture what it feels like to fall in love. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are magnetic and the best things about Carol doesn’t lie in dialogue or plot twists: it’s the minutiae of our leading ladies’ performances. A hand affectionately on a shoulder. An unblinking set of bright eyes. Fingers reluctantly and unsteadily reaching for the telephone hook. These are the things that create Carol’s memorable texture. To watch Carol is to witness the birth and progression of a pivotal relationship. Those that put a permanent mark on the fabric of our being—for better or for worse. And to witness this is a true privilege.

Blue Is, In Fact, The Warmest Colour… Haynes has always been a storyteller who gravitates toward outsiders. Carol and Therese are no different. At first glance, they may seem like any other women from the 1950s, and yet, closer observation will reveal that Haynes has set them apart. Never is this more apparent than when Carol attends a party with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). At one point during this party, we look at Carol staring out a set of windows. A fellow wife joins her and asks for a light; she has sneaked off to smoke despite her husband’s disapproval. They quip and Carol lights her cigarette. The two wives—Carol and Smokey McBandit—are bisected on the screen by a large window frame. Carol is in structural, muted grey clothes whereas Smokey McBandit is dressed in a loud white and powder blue sequinned cocktail dress. Smokey McBandit nervously giggles with self-reproach as Carol shrugs off her concerns, maintaining that S.McB should smoke if she enjoys it. Therese, on the other hand, is a different kind of outsider. She favors train sets over dolls. She is hesitant to marry the tall, dark, and handsome man chasing her coattails. She wants to be a photographer, not a housewife. Carol and Therese are not the usual suspects of onscreen women and this is refreshing. Other times, the visual language conveys a different kind of information. For much of the film, Carol wears a vibrant coral-pink nail varnish. When she, in one scene, instead, has a set of anemic French tips, we instinctively know that things aren’t all right. In a different vein, on multiple occasions, characters are filmed obscured and blurred by glass. It’s hazy and fragmented and definitely not classically the “best” way to shoot an image. Does style here serve the situation, the psychology, both, or neither? Interpret it however you’d like, but I would urge you to definitely see the film.

An unassuming and understated tale about falling in love.

Watch Carol