Director: Todd Haynes
Writer:Phyllis Nagy, based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Cinematographer: Edward Lachman
by Jon Cvack
Similar to Bridge of Spies, it feels as though Carol had time traveled back and captured 1950s New York City life, in a way that I haven’t seen a film do since Buffalo ‘66, The Christmas Story, or after seeing a revival last night, Inherent Vice. We see the pastel green of diners, with that floating film grain that most photographs from the period contain. It’s not the most beautiful film of the year, but in terms of immersing us within its environment it’s one of the most effective.
I haven’t yet seen Brooklyn, but I’m amazed that Carol wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Buzz about the plot was superficial. Although nobody said it specifically, it seemed like everyone was referring to it as "another" Gay Film. While the plot between middle aged housewife Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) did explore their lesbian relationship, Todd Haynes somehow made the film less political than most other recent films exploring similar themes. It was a beautiful love story, plain and simple, told within Haynes’ 1950s melodramatic style, which is all the more impressive when you check out the original master of the genre, Douglas Sirk, and his magnificent body of work that clearly inspired Haynes. The story is melodrama first and gay themed second, and I think it’ll be regarded as one of the first films that was in no way trying to make some grand political statement about gender and sexuality, so much as to explore love and how such a relationship would operate in 1950s NYC.
Carol feels trapped in her life, living in a large mansion, provided by her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) who demands a certain kind of life, which Carol simply can’t provide. Carol’s one joy is her daughter, who is caught in the middle of their feud. Harge is borderline abusive. Chandler’s performance is incredible, as he struggles to fight for what he wants and contain himself in order to avoid hurting the person he loves. We witness an absence of reciprocation that’s as good as any; where we feel his pain, and if not for his moments of aggression and invasion, we’d probably feel absolute heartbreak for him. We learn that Carol has explored her sexual urges a few times in the past, retaining the friendships, much to the frustration of those previous lovers. It’s clear that she too must have wanted a certain kind of life, hoping that a family, big house, and endless amounts of clothes and lavish decorations could provide her with contentment. I got the feeling that Carol’s exploration was relatively new, given her age, as though boiling up, believed to be tamed by a grand life, and no longer containable.
In some ways I got the impression that Therese reminded Carol of her own youth, when the world took on grand possibility, quickly smothered by marriage and family. Mara communicates such intelligence and understanding all without uttering a single word at times, until she finally breaks down in one of the film’s finest scenes. What brings them together is Therese’s own uncertainty about what she wants. Carol’s approach offers her an alternative. We get the impression that until the road trip Therese wasn’t entirely certain of where it was going.
Todd Haynes was able to provide us with a film that was so in sync with the classical period of American cinema that it left me with such a beautiful post-film feeling. I had been completely transported back in time, getting to see things as they were. Nothing felt artificial or manufactured. It was all so real, as though Haynes and Co. traveled back in time. This film will be remembered as ushering in the first wave of apolitical LGBT film; where it’s not about drawing attention to the subject matter and producing grandiose commentary so much as telling an amazing and beautiful story.
BELOW: Short clip showing the amazing set design and photography (be sure to watch in HD)
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