Synopsis: In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Cory Michael Smith
Director: Todd Haynes
Running Length: 118 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: Looking through our 2016 lens, it’s still hard to imagine a time when being gay was something no one discussed. No one. “Committed bachelors” or “spinster aunts” were often coded labels placed on gay men and women when discussed in refined society circles. Then there were those that struggled with their sexuality and found themselves in loveless marriages, sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of necessity.
Adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Carol is an examination of two women at different stages of their lives. A young woman with her life ahead of her becomes enamored with a glamorous married woman a decade or more her senior. From the moment department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara, Side Effects) meets Carol (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine) during a Christmas season shopping trip, there’s an instant connection the women silently share. It’s a moment of electricity anyone that’s ever felt the prickle of immediate attraction can relate to.
By accident or on purpose, Carol leaves her gloves behind and when Therese has them returned it gives the women the excuse to meet up. During their dinner conversation both women examine the other, seemingly wanting to say something more but unsure if their assumptions are correct. Being the older, more experienced of the two Carol seems to know what comes next and Therese looks to her for guidance as she examines her own desires.
While Carol and Therese begin to hone in on their feelings, the men in their lives struggle with the loss of connection. Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler, The Spectacular Now) loves his wife…or does he love the idea of her more? They share a daughter and over the course of the film the husband tries everything to get his wife back, no matter how desperate the measures are. Therese’s boyfriend (Jake Lacy, Love the Coopers) is a man with a plan…he sees the life, the wife, and the family society says he should have. The parallels between the younger unattached couple and the older married couple aren’t hard to see.
Director Todd Haynes delivers an achingly complex tale of love that has no easy answers or pat solutions. There isn’t a sweeping miracle finale where everyone winds up happy, to present that response would be to alter a history that has seen gay rights and acceptance evolve at a creeping pace over the next half century after Carol takes place.
Blanchett and Mara are luminous in their roles and acting within the exquisite production design captured elegantly by cinematographer Edward Lachman, the performances live and breathe with ease. Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) has a brief but powerful turn as a former flame of Blanchett while Chandler and Lacy make their men a product of the ideals of the time, yet not without a brain or a heart.
We’ve evolved a lot as a society, especially in the last decade, getting ever closer to a parity between individuals at a human level. There won’t ever be consensus on what is acceptable but the first step is understanding. Carol shows a beauty of a relationship damaged by societal norms, and the fight to reclaim what’s true.