By Liz Casanova
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler
Written by Phyllis Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Directed by Todd Haynes
Runtime 118 min
MPAA rating R
Selig Film Rating Full Price
The 1950s in America is considered a time of high propriety and reservation when it came to discussions about sexuality. Carol exposes a tender, but forbidden, love story between two women, played stunningly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The film is based on the 1953 Patricia Highsmith novel "The Price of Salt"; the title was later changed to "Carol." For its time, this was a scandalous work of fiction, and director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There) does a masterful job of containing the characters in an environment where they constantly have to mask their true feelings.
Carol (Blanchett) is a classically beautiful woman in a troubled marriage who meets the young quiet Therese (Mara) in a department store just before the holidays. Therese is drawn to Carol and soon they are meeting and developing a friendship. However, Therese begins to realize that her feelings for Carol are more than just curiosity and friendship. She rejects any attachment with the opposite sex. Carol's situation is dire. Her love for her young daughter, and the potential consequences of the scandalous relationship, keep Carol from following her heart. But the heart wants what it wants, and Carol and Therese explore the possibility of that "something more."
Carol is an extraordinary film and piece of art. The cinematography (Edward Lachman) with Haynes' direction has such a tender focus on detail. Every shot, every movement, is a clue to the magnitude of their love. And it's also a love story to that era. There are wonderful shots of activity, like people congregating on the streets in the winter, or a toy train, where the audience is allowed to enjoy being thrown into that moment. The costumes, makeup and every little detail that is introduced into the film is a genuine window into the past, thanks to the art direction of Jesse Rosenthal. Rosenthal had an extraordinary year with other noteworthy films like Trumbo and Creed. He was also the art directing genius behind American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.
The performances are solid as well, of course, and the side players are not to be ignored. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) plays Carol's husband Harge. And he could have played it wooden and default to the "bad guy," but his role also requires a complexity of genuine emotions. He's in love with his wife and is scared that he's losing her. Another notable character is Carol's best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson).
Much like the classic tragic romantic love stories, such as Romeo and Juliet, Carol and Therese have a love story that should be considered one of the greats.