What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space.
Carol is this decade’s unforgettable on-screen romance. There is a defining scene towards the end when a character says, “I love you.” What transpires next literally made we want to shake a character senseless for interrupting a powerful, stunning moment of invigoration and intimacy.
Beautiful and exhilarating, Carol portrays two unhappy, restrained people finding each other thanks to a love-at-first-sight, chance encounter at a 1950’s NY-department store. It is a very moody yet enchanting and emotionally alive period film, but perhaps, also one of the best on-screen romantic depictions of two people falling in love in decades. You absolutely root for the couple, as their relationship develops as they explore their emotions, pain and covert desires. It’s about two people living inauthentic lives, suffocating in toxic, unnatural relationships until brought together. Their union is a breath of fresh air, as it’s always life-affirming to see two people take solace in each other for the right reasons. Few other films capture the feelings of what it is like to fall in love. Carol let’s you remember what it is like to fall in love with someone and all its painful hardships. The film makes it clear from the start, that these two women are immediately attracted to each other. They are very much curiously probing and infatuated with each other from their very first meeting, discretely at first (awkwardness, long gazes and all), until the attraction and infatuation beautifully blossoms into something more, becoming something almost forbidden. Much is owed to the touting chemistry shared between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. There is a sex scene in Carol that destigmatizes the viewer of looking at as a lesbian sex scene, but a human one. It’s pure passion just between two individuals in love.
The highly stylized and emotionally resonating last shot is something only a true directing master could properly execute. It was as if I was transported into Therese’s subconscious, processing these final moments just as she was, and I was left in hysterics. The scene itself will probably go down in the books as an all-time-classic. This sensitive camera work and direction draws you in, delicately placing you within Therese’s inner-thoughts as she takes a courageous leap of faith in the name of love. The film is bliss for the true cinephile. It is the type you want to see as soon as possible, as soon as the credits start rolling. I want to observe the film’s camera movements again, the exchange of glances and stares, mannerisms and physical movements. The elements combined sweep you off your feet as you witness an unforgettable love affair.
Deliberately paced yet emotionally stirring, Carol is an absolutely intoxicating experience. It is not the type of film that will manipulate you into crying like the usual Oscar bait we’re used to seeing year after year. Nevertheless, by the end of it, I was crying like a faucet. These tears were well-earned, and I was left shaken. It is an incredibly moving, hard-hitting, human masterpiece of a film. There is a section towards the end, a monologue to be exact, that just completely broke me. Then Haynes decides to top it with such an empathetic ending, leaving me in a state of debilitation. These emotional overtones are sweeping and puts you into the minds of these characters, leaving me swept away by the impactful, slow-building silent moments.
Every technical element was immaculate (especially the production design and costumes), but I was personally awestruck by the Cinematography. My favorite technical element of the film, Lachman topped himself with just astonishing craftsmanship capturing Carol in its picturesque and grain-filled super 16mm glory. Haynes lets scenes carry on to wondrous effect. Lachman constantly uses mirrors and reflections (to express the hidden emotions of the two characters) had me entranced. He also produces gorgeous soft-focus visuals, creates striking external shots, long-shots, and wondrous angles. While being both quite clean and simple, yet simultaneously technical, some of the shots in Carol were so original, they left me breathless. Sometimes, the camera shakes before zooming in on the face. There is one very memorable scene that has as an eye-line reverse shot, which cuts to a canted angle, before a long shot, while capturing only one person in the conversation the whole time.
The film largely hinges on the masterful performances, chemistry, and relationship of the two leads. Rooney Mara is absolutely wonderful as the young, naive, and impressionable Therese. Mara (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the graceful Audrey Hepburn) gives a very restrained and nuanced performance. Mara plays a very shy character here and displays some of her usual tendencies, but also breaks out of her shell more with expressive moments. Mara marvelously captures Therese’s feelings of burning lust, infatuation, and emotional desires as both the camera and Therese pursues Carol. Blanchett has even more to work with, as the strong-willed lesbian mentor Carol. Blanchett, as the title character, undoubtably gives one of the finest performances of 2015. There were a few moments when she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, especially towards the end during a custody scene. The camera worships her, as Therese does, and she makes the absolute most of every scene she’s in.
The marvelous chemistry is a big reason this movie is so successful, and you really have to thank the director for that, as Todd Haynes’ direction is equally as impressive as the two lead performances. Haynes seduces the audience in Carol and confirms again his master status as one of the best auteurs working today. It’s a career-defining, strong, showy, and beautiful work. Haynes wastes no moment, spares no detail. Every minuscule detail is accounted for. Haynes lets scenes carry on to wondrous effect. It’s also indisputable Haynes is in love with this 1950s time period. I hope Haynes finally gets the recognition he deserves at the end-of-the-year awards.
On to the supporting cast. Kyle Chandler was someone I was excited to see in Carol, but like most of the male characters in the film, was pretty one dimensional, but was effective given his plot device and still makes the most out of what he has. It’s a loud and angry performance, with a lot of yelling and complaining, often repetitive. Chandler’s a very unlikable nemesis, full of anger as a man corrupt in his beliefs to win the love of his wife back and return to his old family life. Though, at the same time, you feel for this distressed and disgruntled man. Sarah Paulson is also fine as Carol’s childhood friend and past lover. Though it would be unneeded for the film itself, more exploration and development on the relationship between Carol and Paulson’s character would have been fascinating to explore. Although it will never happen, I felt like you could make a prequel to Carol, just about the two women because I feel like it is sitting on something truly fascinating and defining of the period. I’d also like to mention the always welcomed Jake Lacy, who should be looking at a career breakout soon. He’s probably my favorite among the male actors in the film.
Sandy Powell’s costume design is lush, and the period production design is equally good. Carter Burwell’s wonderful original score also incorporated radio songs from the times, which were perfectly selected (The use of a certain song towards the finale is just as effective as it was in PTA’s The Master).
The overall awards success of the film should depend on the importance of their romance, as it’s very easy to identify with the tough choices these characters made, given the time period. In a time of LGPT oppression, what these characters carried on was brave, no matter what distress they came from it.
Carol is more than just one of the best films of 2015; it’s a romantic and intoxicating experience to engulf in. It would also make a wicked double feature with Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy. [A++]
Current Carol count: 2 viewings