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Director Todd Haynes transports us into the 1950s in this tale of almost-forbidden love.

 

Love is a spell about opposites. It’s a feeling that can cause pain, yet a pain we often seek out intentionally. It can remind us of loneliness while, at the same time, giving us a sense fulfillment up until then unknown. It has often been explored to full extent scientifically, yet many of us still consider it a sort of fairy-tale magic, something unexplainable to anybody who isn’t experiencing it right here, right now. It’s no surprise that love is often described as and is associated with beauty. In a tactic that is common in filmmaking as “show, don’t tell,” Todd Haynes’s Carol paints a gorgeous picture exploring just what kind of power that spell can hold on somebody, anybody.

Carol, starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett and adapted from The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, is an intimate tale of almost-forbidden love in the early 1950s, a sort of candle-lit exposé on both the refreshing highs and heartbreaking lows of what it means to find somebody for which one can feel so boldly and unconditionally. It’s not so much about the feeling when you sit down at the table on a date, but the spark felt three martinis in, after the eyes lock, and the lights have been dimmed. In this case, it’s at the opening of the story, with Mara as Therese (Tar-ezz) Belivet and Blanchett as Carol Aird, enjoying the company of one another. Flashing back a bit, we discover both women have their own crutches, with Therese’s pre-marital apprehension reflecting that of post-marital deconstruction. It only seems natural for these two characters to meet in a story like this, and it happens when Carol comes across Therese at a local department store, Therese’s workplace. That spark is felt almost immediately as the two hit it off. Carol ends up leaving her gloves at the counter, be it an accident or intentional (we can certainly make an educated guess as to which). It’s not exactly a unique tactic -something instead bordering on cliché- but nobody can argue the overall effectiveness. It doesn’t take long for the spell to take over and the two women to begin exploring a relationship only one of them has truly explored before, and with it, the consequences of a life left more or less on the back burner to the exciting potential on the horizon.

Acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven) directs this story with a careful eye for intimacy, easily seen from his early choice to shoot the movie using 16mm film, bringing the frame closer to the action, both literally and figuratively. The result is a warmer, more nostalgic color palate, with soft grain and focus, and framing kept near the actors, except for when showcasing the gorgeously realized world of a 1950s Manhattan, designed by Judy Becker and photographed by Ed Lachman. It’s hard to imagine the rain-slick city streets, smoke billowing from the manholes, lit by the warm glow of streetlights lining the old buildings, captured more intimately in a movie, something not since the old black-and-white days of the classic film noir. Images like the raindrops running down the taxicab window as Therese gazes absently out into the city reflect the theme of a dazzling affection for something not fully realized, something found seemingly at the perfect moment. The costumes designed by Sandy Powell with the rich 1950s set decoration by Jesse Rosenthal bring the audience into an authentically realized time period that only John Crowley’s Brooklyn has accomplished earlier this fall.

The two leads are quietly electric, as Rooney Mara, portraying a sort of mature innocence, plays remarkably well off of Cate Blanchett’s opulent mothering beauty. Mara has proven time and time again that she can play a meticulous role, emotionally calculated but not intimidating. She handles Therese Belivet very well as something of an impressionable youth, thirsty for the right person to create a path in front of her. Cate Blanchet is just a queen of her craft, a presence that demands your attention for every second she’s on screen, and her role as Carol is no different. From the moment we see her approach Therese’s counter in the store, to every intimate argument shared with exiting-husband Harge (played ferociously by Kyle Chandler) over the future of their daughter, Blanchet is fierce and assured as somebody who struggles to decide what’s best for both her daughter and herself. It’s a fantastic relationship on screen by a still-emerging talent and a modern legendary force.

Carol is an ambitious movie in that it tackles a complex topic using a wealth of tools that make for a remarkably moving product. The idea of a forbidden love isn’t exactly groundbreaking or even uncommon, but it shows that the right tools can give something familiar a fresh perspective. It asks questions that don’t exactly have all the answers, but don’t need them, either. It’s a story that each person can leave with his or her own reactions. I suppose the same can be said about every movie, but not every movie tackles something so complex in such a way that leaves so much to our own individual experiences.

 

Directed By: Todd Haynes

Produced by: Elizabth Karlsen

Written by: Phyllis Nagy

Starring: Cate Blanchet, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release Date: November 20, 2015

 

Run Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: R

 

 

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.