Written by Phyllis Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Directed by Todd Haynes
Patricia Highsmith wrote The Price of Salt in 1952 and through her novel chronicled her own feelings about her sexuality through two fictional characters. Known to have had relationships with women, she underwent various psychological treatments in order to rid her of her feelings and to force herself to get married to a man. It never worked. This outpouring of emotion, tense and terse, is translated perfectly into Carol, the film adaption of her book by Phyllis Nagy.
Directed by Todd Haynes, who also did I’m Not There, Mildred Pierce and several others, he knows how to not only shoot the female viewpoint, but also can capture the essence of a moment with a quietness about it. In Carol, we see how important and central a mere look or glance is and the physicality of a simple touch on a shoulder. Those soft and what sometimes seem like meaningless moments between people are actually highlighted and made important.
Set in the fifties, an era when two women seen touching, let alone being in a relationship, was a preposterous idea, Haynes shows the two central women in the film having moments with touches or looks seem electric and almost scary. As if we the audience know that what is about to transpire between them is completely real and filled with a mixture of lust and love.
The story is about a young toy shop keeper, Therese Belivant (Rooney Mara) and her relationship with the older and glamorous Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). Even her name sounds magical and seductive (just like her cheekbones); she is everything that Therese is not both good and bad. Carol is in the process of getting a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) and both are fighting for custody over their little girl Rani. She seems as if everything she does has glamour and charm to it, from the way she brushes her hair to the way she orders a martini. Therese is a budding photographer who sees life through a lens, unsure of whom she is or what she wants out life, she carries herself with a certain naiveté. She seems very disconnected from her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy) and unexcited about the possibility of traveling to Europe with him or even getting married. At a time when most young girls aspired to be married, she is completely modern in eschewing those traditional roles.
One day Carol leaves her gloves behind at the toy store. Did she do this on purpose? We’re not sure, but it proceeded with the reaction I am sure she intended. Therese has them delivered to her and Carol thanks her by taking her out to eat lunch. During this lunch the two look at each other with a fondness for one another, but nothing is clearly ever stated. Instead it is drawn out, Carol invites Therese to her upstate home and from there the relationship continues to bloom. Therese begins to see that Carol’s relationship with Herge is volatile and unkind, but she continues with her. When Carol invites Therese on a road trip to get away from it all because Herge will have their daughter during Christmas time, Therese willingly agrees. A few scenes before, we see Therese dismiss her boyfriends invitations to travel all around Europe.
What transpires from there is a romance that evolves on the road. Many scenes take place in the car, with Carol looking fondly over at Therese, who always seems perplexed and staring out a window. Their romance is subtle, but it starts to become very obvious that they are in love with one another.
One of my favorite scenes was when Therese is sitting at a vanity and Carol comes up behind her. Carol puts her hand on Therese’s shoulder and she firmly holds onto it. They both look into the mirror as if they are facing who they really are and the sexual tension in the air can be cut with a knife. To be able to show that sentiment in a movie, and to truly feel it as an audience member, is quite difficult, yet it plays out with such ease. We feel as if we are in their world, intruding into something we shouldn’t be part of, but there we are smack dab in the middle of it and we have to embrace their tension and run with it.
Blanchett delivers one of her best performances, as if we thought she couldn’t get any better with her work in Blue Jasmine. Her hardened smiles are distinct and she brings to life a character that has an infinite amount of layers and emotions to shed. Mara was equally phenomenal, she restrains herself so much and that is exactly what this character needed. She holds back her emotions, but it’s obvious that she is weak in the knees for Carol.
Chandler as the distraught and jealous husband did great against these two actresses. I am surprised he didn’t get nominated for his work in this film. He was powerful and deserved some credit.
Carol is a beautiful film, the cinematography and the costumes were quite gorgeous. All the details in the film only serve to add to the story and authenticity of it. This felt like a real story, not a made up one for Hollywood’s sake. It’s a story that needed to be told for those who lived in that era and for those who live in an era of freedom of sexuality and to realize that they should never take for granted the freedoms they have now. If you enjoy dramas with a lot of heart and feeling, then this is a great choice for you.
Also posted on Pink Egg Media