Todd Haynes, 2015
Rare is it in life when we have an instant attraction with a stranger. No such thing as love at first sight, just “like at first sight,” which eventually leads to something deeper. That’s exactly what happens in Todd Haynes’ latest film, Carol.
Haynes’ homage to old America (the 1950s in Far from Heaven and the 1930s in HBO’s Mildred Pierce) continues in Carol.
Two women at a different point in their lives cross path, become friends, and have an affair in 1950s New York. Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is going through a rough patch with her soon-to-be-ex-husband (Kyle Chandler). Meanwhile, Therese Belivet (Patricia Rooney Mara) is a young woman with a brighter future: a marriage proposal from a clingy pseudo-boyfriend and a potential career in photography. Carol is a housewife. Therese is a shopgirl. Two women cloistered by society’s sexist box.
We see most of the film from Therese’s point of view. She’s a young woman who initially evaded taking risks, avoiding taking photos of people because she has some affinity issues. And then she meets Carol. Therese finally opens up her heart for the very first time. And she’s now taking photos of people, of Carol to be exact. (So she has Carol to thank for that.)
Although not intended to be a bildungsroman, Carol has that coming-of-age feel in it; we see how Therese transforms into someone who is more sensitive and open to her heart and the world around her. Quite an interesting character study.
The novel on which the film is based on, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt
, exudes passion, which wasn’t materialized in the film because of the lead actresses’ lukewarm performances. If there’s a star who really shone in this film, it’s director Todd Haynes. He was able to effectively portray the complexities of being a female in the ’50s, stylishly emphasizing the joy and torture of falling in love with the same sex.
A rainbow himself, Haynes is no stranger to LGBT-themed movies. And it shows on how he treated Carol and Therese in this film. Haynes handled the material very well, he should have chosen different actresses though – someone who can show raw emotion, someone who doesn’t distract you with the fact that it’s all just a movie. Charlize Theron and Troian Bellisario would have been a better choice. Miss Theron has a more adequate skill set and has proven herself to be one of the industry’s versatile actresses. (Check out her career-defining performances in Monster and Mad Max: Fury Road.) Miss Bellisario, in my opinion, is one of the promising young actresses right now. She has demonstrated an impressive emotional depth in Lauren, a web series wherein she plays a soldier who was raped by her comrades. (And she has been in a lot of lesbian somethings too.)
‘s screenplay has a lot of possibilities to be emotionally provocative, but it was somehow subdued by the lack of chemistry between Miss Blanchett and Miss Mara. I just didn’t sense any sort of convincing power in their emotion. All I can see is two actresses playing their part, not being their characters. I don’t know if they really meant to portray Carol and Therese as subdued; perhaps it was intended to be like that to reflect women’s desolation during that misogynist era.
The love scenes didn’t evoke the passion Haynes wanted to show. It doesn’t have to resemble the love scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color; all it takes is some connection between the two actresses, which apparently wasn’t there.
Kyle Chandler has the most commendable performance in the film. He was quite effective as Carol’s possessive estranged husband who can’t help but question Carol’s relationship with her best friend/ex-lover Abby Gerhard (American Horror Story‘s Sarah Paulson), later threatening Carol and Therese’s relationship.
Probably known for his work on Far from Heaven
and The Virgin Suicides
, Edward Lachman is the film’s cinematographer. Carol
may not be as visually astounding as Far from Heaven
, but frequent Haynes collaborator Lachman has some good shots and framing in this film. One of the best examples is this:
Most of the film takes places during the holiday season: Christmas (thus the name “Carol”) and New Year to be exact. Such time setting and location helped a lot in forming that “cold world, sad love story” kind of feeling. The production design takes you from the busy streets of New York to the four corners of Carol and Therese’s secret love affair. Except for the artificial-looking toy shop where Therese works, every set detail is almost flawless, somewhat making you feel that this film was shot during the ’50s and not during the present time.
The film has quite a lot of symbolism in it. One being the film’s very first frame, which is the subway grate. From my female gaze, the subway grate – with muffled voices and all – aims to be a metaphor of women’s silenced voice during that era. This muffled symbolism would later resonate during Carol and Therese’s road trip, in which Carol and Therese’s voices are drowned by the background music.
Carol and Therese’s love story deeply resembles the lyrics of Troye Sivan’s Youth
. The song’s lyrics can be heard from Therese’s point of view of course. The line, “My youth is yours, run away now and forevermore
” echoes Therese’s bold move in pursuing a relationship with Carol.
Overall the film wasn’t what I expected it to be; it ain’t so bad, just not that emotionally spectacular. Haynes did his best, had some poetic and aesthetic achievement in it. The lead performances just kinda ruined it for me. It is like an intriguing promise the two actresses failed to keep. Sorry, ladies. Better luck next time.
Trailer for Carol:
DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended. I don’t own or claim to own any of the photos used.