Favourite Films: Carol (2015)

I haven’t posted one of these favourite film blogs in a while so I thought I’d return with one of my modern favourites in the form of Todd Haynes’s stunning 2015 film Carol.

Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s controversial novel The Price of Salt, Carol tells the story of Therese Bellevet (Rooney Mara), a young twenty-something trying to find her way in 1950s New York. Whilst working as a Christmas temp in a busy department store, Therese has a love at first sight encounter with Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older soon-to-be divorcee who is a darling to New York society. Much like the Christmas backdrop, the film is a present revealing more layers with every watch.

I suppose it makes sense to begin by focussing on the beautiful performances of the lead characters that I believe draw career bests from both Mara and Blanchett. Mara plays Therese like a mature child. She thinks she knows what she wants but she isn’t emotionally ready for the consequences that comes with engaging in a homosexual relationship in 1950s America even if she thinks she does. Her Therese is underlined with curiosity as she finds herself obsessed with Carol and wanting to impress her.

If Rooney’s character was underlined with curiosity, then Blanchett’s titular character is tinged with sadness. Sadness of the inevitable truth that will potentially ruin Therese’s life in a homophobic society. Their relationship seeming like an impossible dream that they can’t make a reality. Carol acts as a motherly character towards Therese, physically taking her around the country to protect her from those who wish to destroy Carol’s life and ultimately hers. There is a tortured quality to Carol as she is torn between the family life that she had created for herself that provides financially and social safety and true love.

The script by Phyllis Nagy is nothing short of phenomenal and is brilliantly faithful to the book. The changes that are made from the book are minimal but also crucial as I think the right choices were made to tell this story onscreen. My favourite scene in the film is when Therese agrees to go to lunch with Carol and the two get to know each other. It is natural and intimate with the sexual tension cutting through the undertones. Nagy makes every word linger and makes sure that no line is wasted. The film is fantastically paced, feeling like a slow train chugging forwards towards the inevitable climax that causes their bubble to burst. The sharp focus on the women themselves makes their love appear literally timeless, as if the world around them doesn’t matter. When the outside world does interfere and threaten them, it is done so that the audience is jolted back into reality from the dream that the women’s relationship had given.

This is enhanced by Haynes’s astonishing direction. Haynes pulls out all of the stops for this production, playing all of his cards as a visionary. He managed to take the words on the page and create a universe that seems to belong to Carol and Therese. From the costumes to the music, the film is orchestrated by a beauty that stays throughout the film. What made the novel so controversial on release was its happy ending which was unheard of for stories regarding homosexuality and Haynes wanted to keep that. He wants the audience to know that this is their world and it is a beautiful one. The film appears traditional on the surface and yet groundbreaking in subtext. I think it is a huge mark in LGBT filmmaking.

I really recommend you check Carol out if you haven’t seen it. I can’t count how many times I have watched it despite it only being a few years old but I always found something new to focus on whether that is the score or set design. I think it will go down as a classic and believe that people will watch it fondly in years to come.

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