Wednesday, December 23, 2015


 4.5 / 5 

The first time they sit down together and talk properly, or at least as properly as they possibly could under the circumstances, Carol looks crookedly at Therese and smiles a deep, enigmatic smile.  "Strange girl," she marvels. "Flung from space."

Carol, we sense, has done this before, seduced younger women as a way out of her dull but profitable marriage to a businessman of prodigious wealth.  She seems to be toying with Therese, who seems so young and innocent.  But this is just the beginning of the relationship that is everything to Todd Haynes' film Carol.

It is not, at first, a comfortable relationship, because when the story begins it is 1951, and everything to do with emotion is hidden beneath the surface; it's an asexual, antiseptic time, a time when even the colors are muted and dulled, afraid to show themselves for what they are.  Smiles abound, though laughter is harder to come by.  Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works as a shopgirl at a Manhattan department store.  She is trim, well-manicured, proper in cloth coats and sensible fabrics.  In the store one day, she meets a customer named Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett): thin, not trim; coiffed, not simply manicured; draped in silk and furs and leather gloves.

She leaves those behind after ordering a toy as a Christmas present for her daughter.  Perhaps she knows Therese will return them?  She seems to.  Carol seems to know everything, and what she's doing.  But as Carol herself says later, when a friend makes a similar observation, Carol can only admit, "I never did."

So, the story of Carol becomes not a story of two women who have a romance, but about two people who fall in love, which is a different and difficult thing to capture on screen.  Oh, romance is easy, it's the giddy happiness of out-loud emotions, but love is so much more difficult, and Carol's screenplay, by Phyllis Nagy -- a friend of Patricia Highsmith, on whose novel the film is based -- gets it exactly right.  Carol and Therese begin as a flirtation and find themselves in love unexpectedly.  It happens slowly, and because the movie is set in 1951, there is an assumption it will not end well.

Whether it does would be unfair to reveal, though it's interesting how the film begins with a scene of Therese and Carol together and leads us to make certain assumptions about what is going on, and then manages to work its way back to that very same scene, with those assumptions upended, and then work toward allowing one of the characters to smile in a way she has not smiled before.

Carol builds to such an unexpected emotional climax that, like Carol's favorite perfume, leaves behind a heady sense of itself.  It is an assured film that begins with a calculated aloofness and winds up with an urgent, well-earned intimacy.

Carol is also a sumptuously made film.  Every moment of it feels as if it was somehow made in 1951 -- every moment of it feels perfectly right and stunningly observed.  It's almost as if the film, like Therese, were flung from space itself, picking up the social vibrations and echoes from throughout the past 60 years, which help its story of two women who fall in love to transcend both time and, importantly, gender.

Carol is specifically and intentionally about two women from the 1950s, but it's so intensely crafted and carefully told that it feels equally about any two people whose only desire is to try to love each other, worried less about what others think than of their own fears and doubts, not sure of whether the effort will be worth it, but suspecting that it may be so.

Viewed Dec. 23, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


No comments:

Post a Comment