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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Carol | Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Carol | Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson | Review

Sexual awakenings in cinema are nothing new.  From The Last Picture Show, to The Blue Lagoon, to Fifty Shades of Grey, to Endless Love, predominantly heterosexual couples have been exploring the carnal pleasures of attraction onscreen as if they had invented it. And then there’s Therese…and Carol.

Therese (Rooney Mara) a young sales clerk in the toy department of a large New York store in 1951, meets and holds, the gaze of customer Carol (Cate Blanchett) a stylish suburbanite who purchases a train set and leaves her gloves, and address, behind.

The two meet, getting ever more acquainted and smitten, but barely touch.  It’s the holiday season, and these two generate enough sparks to light up Carol’s impeccable Christmas tree in her impeccable New Jersey home.  Therese is an Audrey Hepburn lookalike who does not yet know that she might be into women; only that she is attracted to Carol.  Therese has an arrogant boyfriend (Jake Lacy) who’d like to marry her, but he is someone she merely tolerates.

Carol is on the verge of divorce from wealthy Harge (Kyle Chandler), with whom she has a four-year-old daughter, Rindy (Sadie Heim).  Harge has been through the “woman” thing with Carol before, but still loves her and wants to reconcile.  Carol refuses, and Harge, seeing Therese in the house, demands, “How do you know my wife?”

Startling reality rears its head at the two women on many occasions, reminding them of the conformist, repressed era they live in.  Only when they are alone can they pretend that all is right with the world when the world is only the two of them.  Again, they barely touch.

Carol wants to take Therese on a cross country journey and the two embark on a road trip out west, eventual exploring more than just the scenery.  Yes, there is sex; no, it is not lurid.  We cheer for this couple.

To complicate matters, Harge sues for sole custody of Rindy to try to force Carol to come back to him (or at least punish her for refusing).  He’s got pictures, you see.

The ploy works, but, ripped apart abruptly, both Carol and Therese live subsequent lives that are stifled, inauthentic, and ultimately unsatisfying.

The era summons an array of obsolete items: phone booths, cigarette cases, record players, seamed stockings, and suitcases without wheels.  What is not obsolete is the age-old longing for passion; that is ageless.

Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) recreates the early fifties to perfection, with details like expertly blocked hats for men and pointed bras for women.  The sumptuous camera work incorporates a grainy film texture, thanks to Director of Photography Ed Lachman’s use of Super 16mm.  Shots are often extreme close-ups or through windows, wet and dry, or in small spaces illustrating how confining the existence of the two women needed to be in order to fulfill societal expectations of normalcy.

The waif-like Mara employs a wide-eyed whisper to counter Blanchett’s wistful, lengthy gazes and clear-eyed innuendos.  Sarah Paulson’s character Abby supplies a bit of back-story as Carol’s friend and first lesbian encounter.  Kyle Chandler embodies both male entitlement and inadequacy in Harge’s anguished search for answers.

Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Price of Salt, Carol is a gorgeous recreation of a bygone period, restrictive as a corset, but bursting with temptation and taboo.  And discovery.

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