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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

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

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn

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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD

 

Carol

Carol is a love story, but not a traditional one. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 cult novel The Price of Salt, Phyllis Nagy's screenplay directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) tells the story of forbidden love, the kind between two women in the repressive, early 1950's when homosexuality in America was considered scandalous and a crime.

The setting is New York in 1952. Rooney Mara, resembling a young and delicate Audrey Hepburn, plays Therese, a salesclerk and aspiring photographer in her early 20's who works behind the counter in the toy section of a department store.  That is where she meets Carol, played by Cate Blanchett, a glamorous, well to do, older woman in her 40's who is shopping for a toy for her daughter at Christmas time. When Carol steps out of the elevator and walks toward Therese, their eyes lock and something happens in that moment igniting something special between the two very different women.

After Therese helps Carol choose a train set to purchase, she takes down her address for delivery. Carol leaves her gloves behind and Therese knows where to mail them. To show her appreciation, Carol invites the young woman out for lunch, then to her home and then on a road trip out west, which is when the relationship grows from platonic into something much more. In spite of the differences in age, social standing and very different places in their lives, there is an undeniable attraction between the two that neither are able to dismiss.  Therese is not sure of what is happening, only that she is letting herself go with the flow, which means being seduced by another woman and falling in love, something that she has never experienced before.

Of course, all fictional love stories need obstacles between the two lovers that keep them from fulfilling their desires. Without conflict and complications there is no story. In this May/December romance, Carol happens to be in the middle of a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is still in love with her.   There are child custody issues. Knowing about his wife's former, brief affair with another woman (Sarah Paulson), he uses that to his advantage under the legally invoked “morality clause”,  and things get ugly.  Meanwhile, Therese has a boyfriend (Jake Lacey) who wants to marry her, but her she cannot reciprocate.

There are scenes in Carol where language eludes the two women, and glances and even quiet moments are so strong as to express what they are feeling when words cannot. Haynes also has stated in an interview that “the act of looking, who is looking at who, was an important element of the story. A lot of shots were filmed through window panes, partitions, soiled glass, and rain.  The act of looking is embedded with desire and to see and to possess what is on the other side.”  I found the filmmaker's methods of delivering an idea without the use of words to be not only interesting but impactful.

Haynes filmed the story against a stunning backdrop of a bygone era, capturing even the smallest detail from the period including cars, fashions, makeup, hairdos and houses with immaculate precision.  Kudos goes to the director, as well as cinematographer Ed Lackman, production designer Judy Becker, and costumer designer Sandy Powell who deserve Oscar nominations for their amazing work come awards time.  Oscar buzz also surrounds Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who deliver beautifully understated, captivating performances.  But I must say, they have plenty of worthy competition this year.

Carol brings to mind how it used to be, and reminds us that in today's modern world, it becomes harder and harder to find reasons why two people cannot be together, even if they are of the same gender, or different races. There is no denying the power of love.

Beautifully executed, this engaging and relevant lesbian romance makes that point, loud and clear.

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