photo carol_zps8paop2ot.jpg photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe story is simple. Carol details a relationship in the 1950s. In this case, between Carol Aird, an elegant society woman who resides in the upscale suburbs of New Jersey and a struggling young salesgirl named Therese Belivet who works in a Manhattan department store. Carol is going through a difficult divorce while trying to maintain custody of her child. In contrast, Therese, who is at least a decade younger, is on the precipice of a new life with her fiancé. This pair couldn’t be more different. In fact Carol is a reflection in contrasts. Certainly there’s the social disparity – that these women from two different worlds would seemingly have little in common. But then, more importantly, there’s the departure from what convention allows and from what their heart compels them to do. The narrative is a study in desire.

Initially, Carol’s chance encounter with Therese occurs while buying a gift in the toy department. What follows is a tastefully polite discussion that belies an attraction that is hinted at but not acknowledged, at least not immediately. The conversation ignites a spark that draws them ever closer. Cate Blanchett is beautifully vague at first. A refined creation with curved blonde hair styled in waves, bright red lips against her porcelain skin, wearing a scarlet dress and hat to match, ensconced in fur. Rooney Mara is waifish and shy. Doe-eyed and timid, her beauty suggests Audrey Hepburn in the face, but frostier in temperament. Perhaps the delicate visage of a young Jean Simmons exuding a curious intensity that hides a pain she cannot discuss. Given the two leads, the scene, as well as the entire film, is also a contemplation on etiquette between the mores of society and the amorous impulses that cause people to deviate from what is considered accepted behavior.

Carol is an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) bestseller. The Price of Salt was the renowned author’s second publication. Although back in 1952, it was originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan due to the book’s unconventional content. Sold in drugstores and mass-marketed as pulp fiction, it was priced at $0.25 and branded with the tagline “The novel of a love society forbids”. The idea was actually motivated by an incident in the author’s own life while working at Bloomingdale’s, a job that lasted a mere two weeks. The inspiration was real, the subsequent relationship however was a fabrication. Nearly forty years would pass before Patricia Highsmith would even admit to being the publication’s true author.

Todd Haynes’ sumptuous adaptation is a luxurious rumination that defines cinematic art. The director is truly in his element. This is very much a companion piece to his 2004 period drama Far From Heaven, a film that grafted a modern theme onto the kind of movies that Douglas Sirk made. What made those “women’s pictures” so evocative was the way they mined feeling as some sort of majestic gesture. Those grand, gorgeously expressive melodramas were ardent soap operas.

Carol is an exquisite drama that manages to capture a moment in time, not as it really was, but how we romanticize it to be. The polite nod, the gracious smile, the unspoken thought, all confirm a cultivated behavior that complements a rich visual tableau. Whether it be costumes so luxe, you can almost feel the fabric’s texture or a set design so vibrant, you believe you could step right into the frame, the display is presented with such incredible detail the screen positively bursts with the spirit of the age. Composer Carter Burwell’s score creates an elegiac mood with strings and woodwinds. Jazzy tunes of the era are peppered throughout. The whole experience is that you’ve actually unearthed some long lost work, rather than watching an idealized recreation.  All of this would be for nothing if it didn’t have personalities to give the production life. Blanchett and Mara own the drama. They alone carry the thrust of the chronicle on their talented shoulders. The picture belongs to both of them. While they occasionally behave as if what they’re doing is no big deal — odd given the time period — they both captivate the viewer with their bewitching performances. The film positively aches with their emotion.


24 Responses to “Carol”

  1. Nice review. This seems polished up and ready made for awards season.


    • It might seem like a carefully calculated Oscar picture but they could’ve chosen an easier path. This film was in development for over 11 years. Its road to the screen was a long and difficult one.


  2. “Blanchett and Mara own the drama” that alone is almost enough to get me to see the film. But when you state that the actresses are set up with luuxe costimes and sets that you be thrilled to step into – that’s another selling point. Having seen and liked Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley, I can’t see any way to not see this one.

    Beautifully written review.


    • Thank you.

      And make no mistake, Rooney Mara is just as much the star of the film as Cate Blanchett, regardless of what category each actress will compete in when they are both undoubtedly nominated for Oscars. 🙂


  3. Your review is as elegant as the film.


  4. I really appreciate your review; it’s made me re-think my opinion of this movie, because it initially didn’t win me over. Elegant? Absolutely. But I’m not sure if this would be my nod to top tier of the year, but I’m in the minority with that opinion.


  5. Great review Mark. Hoping to see this tomorrow, really looking forward to it. Haynes, Blanchett, Mara, and co. have by all accounts nailed it.


    • You’re lucky it’s playing near you. How wide has the release been in Scotland? Here in the U.S. it’s only playing in 4 theaters so far – yes for the entire country!


      • Wow, that’s ridiculous. I stay half an hour away from Glasgow where it’s showing fairly regularly in three cinemas! Looks to me like a relatively normal release spread. Really enjoyed it by the way!


  6. Sounds great. If the northern NJ area gets so lucky to receive it in a month or so I’ll be sure to hit it. There’s so much to be watched over the next few weeks, I almost need to make a schedule! Lol


  7. Such a sensual, fascinating, and beautifully designed movie. Lots of unspoken and subtle moments played brilliantly by Mara and Blanchett. Happy to see Mara nominated in the lead actress category where she belongs.


  8. This was a true performance piece. Blanchett and Mara do awesome jobs here. This is a classy telling about a different type of love. Just a well told story with a beautiful score to back it up. 4 1/2 stars.


  9. I love your wonderful use of description, wow. This movie really sounds like something amazing.


  10. I agree that Carol is a sumptuous adaptation and a luxurious rumination that defines cinematic art. What a beautifully composed film with rich color and atmosphere. It truly feels like it takes place in its time period. It also does some interesting things with looks of longing. I just never felt very into the story or the characters. I found the plot to be inert. Plus the story never went anywhere exciting. Additionally, I never felt like I got to know the main characters well enough to get invested in their struggle.


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