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REVIEW: ‘Carol’ (2015) dir. Todd Haynes


I cannot remember a time when I have been this excited about a film; Carol is perfect. Set in 1950s New York, it depicts the blossoming romance between two seemingly different but equally dissatisfied women, Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department store clerk and aspiring photographer, and Carol (Cate Blanchett), an upper-middle class housewife and mother trapped in a loveless marriage. Under Todd Haynes’ direction, with a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, and Carter Burwell’s magnificent score, every word uttered in Carol is poignant, every silence drips with energy, and every impeccably framed shot pulsates with honesty, without exception. This is a film that radiates beauty in all manner of ways, in its shyness and in its boldness, and in its heartrending purity.

What is so absolutely captivating about the film is how genuine it feels in its timidity: the gradual building of the narrative, of the relationship between Carol and Therese, is spellbinding. The silences are more memorable than the dialogue; they are so loud in the way that they translate the uncertainty and longing and sweetness and promise that exist in tangible waves between the two women that all the complex emotions felt by them seem to emanate from the screen, surrounding an audience that sits with bated breath.

It is a testament to both the screenplay and the acting that the words exchanged between the two leak, in between furtive glances and brief bashful smiles, what they really wish to say. This gentle apprehension with which the relationship is built means that intimacy is earned, and is all the more powerful; each tiny moment of eye contact induces butterflies in the stomach, each time their hands touch is enough to make the heart pound furiously, and when Therese leans in carefully to smell the perfume on Carol’s neck it all but stops. Carol is a film that is felt, rather than seen, and it is the ultimate privilege to be let in on a love that feels so true.

In large part this is due to the actors, who embody their characters so completely that it is impossible to resist them. Mara is wonderful as Therese, capturing her youthful naivety and paradoxical desire to be strong and composed so truthfully that the heart aches for her as if she were a sister when she cannot restrain her tears on the train, when she breathes ‘I miss you’ into a phone that has been disconnected. Blanchett as Carol is stunning, maintaining an air of grace and poise even as her lip quivers and her eyes sparkle with tenderness and desperation when she sits across from a cool Therese, just before she utters ‘I love you’. She is private and confident and steady, yet raw and emotional and anxious, and she expresses it all in the minuscule movements of her facial muscles; it is mesmerizing to behold. And it is this absolute embodiment of their characters from both actors that makes their chemistry spark so vibrantly, that allows the simple eye contact on which so much of the film depends to become vivid melodrama.

Perhaps best of all, the film respects both its protagonists; never for a moment does the camera fetishise or sensationalize their love, and in the end they are not punished for it, there is hope. Carol is a genuine and beautiful love story, and that is so rare for a film that depicts a romance between two women that, aside from anything else that makes it a masterpiece, it is impossible to resist its charm. Carol is outstanding: it possesses artistic credibility, sociopolitical importance, and is a purely enjoyable romantic drama all at once. It is a film that you must see and one that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled and your heart has finally stopped fluttering.

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