2015 has been a year for brilliant but chaotic entertainment. From car crashes to lightsaber battles, it’s nice to take a break with a film that doesn’t scream down your throat. I never really understood what film critics meant when they described a movie as “quietly powerful” until I saw Carol. So subtle and carefully constructed, Carol washes over you so gently you don’t have any idea you’re watching a great movie until it’s all over.
Carol is about a timid saleswoman, Therese (Rooney Mara) who is questioning her sexuality. While making Christmas sales at her department store, she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), a strikingly beautiful and stoic woman who is in the middle of divorce proceedings with her husband (Kyle Chandler). The two hit it off and so begins the classic all-American love story.
Carol, much like Haynes’ previous film Far From Heaven, doesn’t just capture the look of the 1950s, but the spirit as well. It’s incredibly rare to find a film that takes place in a certain time period that actually feels like it was filmed in that time period. Carol does just that, and sheds a lot of the cynicism trending in films today. In just about every other movie about the 1950s, the antagonist, whether they’re not allowing the protagonists to vote or in this case, express themselves sexually, is a snarling cartoonish oppressor fueled by what seems like pure evilness. Kyle Chandler tackles the antagonist very carefully, creating a threatening yet relatable character who acts wrongly but out of fear and frustration.
Even though this is the story of two lesbians on the down-low falling in love with each other, it never becomes over-sexualized or provocative. The sex scene is relatively tame and focuses wholly on the emotions of the characters rather than their bodies. These are two women who come from different circumstances, Blanchett is older and thus knows herself completely, and Mara is barely an adult, just beginning to discover herself. They both share one common goal, shared by every human being, which is to be happy. The 50s weren’t just a tough time to be a lesbian, it was a tough time to a woman in general. The movie really hammers down the limited options these women faced.
In the title role, Cate Blanchett is predictably phenomenal, making Carol as intoxicating to the audience as she is to Therese. As fantastic as Blanchett is, the film really belongs to Rooney Mara who establishes herself here as one of the best film actresses we have working today. It’s a performance so minimalist, it’s seemingly non-existent. It’s miraculous she’s able to elicit so much of our sympathies. The cinematography, costume design and art direction are all on-point, while Carter Burwell’s musical score is absolutely beautiful. The real star here is Todd Haynes however, who blends all of these incredible elements together seamlessly. Imagine a film that is able to completely engross and move you for the entirety of it’s runtime without a single decapitation. In a body of impressively unique work, Carol is Haynes’ masterpiece. Grade: A