Set in 1950s New York, this film narrates the story of Therese (Rooney Mara), a young shop girl who finds herself captivated by a distinguished-looking customer, Carol (Cate Blanchett). There is an immediate spark when the two first interact, and each finds a pretext to prolong their acquaintance. Meanwhile, Carol is dealing with a divorce from the ever hopeful Harge (Kyle Chandler), but the couple’s agreement on the shared custody of their daughter is suddenly jeopardised as the friendship between the two women evolves. Harge suspects that his wife, whom he knows to have had a previous affair with a close female friend, may harbour a deeper interest in Therese. A legal battle citing a morality clause ensues, with strong repercussions on the intensifying relationship between Carol and Therese.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, the author’s influence is easily detectable in the film. Famous for her intriguing psychological thrillers, in this case Highsmith did not create an overtly dramatic story. Instead she let the intensity of the narrative unfold on a very subtle level, bubbling beneath the surface of social constraints and aesthetic sophistication.
In order to recreate the distinctive mood of the era, director Todd Haynes found inspiration in selected street photography of the time. The result is a fragmental succession of artistically composed frames where each moving image evokes a vintage photograph and every detail has its purpose, contributing to the narration. From the background props to the smallest gestures, nothing is left to chance. This level of detail, however, does not detract from the touching performances of the main characters.
The film is a perfectly crafted sequence of fleeting, emotionally charged moments. The dialogues are carefully studied, but it is the silences that advance the story by creating a space where the things that cannot be verbalised can emerge as physical signals. The acting is understated and the narrative progression relies heavily on barely perceptible shifts in body language that are instinctively detectable and translate as significant clues.
Abounding in style and charm, Carol is a story of desire overcoming fear. Its message is that immorality lies not in the choice of partner, but rather in the repression of one’s true feelings, which causes a domino effect of unhappiness. The cinematography is truly compelling and builds an elegant frame for the graceful energy of the romance to bloom. There is a real sense that every element is a perfect fit in the puzzle. If one is not touched by the emotional dimension of the story, which quietly sneaks up on the viewer, there is enough to admire from a purely cinematic perspective.
Carol is released nationwide on 27th November 2015.
Watch the trailer for Carol here: