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Carol – Movie Review

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Carol – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

With Far From Heaven and now Carol, Todd Haynes is a filmmaker who seems to have come from the 1950’s, albeit one who takes full advantage of the dismantling of the Production Code. He is able to convey ideas and themes that Douglas Sirk could only portray through hidden clues. There’s a delicate touch with which Haynes is able to tell this story. Most importantly, he and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy understand these characters and their turmoil. Carol is beautifully subtle in its portrait of this romance and it’s only made better by the lead performances. The film is shot in an appropriately old-school manner, but the messages are very contemporary.

What is most striking about Carol is it doesn’t feel the need to beat the message over your head. It also never seems like Haynes has a check list of things to run down, when telling this sort of story. He treats the lesbian relationship that blossoms between Carol and Therese as a genuine infatuation and the film doesn’t make a big grand statement related to their sexual orientation. Thus, the characters and those that surround them feel real rather than creations of Hollywood. One of the more powerful sequences in the film is a sex scene between the leads that works because it not only represents them finally revealing all of their inner passions, but also due to Haynes treating their love for each other as just that. The scene exists to show what two people passionately in love do when they have sex, regardless of their genders and that’s precisely why it’s so beautiful.

Watching Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, one flashes back to which stars in the ‘50s would have played these roles (Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn, respectively, come to mind) and yet the actors still give the parts their own. Cate Blanchett has already proven herself as one of the most consistently great actors working today. Between Carol and Truth, she has two extraordinary performances this year alone that stand as some of her best. Rooney Mara, on the other hand, is a revelation. Her small glances convey so much, with her being sweet at one second, nervous at another point and frustrated the next minute. She showcases so many emotions and a lot of that with her eyes. Kyle Chandler also deserves recognition for not turning Carol’s husband into a caricature. Nagy could have easily written him as the stereotypical homophobic ‘50s male antagonist, but he’s merely somebody frustrated his wife would gravitate elsewhere. He is a clear product of the time period, but without being written in an over-the-top manner that betrays his character.

Todd Haynes perfectly captures the feel of the 1950s with every frame. Edward Lachman’s cinematography has an appropriately grainy appearance, far fledged from the digital and pristine look of today’s movies. Lachman places the camera specifically to convey the moods and positions of the characters. There’s a precise delicacy to how the frame is shot and it has to do with the characters instead of merely looking pretty. Carter Burwell’s score is a beautiful piece, representing Carol and Therese’s romance so well and never becoming overbearing, but rather a natural part of the environment. One can easily imagine Therese playing this music on the piano.

Carol is one of the best love stories put to film this year. The romance that blossoms between the two leads is undeniably beautiful and restrained and as a period piece, it does work in transporting the viewer back to the 1950’s. Todd Haynes has such a clear love for that decade and he could have been a filmmaker then, though it’s doubtful he would have been allowed to fully tackle these themes. There’s something unfussy about this story and the way it has the characters evolve and fall in love. Even though it could be considered part of the “melodrama” genre, it’s not the least bit “melodramatic” and the emotions feel very genuine. Nothing comes across as manufactured in Carol and that’s largely why it succeeds as a modern romance set in the past.

Stefan Ellison

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