Hype can be a dangerous thing. Inflated expectations can lead to inflated disappointment.
I have been looking forward to watching Carol since it debuted at Cannes earlier this year. It received rave reviews there and at the time of writing boasts an exceptional score on Metacritic of 95/100. Consequently I had pretty high expectations. I finally managed to see the film at a preview screening last week, and I’m pleased to say that Carol survived the hype (We can only pray that Star Wars will do the same.)
The story begins with a young department store employee called Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). She has aspirations of being a photographer but lacks self-confidence. Soon an elegant woman enters the store one morning and approaches Therese to ask about a Christmas gift for her daughter. This is Carol (Cate Blanchett). The pair’s conversation dances around flirtation, Carol orders an appropriate present and departs, mistakenly (or perhaps not) leaving her gloves behind. Therese returns the gloves and in return, Carol invites her dinner. And so their forbidden romance begins.
From the opening tracking shot the audience is transported into 50’s New York. There’s no question that we are watching events staged in the past. The film has a grainy look to it, which only emphasises this feeling. The soundtrack is composed of gentle piano pieces and listening back to it immediately sends one back to those wintry city streets.
The two leads give towering performances. This is subtle acting at its very best, with the characters saying more with their eyes than their mouths most of the time. Blanchett’s Carol radiates mystique and sensuality, she is magnetic. Her eyes filled with years of torment and longing, they are deep oceans of passion and one is sure that if they were to dive in then they would be lost to their depths forever. It’s no wonder that the wide-eyed and curious Therese immediately falls for her.
Carol’s husband is an angry, controlling man who threatens to take away her daughter from her forever. Therese is in a relationship with a man who wants to marry her and go to Europe. She’s not ready for this, she’s still working out who she is, and once Carol enters her life then this only complicates the situation, as she find herself with feelings she’s never had before. This is a straightforward story with subtle intricacies and complex characters. The two women are persecuted for falling in love. But to paraphrase a smaller character in the film, these are feelings which we do not choose. We don’t decide who we are attracted to, we don’t determine who we love. So how can we punished for doing so?
Indeed it is when tackling these ideas that the film briefly slips into speechy-ness. This only happens in a couple of scenes but these jar with the subtlety of the rest of the film and I thought that weakened these scenes somewhat. My only other qualm would be that the lead performances are so strong and nuanced that Kyle Chandler’s performance as the angry, shouty husband Harge feels much less genuine. For example, in a scene in the lawyer’s office where Carol and Harge are in a heated argument, Blanchett continues to speak with her eyes while Chandler stands up and slams the desk.
Rooney Mara continues to impress and Cate Blanchett is the best I think I’ve ever seen her. When the film premiered at Cannes, Cate Blanchett was tipped to win the award for Best Actress. As it happened the award went to Rooney Mara instead. I think I may have gone with Blanchett, but needless to say (I think I’ve said it a few too many times already) both performances are exceptional. This was my first Todd Haynes film (whose past works include I’m Not There. and Far From Heaven) but after this I will certainly be checking out his back catalogue. Carol is a really wonderful film and one of the best I’ve seen this year. I am looking forward to a second viewing, where I expect to like it even more.
Have you checked out Carol? Let us know what you think.