Deeply romantic and tantalizingly erotic, Carol is the latest from film maker Todd Haynes. Here, the director brings the same period-specific aesthetics that he created in his stunning television adaptation of Mildred Pierce. Haynes is no stranger to capturing particular times and places on screen. His most prestigious film to date being Far From Heaven, set in 1950s Connecticut. Whatever the subject matter, places always seem as prominent in Haynes’ work as the people. Carol opens with what appears to be an ending – taking great and blatant inspiration from David Lean’s Brief Encounter. Retail store customer assistant Therese Belivet is young, lost and self-sabotaging. Carol is a wealthy, glamorous older woman; a devoted mother trapped in a broken marriage. The two of them first meet over the shop counter where their instant chemistry presents itself. Flirtation leads to infatuation and both women quickly find themselves out of their depths as their relationship develops within a relentless world that seems to constantly want to prevent them from being together with all of life’s complexities causing them constant disruptions. Carol is a love story but, like the mighty Brief Encounter which it occasionally referenced far too heavily, it has devotion and responsibility at its heart. An agonising ordeal, Carol asks big questions about what it means to be both a parent and a partner as well as looking at what it is to truly fall in love for the first time. Haynes masterfully uses colour, light and the camera to create a rich colour palette which reflects both the burning desire of the protagonists and the warmth of a nostalgic, vintage New York City.
Rooney Mara brings fragility, naivety and insecurity to Therese, growing from girl to woman throughout the film’s running time. Her character seems so much less experienced than Carol which only goes to prove her talent as an actress able to live up to her co-star, Cate Blanchett. These days it feels that every Blanchett performance is a career best. It was less than two years ago that she won her second academy award for Blue Jasmine. Yet she tops herself again with Carol – creating a highly sexual character who carries both a sense of mischief and an instability. Her character is at her most compelling when in the role of mother, exuding unconditional love and devotion to her child. Where Mara’s character is discovering her sexuality, Carol is incredibly comfortable with hers – unapologetic and refreshingly reassured considering the film’s time setting. I found Carol lacked a certain something; at times realising I was trying to make myself care about the central relationship rather than this occurring naturally. At other moments I was floored by the raw emotion and sentiment at the film’s core. Reconstructing the genius behind Brief Encounter rather than matching or rivalling it, Carol is still deeply moving and deeply, deeply romantic – something that is much harder to portray than you might think.
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