‘It’s a love story,’ my husband said. ‘Two people falling in love.’ It is a love story but the fact that both people are women is what drives Carol’s soon to be ex-husband (Kyle Chandler) absolutely stark-raving mad. They’re already separated when Carol and Therese meet; the break up of their marriage has nothing to do with Therese. Yet when he discovers the relationship he threatens to use a ‘morality-clause’ to rip Carol, not just of her fair share financially, but of her daughter.
In the 1950’s world the movie inhabits, Carol isn’t just about two women falling in love, it’s about the taboo nature of that love, and how it’s both dirtied by fear and ignorance, and punished. The kind of punitive environment that led author Patricia Highsmith to release the novel the movie is based on—The Price of Salt—under a pseudonym. At one point, Carol even sees a shrink, part of the child custody battle, to cure her of her aberrant psychology, like that ‘pray away the gay’ training that was in the news a couple of years back.
Haynes recreates that world beautifully with Cincinatti standing in for 1950’s NYC. In the after-talk at the screening we attended, Haynes said the city captured that look of dirt and decay he wanted for the story. A dirty layer he also emphasized by shooting scenes through glass, rain-drenched taxi windows, dusty shop windows.
The effect he and longtime collaborator, Director of Photography Edward Lachman, created was one of intimacy and immediacy.
We were there with Therese as she discovered Carol, discovered herself. Both women, while moving toward a relationship, were cautious. During the early stages they take a trip together and for several nights take separate rooms. When they do ultimately come together the sexuality is handled tastefully, there were no Girls Gone Wild moments, 2015 style. There was some semi nudity with the younger Mara baring her breasts, and a fair amount of kissing in a couple of scenes. Blanchett disrobed but didn’t fully reveal herself, the action dissolving before becoming graphic.
Haynes said costume designer Sandy Powell told him about the project but it wasn’t until about six months later that, Blanchett, already attached to the film, asked him to direct. They all make an amazing team, we’ve looked at some of the costumes for Carol before, both the luxe wardrobe for the older, well-to-do sophisticated Carol and the initially wispy and mousy little Therese. Sandy Powell will most definitely be nominated for an Oscar, it will be her 11th nomination, the costume designer has won three times, including once for The Aviator.
It’s a beautiful film, helped along by Cate Blanchett’s movie star glamour, Rooney Mara’s total immersion into the role of the young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants—she’s an aspiring photographer who learns to take herself seriously.
The supporting cast—particularly Kyle Chandler as Harge the aggrieved husband and Sarah Paulson as Abby, Carol’s former lover and friend—are all excellent and the screenplay adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel by Phyllis Nagy was a labor of love. The score from Carter Burwell is period-perfect too. Ultimately it’s the look of the film, the world that director Haynes creates, that really captivated me. Like an old-fashioned coffee table book, the kind we pored over before the internet made photography instantly available, I want to turn the pages very, very slowly, drinking in every lavish detail. Come to think of it, maybe I did fall for Carol after all.