“Everything comes full circle.”
Movies have to inspire belief. For us to need and to crave whatever it is that they’re emanating. And that’s where Carol falls short. The story itself has layers, and depth, and sincerity. We should absorb this film. But I failed to find a connection out of the picture’s sheer muted nature. Now, I should note that this is a strong movie that depicts the unthinkable sexual repression forced upon women by inflexible justices and unpliable men. And still it isn’t the voice of its generation, or any other, because it prefers to remain moot. Carol is a lens, and a pretty sufficient one at that. However, when pulled away you’ll be back where you started: unattached, underwhelmed, and the majority of the time unmoved.
That opening paragraph reads as damning, so let me just say one thing; I thoroughly enjoyed Carol. While not a Best Picture nominee in my mind, I don’t discredit its achievements either. This is prestige filmmaking 101, something that Todd Haynes has an affectionate handle on, and will get an Oscar nomination because it is what it is. Those are the facts. I mean, the score by Carter Burwell captures the subjective sadness, Haynes’ direction is frugal yet smart, and the heartfelt acting always stellar. Carol doesn’t necessarily sink or swim. It really just floats there, teasing moments of emotional fireworks while secretly snipping the fuses. The film is too reliant on the ultra-realistic production design to build and foster a believable curtain, of which its characters stand behind awaiting their turn. This stage is cold, and so are these people, because the chance to shine under the bright lights never comes.
All of that is part of the story though, and what makes for some incredibly sad circumstances lived by otherwise unfulfilled characters. They’re unformed and passive and at times one-dimensional as a direct result of the closeted times. Rooney Mara plays Therese, a temporary shop girl working for the holidays. Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a housewife fastened in a lackluster marriage, staying put for her daughter and because of a controlling husband (Kyle Chandler). Haynes sparks the romance between the two oppressed women, their gazes instruments full of curiosity in the other, equally enticed by the feeling that comes from having a set of eyes look you over. Their relationship is that of preceptor and pupil. Therese is merely experimenting and finding herself while Carol has taken part in the sort of tryst before, maybe only once, possibly a handful. Commiseration and understanding join them together. Out to eat Therese says, “I barely know what to order for lunch,” a line denoting her curiosity and interest. Carol knows though. They teach each other how to love and how to be loved, two things jointly connected but entirely different.
Both actresses bring their A-game, although their billings are backwards, with Mara having the most screentime and Blanchett actually being the supporting figure. Through them, Carol pieces together a conflicted and confused outlook on love. Discovering the answer doesn’t set them free, nor does it create personal vindication. Loneliness is their harbinger, but the distressing thing about that is when they finally find themselves, we know the moment is fleeting. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, a flawless film circling the same thematic issues, Haynes’ story titillates rather than ringing true. Most of that has to do with the time and the place on the screen while detractors fall back on ligaments trying to have the staying power and strength of muscles. Carol speaks the truth with lush visuals and quiet distillation. I just wanted less ellipses and more exclamation points, and maybe even a few more questions.
“You don’t even know her.”
Rating: 4 out of 5