FILM REVIEW: CAROLCarol is a film based on Patricia Highsmith’s book The Price of Salt, which was published in 1952 under the pseudonym "Claire Morgan." It was a revolutionary book for its time because it was one of the first lesbian novels that didn’t end in tragedy. Director Todd Haynes, who is known for being a pioneer in the New Queer Cinema Movement, brings Highsmith’s book to life with Oscar-worthy acting, cinematography, music, and costume design.
The acting in Carol will captivate any audience. Rooney Mara plays Therese Belivet, a young shop-girl in 1950s New York City who lives a quiet and conventional life. Her life is forever changed when she locks eyes with the elegant and enchanting Carol Aird, played by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett. Carol and Therese share many long glances and subtle touches. It is extremely impressive that the two can create such emotion with the subtlest dialogue and embraces. Haynes does an amazing job at building tension, so that when Carol and Therese finally kiss it feels well earned.
During their love affair, the two characters are faced with many obstacles. For Therese, she is fighting conformity. Before Carol, she lived a life where society told her how to live. From being just another number working in the department store, to Richard trying to convince her to marry him. She has lived a “yes-man” life. In an early scene, she is asked if she is going to marry Richard. Therese responds with, “I barely even know what to order for lunch.” Later in the film, she says, “I don’t know what I want, and how could I when all I ever do is say yes to everything.” These quotes are perfect representations of Therese’s struggle throughout the film. Despite her love for Carol, she doesn’t know what she wants because all she has ever done is say yes.
On the other hand, Carol represents the nonconformity, and what it means to go against what society says is right. Carol has been in a lesbian relationship before, which is the reason for her custody battle and divorce. In the film, Carol is blackmailed and is threatened to have her child taken away from her, all because being a lesbian is a mental illness at this time. Carol’s husband Harge pleads with her to be with him. He is happy with her being miserable just as long as they fit the stereotypical mold of what a happy family looks like. Towards the end of the film, Carol says, “what use am I to her (her daughter), if I am living against my own grain.” Blanchett gives the performance of her life and shows us how awful society treated the lesbian community in the 1950s.
The music in Carol played a huge role in the mood of the film. The original score was composed, produced, orchestrated and conducted by Carter Burwell. He gives the film depth and creates feeling. Since the dialogue is so subtle, and the glances are many, it makes the music that much more important. I can hear the opening music to Carol playing as I am typing this. I personally can not picture this film with any other music.
The costume design in Carol also played an important role in the film. Sandy Powell, an Oscar winner, and expert at time-pieces, created beautiful costume’s that contributed to the aesthetic of the film. You can read more HERE about what inspired her decisions.
The next thing I want to mention about Carol is the cinematography, which was done by Ed Lachman. He and Todd Haynes chose to shoot the film in Super 16mm, which he says adds expressive layers that impacting the surface of the characters’ emotional being. The way the scenes are shot and the grain from the 16mm, makes the viewer feel like they are watching a film that is actually from the 1950’s. You can read more HERE about Carol’s cinematography.
From mentioned above you can see how meticulous Todd Haynes was in making sure everything in Carol was perfect. All of these elements merged together to create a beautiful timeless story about two women falling in love. I think Haynes and everyone involved did the Price of Salt justice, and I am sure Patricia Highsmith would have loved it… you will too.