Carol ★★★½

The visual aesthetic is exceptional and intelligently constructed. The 1950s atmosphere is strong but not presented as it usually is. All the washed-out muted beauty and the mirrors and people looking through glass, shows how people are refracted through their environment. Their true selves are there somewhere and the film traces Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese’s (Rooney Mara) steps towards getting closer to being authentic, which is obviously stymied by being female and not straight in the 1950s.

But the muted wash of the film and the brittle falseness and sense of display of the time is reflected in the performances. I didn’t feel like they ever got to anything raw and real. Rooney Mara is good and just as in everything else I’ve seen her in she seems enigmatic and inscrutable, like she’s always got that core that she protects and won’t reveal. I think that’s ok though because I can accept that as part of the character she’s playing. But… and I know a lot of people won’t agree with this, Cate Blanchett is so obviously acting. She gives a very good ActOrrr’s performance. It’s also how I felt about her in Blue Jasmine. I couldn’t get past this observation enough to let me love Carol. People defending her might point out that the performance is appropriate for the film’s emotional stylisation and the character. I’d maybe accept this if I didn’t have the sweet memory of the very moving Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven to compare it to.

So unfortunately and surprisingly, I didn’t get too many feels from this beautiful story of first love and the struggle for love - and the whole purpose of the film is obviously to pull those feels out of me. Being a little disconnected in a slow film like this wasn’t great because then I felt quite a bit of drag. And the music couldn’t have been more obvious in its intentions! It’s very nice and it worked it's magic sometimes but it wasn’t exactly subtle.

I will watch this again though because I have lots of love for Todd Haynes and it’s one of those films where the frame of mind you’re in would make a difference. Also it’s chockers full of visual poetry to unpack. One image I keep thinking of is when Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler) is at Sarah Paulson’s door (she’s very good in this by the way), and there’s a shot of him after she closed the door on him. You can just see about a quarter of his head as he looks through the square window at the top of the door. The screenplay treats him in quite an empathetic way and this scene, and in particular this shot, made me realise that he’s only about a quarter of a person on his own. He’s been reduced by circumstances and the constraints society has put on him too. He still loves his wife because he needs her emotionally but it’s also about the social need to act correctly and to be a proper man one must have a well-behaved family.

I’m aching to read Patricia Highsmith’s book, The Price of Salt. It’s fascinating that a book with these themes was published by an American woman in 1952. It makes me wonder if anything was made of the fact that the two women come from different social strata because this was totally downplayed in the film.

Postscript: This film (or the book?) inspired an exquisite song by Jen Cloher - Carol. Every human should hear this song.

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