Carol ★★★★

The 16mm, sickly green-tinted world of Carol is an inhospitable one. With shots frequently composed through foggy, rain-speckled, or dusty glass, this is also a world of obstruction.

Aligned with Therese and Carol's viewpoints, these choices aestheticize the loneliness of anyone outside of the normative hegemony of the fifties. Usually a bright, materialistic, idealized milieux, Carol's version of fifties America is a representation of life in a culture of conformity; think of the Santa hats handed out to the Frankenberg staff, not only privileging a Christian holiday over others, but also purposefully homogenizing the staff. The stress of trying to adapt to that worldview is readable in different ways on the bodies and attitudes of Therese and Carol. Both have attempted to conform to heteronormative gender expectations with damaging results, as many queer individuals did before 'coming out' was more acceptable.

Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy's handling of the pressures weighing down on these women is equally nuanced, namely in the presentation of the male characters. Harge, Richard, and Dannie are not one-dimensionally evil, but, instead, spoiled, greedy, and entitled in a way that was habituated to men of that era (and still often today); they act from a belief that these women belong to them. Though one of the least heinous acts in the film, Dannie's casual tactic of asking Therese to his office in an effort to sleep with her - operating from an assumption that she wants to - speaks to the lack of empathy from men toward women at the time. Similarly, Richard refers to Therese as "Terry," a subtle but telling sign of his disregard for her preference.

Haynes also includes a motif of trains within the film, suggesting the rigid, pre-determined track these women are forced to travel. When they take control of their own passions and desires, leaving on a free-wheeling road trip, they are charting their own course. Appropriately, those sequences within the film are the most tender, intimate, and loving between Carol and Therese. That romance - less a connection of soulmates than a needed escape for two stifled women - as performed by Blanchett and Mara is where the film comes alive. Though the pleasure of seeing Therese gain self-confidence in her attractions through Carol is a hopeful change, the still-present restrictions of the world continue to obstruct her true self.

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