Carol ★★★★½

2015 Ranked
Top 100 Films

Carol is undeniably a revelation. A subtle romantic film, Carol's power is exquisitely defined in the expression on Therese Belivet's (Rooney Mara) face upon seeing Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) for the first time. The look of love at first sight, as if Carol were the answer to questions Therese had been subconsciously asking her whole life, the film's beauty and elegance is defined in that look. This film is the answer to the question: What is the most authentic romance film in years? Though I may not be gay or a woman, the romance here transcends any boundary between humanity. In this, director Todd Haynes crafts a truly universal romance film that is for the entire world to behold in awe.

The same look on Therese's face is shared by Carol at the very end. As Therese walks slowly over to her and Haynes expertly uses slow motion to emphasize the moment, the look of subtle peace and joy highlights what this film does so well. It is not a teenage romance in any way. It is not excessive. It is not over-the-top. It is not cinematic love. Rather, it has a raw authenticity that is truly impossible to ignore. Instead, it consumes you and absorbs the viewer into this lush world that makes you experience the same love and pain as the characters.

This authenticity is translated into the screenplay, which is a thoroughly poetic and moving experience. The characters of Therese and Carol are so well defined, it is as if they are real human beings and this is merely their tale. The real emotions of love, pain, joy, and hurt, demonstrated by these women is impactful to the very core. However, its real success comes in the dialogue. Therese constantly shooting down Richard (Jake Lacy) and his offers to go away to Europe with him, while immediately accepting an offer to go away with Carol. The encounter between Carol and Harge (Kyle Chandler), in which Carol explains how having her daughter only for a short amount of time and being true to herself is better for her daughter than having her all the time and "living against her own grain". Carol not only is a revelation for its power in terms of LGBT romance, but also in its communication of its character's feelings. Instead of explicitly telling you how they feel, it leaves it open for you to pick up on their intentions. Above all of other elements, this is what makes the film feel so authentic. They act and speak like real human beings who express their feelings, but not directly. These women leave bread crumbs for the viewer to figure out what really makes them tick. Not only does this indicate incredible trust given to the audience by Haynes, but it also highlights his trust in the writing and the actors to convey meaning.

Visually, the film is equally as stunning. Cinematographer Edward Lachman's camera is a magnet for beautiful shots. The heavy reliance upon reflections and mirrors is what truly caught my attention the most, especially when considering when they are utilized and the overall meaning of the film. Carol, above all, is a film about being true to one's self. Carol could have stayed with Harge and kept her daughter. Therese could have married Richard. Yet, neither felt truly satisfied in that life when without one another. Lachman captures this in his use of reflections. In one particular sequence, Therese goes with Carol to visit her home, with Richard bidding Therese goodbye before she leaves. As they drive, reflections abound. Symbolically, this most closely represents the double life being led by these women. A mirror merely reflects who you are, but is not you true self. It is other. This reflection is Therese's life with Richard. The camera then juxtaposes these shots with her in the car with Carol, highlighting how that is her true self. She is meant to be with Carol and it is her path to happiness.

Lachman and Haynes also use a notable color scheme for the entire film, with many shots being covered with an apparent green filter. These shots are accented by the heavy use of brown, red, and yellow. Interestingly, when Carol first visits with Therese, she is wearing red. However, after her daughter is taken from her and the two women see each other once more, it is Therese wearing red. As red often represents passion, one must assume that this is foreshadowing. Initially, Carol was the one pursuing this relationship. Therese knew she was infatuated with her, but was not confident enough to pursue her. Carol, meanwhile, had experience in the area and did pursue her. However, once her daughter leaves, she is more concerned with being reunited with her daughter, not being with Therese. The opposite is true for Therese, who has blossomed and is filled with passion and wonderous feelings for Carol.

Finally, the cherry on top of the film is the score. Carter Burwell's score hits all the right notes and truly highlights the setting and feelings of the film. This is a very cozy and warm film. The colors certainly highlight this as well, as does the setting. With the green and red clearly representing Christmas, the brown and yellow for me felt like a fire. The score and this color scheme bring about feelings of warmth, as one sits next to a fire on a cold day around Christmas. This feeling is universal and one that everyone knows, but is hard pressed to be able to put into words. Yet, Carol encapsulates this feeling and spreads it around for all to be embraced within.

Overall, Carol is a truly brilliant work from Todd Haynes that I must rewatch. With tremendous performances from Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, terrific direction from Haynes, lush visuals, and an equally moving score, this film checks every box.

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