This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nathan Gregory’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The most enduring line from Carol comes straight out of Patricia Highsmith's groundbreaking novel, The Price of Salt. Carol first sees Therese as "flung out of space" and she tells her so when taking her out to a thank you drink after Therese returns Carol's nice leather gloves. Their meeting at a department store during Carol's Christmas shopping is largely chance. In a city of what was then almost 7.9 million people, for any two people to meet without planning is a coincidence. Todd Haynes and his longtime cinematographer Edward Lachman model some camera movements on Therese's searching eyes in that scene and at least one later incident. Carol is at the train counter across the store, until another customer snags Therese's attention and she swivels her head to answer a question. When she swivels back, Carol is gone. Then, brown winter gloves being set on the counter catch Therese's ears and eyes and she finds Carol on the other end of them. Carol is the one one flung out of space.
Or they both are. The chances of finding love at random in a cold, dense, unfeeling city are already too low. Add to that the factors of a smaller pool of potentials in the queer community and the increased difficulty of having a lesbian relationship in 1950 and love seems impossible. Their emotional connection Carol and Therese (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara who are both lead actresses no matter what the Academy says) form becomes real and profound, but their social ties to one another do not provide enough cover to prying eyes for their relationship to blossom.
Being comprised of these two wispy and emotive women, the relationship itself arrives and thrives like something flung out of space, and thus, the film is just as ethereal. Writer Phyllis Nagy sets this off with the perfect cinematic reference, opening the film with an uncontextualized scene and arriving at it later after an extended flashback to open up the raw feelings and reveal the true impact of its content à la Brief Encounter. Framing the majority of the film as a memory tells the audience that the relationship is lost before we've even experienced it.
The final shot of Therese and Carol being reunited with a hopeful future ahead is all the more rewarding in light of the elusive romance that precedes it. Theres and Carol may have floated down from the heavens to one another, but they are now grounded and they have a steady road to walk together. Carol isn't just magical because of Carter Burwell's enveloping score or the warmth of the imagery. Carol is a fragile recipe baked to the point of perfection.
It doesn't take a queer person from the time period to understand societal limitations of love. The experience relayed here will undoubtedly be more poignant to queer viewers and especially queer viewers who lived through mid-century growing pains, but any romantic individual knows the pain associated with a love affair that doesn't live up to its potential. We as a society have championed romantic dramas that fit the description, going all the way back to Romeo and Juliet and beyond. It's cathartic to see another promise of love go undelivered. With Nagy's structure and Haynes' slow movement through moods, Carol manages to sympathize with that point of view while still giving its characters the resolution they deserve and long to have. It's almost a miracle of grace for which we have Highsmith to thank.