Patrick Jensen’s review published on Letterboxd:
For some reason I don't know of, I have waited until the end of 2016 to watch Todd Haynes' Carol. Maybe I was subconsciously saving it for Christmas, or maybe I just waited until another major academic exploit forced me to turn towards a lesbian love story as a means of escapism. With all that said, I am glad that I finally watched Carol, as it has instantly become one of my favorite films of 2015. A love story with tropes that would be fitting for a contemporary story set in the 1950's only proved to me that love stories truly are timeless, regardless of how conventional, or unconventional, they could be.
This is a film I recommend first and foremost for its performances and writing. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett both deliver performances that are absolutely brilliant in their subtlety, as they both portray women who seek personal freedom, with Mara's Therese Belivet being plagued by her own uncertainty throughout, contrasted with Blanchett's eponymous Carol, who is more determined at getting what she wants, although with a touch of grace in said pursuit. Added to that, their relationships with the men in their lives both restrict their individuality, as Therese's boyfriend only cares about his own ambitions, while Carol's husband wants her to define herself through him. This setup makes it that more emotionally impactful when the two women can finally be for themselves and kiss one hour and fifteen minutes within the film, and even better, the film doesn't seem to antagonize the men, but instead it just shows us that they really don't know better outside of the accepted heteronormative perception of how relationships should work. It's a lot better than what Blue Is the Warmest Color did, when it just slapped the male audience in the face by telling them that no man can ever truly please a woman.
There is more to the film than just its writing and acting. The cinematography is excellent as well, with a great use of close shots with the main characters at center stage to further emphasize their infatuation in each other, and voyeuristic shots with windows, where the mise-en-scènes place characters at opposite ends to highlight their unconventional social positions caused by their desires. Carter Burwell's score always enhanced the emotional turmoil that both Therese and Carol had to face throughout, due to their love for each other, and it never got too sentimental for me. It's always great to see a such a strong story be complemented by the atmosphere created by the audiovisual means at hand.
If I have any gripes with the film, though, it is one central element to Therese Belivet's character. As I mentioned before, she is a character defined by her personal uncertainty, but most of the time, it is an uncertainty that is told rather than shown. While I liked the idea that she was in a relationship with a man who loved her, even if she was incapable of reciprocating his feelings for her, I think their relationship felt off. It didn't add that much to the story, outside of showing us that she could end up in a similar situation as Carol has with her husband. I think it would have been more interesting to show her as a bisexual character, having short flings with both men and women, who just happened to be enticed by this older, married woman, to further show us how her uncertainty affects her. It might just be me, but I just never really bought the relationship between Therese and Richard.
In conclusion, Carol is an amazing love story, not just because it shows a modern, homosexual love story in a classic setting, but because of how natural and human it portrays the emotions of its characters, regardless of their gender and sexuality. I recommend it if you want to watch a film that shows how simple, yet complex, love can be.