Carol ★★★★★

Carol encapsulates what we shouldn’t be able to encapsulate. The dull lifelessness of longing for someone, and the painful but hopeful process of someone’s meaning growing in your life. It puts all those tangled up, heart-bursting-out-your-chest feelings into a form that could never be matched verbally. Its purity and the absolute ache of it has me in a trance, to the point it usually takes me a while to realize my breathing is becoming shallow.

On my first viewing, I knew I was interested. I knew I was moved. And I knew I was invested in the characters' story. But I didn't know how enraptured I'd become until director Todd Haynes's camera caught just the slightest flicker of movement across a woman's face, her lips curling into the faintest hint of a smile. And then I stumbled out of it, a little woozy and gobsmacked by both the power of what I'd seen and its restrained grace. It felt like I was surfacing after a long time underwater, as if I had swum to the surface too swiftly and developed the bends. I love movies. I look for the best in everything I see — even the stinkers. But it's rare for one to send me so completely over the moon. Yet here was Carol, and it had me eating out of its hand.

Todd Haynes’ masterpiece is not unlike those butterflies you got during the time in your life that was so emotionally raw you could feel it not just in your head but throughout your whole body as if it was living in your stomach and making you physically ill. The lingering stares, the slightest of touches, and the way they slow the world to a stop. The bursts of sadness and the body language that seem to drive a knife through your heart and keep twisting. It’s indescribable. It does what cinema is supposed to do: it completely moves you if you’re the right audience for it. It’s swallowing the lump in your throat after watching something that makes your stomach drop. It’s getting punched in the gut but being happy to take it over and over again. Comparable to your favorite sad song and the addictive heartache that you feel while listening to it.

“There are no accidents.”

Haynes gifted us with a grainy, overpowering and completely hypnotic story of love between two women, and he did it in a way nobody was able to ignore. It’s evident in the loving community it sparked who watch it, again and again, each time nothing being taken away or dulled. Carol will always be sharp, hard and poignant. Lachman’s nostalgic cinematography turns the streets of New York into lights and colors, evoking every sense of passion and hurt. Pictures overlapping, faces lingering behind shadows, and transitions that move like paintings. Paired with Carter Burwell’s tremendous score the world moves at its own unique pace.

When Therese first catches her eye with Carol’s, possibly the most beautiful love at first sight sequence in cinema, it’s like she is coming face-to-face with a larger than life screen beauty for the first time, one who still has an air of glamour, just one that has been tinged with years of hardships and regret. As with many of the sequences in this film, it is the most affecting when it leaves its underlying emotions unsaid due to the characters’ full awareness they are living in a repressed society. When they express affection, it feels like an emotional gut punch, so accustomed we are becoming to seeing them holding back the full extent of their feelings.

In its quiet, understated way, Carol is one of the most emotionally affecting films of recent years. A film for anybody who has ever fallen in and out of love, dealing with hopeless infatuation and the slow transition to the messy reality that all but threatens to burn out the initial spark, Carol is more than just a gorgeously crafted period piece. It is a masterpiece of the highest order. Endlessly dreamy. Enthralling instances of awe, love, and tragedy. No other film observes such suspension of time. From the first touch of Carol’s hand on Therese’s shoulder, even without context, the gesture ripples. Every stare, smile, and gaze meaning more than the last. Each time I return to Haynes’ winter romance the world only reaches as far as the edges of the grain. Carol is a complete and total transportation back in time and love.

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