Carol ★★★★

The Letterboxd Era Catch-Up Project

One of my favourite things on Letterboxd in the last year or so has been regularly checking the page which lists which of my friends on here have seen Carol.

I do this solely to see how many more times Ella has seen it since I last checked, and also to see if she's seen it more than I've seen Rogue Nation. She's beating me 12 to 9 at this juncture, so for all of those who think I'm crazy for watching that film so much - people, I give you Ella.

Of course, she's not crazy and neither am I. She got what I saw in Rogue Nation when we had a brief chat about it on Twitter a few months ago and I get what she sees in Carol. I see quite a lot of it as well. I must say though that my overriding thought towards this film was that it was so stylish that I felt like I should be watching it wearing a smoking jacket and swirling a glass of Courvoisier, rather than wearing a The Fog t-shirt and swigging Robinson's Special R.

It was actually far more conventional for the most part than I expected it to be. A lot of the story that I saw here was familiar from plenty of other things but I love what Todd Haynes does with the fringes of the main plot, which is obviously the relationship between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. There's a quite wonderful line late on where Blanchett states that she's no good to her daughter if she continues to live a lie by denying who she is.

Haynes paints an extremely defined facet to Blanchett's character where she could, initially, be seen to be sacrificing her daughter for her own personal happiness - except she's not, really. Choosing to spend far more time with her and, as a consequence, with a husband she does not love would, in her eyes, lead to her becoming a falsehood to her daughter. If not in her early years, certainly when she gets older and can recognise these things in her mother.

So I would personally disagree with the notion that her motives are selfish - in fact, they are quite the opposite, whatever she chose to do. Plus it does open up the quandary as to how much of her own life she is allowed to live now she is a mother. It's a quandary that faces all parents - speaking personally, there's always a pang of guilt with me when I do choose to spend time on my own or go out somewhere.

Haynes also looks closely at displacement, certainly as relates to Mara. She never seems at all comfortable in the world she's living in, whether she's at work or socialising. Everything always seems distant from her, rather than she being distant from it. The only time she seems to come out of her shell is when she and Blanchett go for their Christmas / New Year jaunt. Yet the distance returns whenever she finds herself in a situation, even with Blanchett, which requires socialising in the approximate circles that Blanchett runs in.

Haynes doesn't appear to be completely focused on these two, but on larger points outside of the obvious ones regarding the outcasting of two women who fall in love or have a sexual relationship - but on the outcasting of them both as individuals. Blanchett is comfortable in her circles and rarely looks troubled despite the prejudices that swirl around her. She has learned to work with what little she's got and within her own walls. While Mara goes to a party, after they meet once again, and cannot settle, Blanchett looks completely at home and even happy at her gathering.

It raises questions as to how well the two will gel after the film ends but I did like the ending nonetheless. Again, it was surprisingly conventional given the reputation of the film I had seen build up and also of its director. Yet, I couldn't quibble about it in any level. Why should this kind of story always have some kind of tragic and supposedly life affirming ending? Why can't the two characters actually end on a happy note, somewhat together, and with a positive future perhaps ahead of them? Can we really begrudge them that, even in a (semi?)fictional film?

It does rather genuflect to formula on a couple of occasions, such as when Mara quizzes Jake Lacy about what he makes of two women falling in love. I just felt like that was the sort of completely unsubtle and careless allusion to what was going on with her that she wouldn't make. Plus Jake Chandler is an identikit crap husband who really has no time to develop a personality or character that would mean I care about him one way or the other.

The relatively unemotional performances from both Blanchett and Mara especially, I thought, are as beautifully realised as they are ideal for the story being told. In a society suppressing what they would like to express, a seeming like of happiness is the least that could be expected of them and they both, along with Haynes' precise direction, press this home with the immense talent that both of them possess.

It might not have Tom Cruise dying in an underwater vault, but I could definitely see why someone would watch Carol absolutely loads of times.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews