V. Lepistö 🏳️🌈’s review published on Letterboxd:
Making a film that is definition of romance itself isn't probably something that many dare to approach. But considering Haynes' subject, the importance of such approach is highlighted. Let's face the cold facts, the world still can't face same sex romance as something natural and the hidden language that has defined and manipulated our race for generations, most of the time turns us to more or less think gay and lesbian people as "symbols". Reduction; I make romance between two women, it has to tell something about sexuality, it has to represent certain kind of themes. This is extremely conservative thought that I'm sure some are still ready to exploit and use for commercial purposes - think of it as "fashion". But Todd Haynes couldn't care less about it, it is insulting and with good reason. It is humiliating thought, something that insults the human value. This is why awakening sexuality of Therese is dealt with great care; Haynes tackles the issue but doesn't jam to it - after all sexuality is great part of one's personality (another great theme of Carol), something that is part of the equation. But what becomes even more defining is the love of her life.
"The pure romance" approach forgets everything else (without really forgetting as observe from film's language) and creates a world of its own, the one that two women are defining. It is their experience. Haynes frames these two characters "from" the world. His approach isn't to simply blur everything else but even when the whole frame is sharp, the composition tells extremely directly who are its protagonists. The way of arranging the characters who matter with back against the other "people" of the frame shines especially at the first half of the film even if this isn't Haynes' only trick. Sometimes traditional stopping time without really stopping it (the glances), works extremely well and Haynes doesn't belittle it or medium shots and reverse angle shots just like Renoir never belittle black in his paintings. There's difference between handling color of black and lively characters but they both need mastery in order to give the expression of "life". With couple fight scenes he also uses Fassbinder's favorite motifs - walls and doors - to frame the fights and the little people stuck inside them. Another Fassbinder favorite (and well, favorite theme of overall in any of arts) is to use mirrors and Haynes does this five times to strengthen the theme of personal worlds and experience. The critical moment considering the story is where Haynes frames Therese and Carol to the same mirror just before their first love-making. With this we are also reminded about the first time Therese shows her photographs to Carol - people in the photographs are all unaware of the shooter except for Carol who is open, like a revelation. This is why the fulfillment that leads to lovemaking is perfectly composed.
Basically the film consists on basic rooms; public rooms (restaurants, stores), more private (houses, hotels), outside shots (streets) and then the most private of them all - car. This is where their proximity seems to be the most tender and true but at the same time the very limited space tells something about the bigger picture, the discrimination, the claustrophobia that these people are forced to experience. We often see Carol and Therese through the windows but every now and then Haynes also takes us to their private world and even to their most intimate moments. The most significant external characteristics we learn when Haynes takes us close. The maneuvers through which we learn to love our characters. Or rather first have a crush on them and then fall in love. Also the bright lights that suddenly hit the image like from the serene sky are highlighted because of the uniformity of the lighting and colors. The dance of bright lights, the moment during which Carol and Therese take their first (?) car ride is pure ecstasy, like a magical jump through time and space, everything changes for a while and we might even think about Kubrick and his 2001. It changes everything and suddenly we realize in what we are in.
By saying that it is "simple romance", people are at the same time right and wrong. Wrong when simple is used in order to justify thoughts about a film that isn't saying or thinking anything about its subject and when "simple" is used as an opposite to "complex". Right when it is thought in the same sense as we think about someone like Borzage. Unlike films like this that were directed by someone who doesn't really understand but naively wants to understand, Carol doesn't have the need to normalize anything that goes on because it is already perfectly normal. And the fact that I have to even mention this makes me feel like a terrible human being. It shouldn't be considered as a "merit", it should be basic assumption that one makes when LGBT "themed" film hits the screens. The true beauty of Carol comes from the dream of love that the whole audience is experiencing together. Love as love as a film's subject doesn't necessarily sound attractive and one easily comes up with all kind of horror scenarios while thinking subject so wide. It is much easier to fail than to succeed. But Carol gives me great hope, it shows that the great tradition of cinema isn't forgotten and it lives and takes different forms, the principles that made Hollywood great and the best principles of today's American cinema together give birth to a dizzy synthesis in whose central cinema lives.