Carol, a 2015 romantic drama film starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, and Kyle Chandler, is a touching tale of mutual attraction, sweet curiosity, heartache, and the thrill of a new relationship. Director Todd Haynes gorgeously adapts the film from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” which tells of a forbidden relationship between a shy young theatrical set designer and an older but refined housewife.
In the film, Therese Belivet (Mara) is a store assistant in Manhattan and an aspiring photographer who encounters Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), an enchanting but saddened housewife, while she shops for a gift for her young daughter. After locking eyes, the two women are drawn together, intoxicated by one another’s quiet beauty and self-reliance. While Carol attempts to take some control back into her life during a messy divorce, Therese drifts through life, unsure of what she wants and determined not to draw attention to herself–at least, until she meets Carol. The woman stirs her creativity, and for the first time, Therese finds someone alluring and seductive. Meanwhile, Carol reaches a point where she doesn’t want to pretend anymore or “go against her grain.” She’s wise enough to keep herself aloof and unreachable to conform, but she allows herself a fleeting moment of vulnerability and happiness with Therese.
The two women fall deeply in love as they navigate a world that forbids such transgressions, and the film does an impeccable job of capturing their loneliness and desire through its green-grey shots of the cold and harsh city. Haynes lets the camera linger on the women and their longing glances and frames scenes through windows, mirrors, and doors, which almost distorts the women and makes them feel far away until the moment they are together.
There’s a rare vulnerability to the two women’s blossoming relationship as they experience joy together, a relief to be themselves, and frustration over a deeply homophobic society. Having not read the source material, I expected heartbreak and tragedy to plague the film. While there’s some heartbreak, the central conflict arises through Carol’s divorce from her husband, Harge (Chandler), who knows she’s a lesbian and who uses their daughter as a bargaining chip in his attempts to keep Carol as his wife.
It was nice to watch a film where the relationship feels organic, and the writing doesn’t force contrived plots to keep the characters apart. This isn’t an explosive or super melodramatic story with twists and turns; instead, it’s a respectful and profoundly artistic exploration of two women falling in love and enjoying each other’s company. The film isn’t heavy on romantic movie tropes like a vengeful ex-lover or secret revelations about a character’s past. Carol does have an ex-lover (Paulson), but she never sabotages Therese’s or Carol’s relationship, and a bond of loyalty and friendship still exists between the two women. The film doesn’t exploit the women’s sexuality or bodies for the male gaze, and Carol is seen mostly from the perspective of Therese, who’s allowed both sexual and creative awakenings.
Carol is an emotional work of art, and while the ending isn’t entirely bleak—Therese and Carol do end up together—there’s something heartbreaking in knowing they can’t openly express their love in public. Those of us in the LGBTQ+ community know the feeling of the “performance”—the pretending to be straight and conform—and the heartbreaking amounts of loneliness and isolation this invokes. There’s nothing more freeing in openly accepting and being yourself, especially if someone you love embarks on that journey with you, and Carol is a near-perfect reflection of that awakening.
“Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol, and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together, in heaven and in hell. Therese waited. Then as she was about to go to her, Carol saw her, seemed to stare at her incredulously a moment while Therese watched the slow smile growing, before her arm lifted suddenly, her hand waved a quick, eager greeting that Therese had never seen before. Therese walked toward her.”
― Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt
Have you seen Carol? Let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments. Check out my website for more movie reviews and all things pop culture, and thanks for following along. As always, stay nerdy!
BY MACK VELTMAN