“Carol” begins with train roll noises. We see a black screen and know symbolic connections are being made. We see a grid that could be a circuit board transmuting electrical charges;then we see a woman’s pump, and we now recognize a shoe-scrapping metal mat. Sensually charged,someone is stepping in it.
The cinematography of sixty-seven-year-old Edward Lachman is picture perfect. He seems to know the 1950’s and adjusts the camera to define every detail from gloved hand and brightly painted nails to white-walled tires and broken and scotch-taped crayons. The interiors of swank hotels and fussy department stores mesh with martinis and Betsy Wetsy and Madame Alexander dolls. We feel nostalgic for cameras that are not digital and real film with notches.
Cate Blanchett is a marvel of upper class aplomb. Her furs, her scarlet wool coat, the flip of her hair with her hand, and her incessant smoking blows through Lachman’s frames. Forbidden feelings she seems to have made peace with: Cate is an easy Carol. Alligator purses and a Seventh Avenue Rolls and a ten year marriage , soon to be dissolved, outline her world. Her backstory of earlier intimate female relationships allows us to feel her repression. Her psychological counseling for her “aberrant behavior” is talked about amid white-tablecloth-dining and her in-laws. As much as I liked Blanchett in this role, I feel Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” will win the Oscar instead of Cate’s Carol. She just makes it look too easy, like she is playing herself !
Rooney Mara deserves the Oscar win for “Best Supporting Actress” . As the young shopgirl, Therese Belivet, Mara portrays a range of emotions from infatuation, insecurity, devotion, misgivings, desire and devastation and guilt. When boyfriend Richard asks for her hand in eloping to Paris, she answers, ” How can I. I barely know what to order for lunch.” There is a sadness in her voice like she is being rushed to make life choices. Feeling forced to follow Hoyle feels foreign . Mara with her Audrey Hepburn/Audrey Tautou facial innocence pulls this off beautifully. The magnetic looks between Carol and Therese ready us for their trance-like,closeted 1950’s dance of hair and breath.
The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is helped by Carter Burwell’s gorgeous score. The lyrics of Billy Holiday like “I can’t resist you. Your heart is what I desire. There is nothing in life but you.” meld with the characters’ angst. “Silver Bells” fits their road trip West like their Samsonite cases that snuggle in the car’s trunk. Nagy’s dialogue is insightful and to the point. Characters don’t babble. Carol’s lesbian friend ‘s ,”She is young. Tell me you know what you are doing?” is an example. Anfother is Carol’s , “It is not your fault. I took what you gave willingly.” Period vocabulary like “ice box” and ” bell-hop” and “tomato aspics” are all classic period fare. The question, “How is that working for you?” not so much. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, “The Price Of Salt”, the screenplay follows Carol and Therese’s romance and keeps us guessing how it will end.
Director Todd Haynes makes certain that key scenes are given real import, like where Therese vomits when she is physically shattered by the loss Carol must endure . Carol’s voiceover of “you seek resolutions because you are young” carries great weight. Probably more than “She is gone. She is not coming back.” Their “Waterloo” is in Waterloo, Iowa, by the way.
Viewers will be surprised at least twice in this film. Carol’s husband Harge ( Kyle Chandler) provides the gasps. While the tightly wound denouement comes full circle, viewers will be more shocked by ” morality clauses” than by patterns of behavior. The dramatic tension is not released until the very end. This is a subtle film beautifully made and terrifically acted.