Saturday 5 December 2015

Review: Carol

Year: 2015
Director Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler 

Synopsis is here:

After watching Carol, I gave myself a day or two to let the film linger.  It’s a film that likes to settle within the recesses of the mind. Its story is deceptively simple at the surface, yet the emotional connections run deep throughout. Much has already been said about the film main relationship between the elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett at her most graceful) and Therese (Rooney Mara captures doe eyed innocence in a bottle). However, director Todd Haynes’ command of the plot and its characters is so robust that I had felt involved with even the secondary characters. There’s a texture in the film that runs deeper than the luxurious fashions on display. 

While conversing with a friend, she mentioned that her mother found such a connection to be lacking. I wonder if this is due to Carol’s sexual orientation. I don’t say this as a negative. Far from it. The beauty of Carol with its subtle glances and sly smiles is just how often it pushes its heterosexual characters to the side. This must be by design. To show that while many within the film may not understand the connections taking place, they are still not things to be judged. Carol isn’t a queer text about gay rights or equality per say, but it does seem to suggest that roses growing out of the concrete needn’t be plucked. A less pretentious (and clearer) interpretation would be to say that this is a struggle for these two individuals rather than a universal one.  

Haynes' depiction of this blossoming relationship and their yearning is dutiful and precise. Once the roots are planted, the branches get tangled with everyone. The ever dependable Kyle Chandler’s heart bleeds as Harge; the heterosexual husband who struggles to grasp this new reality through anger and his own needs. A brief moments from old flame Abby (a wonderfully understated Sarah Paulson) hints not only at understanding, but heartache. Smaller supporting roles also excel. Never sounding like soundboards of a previous era, or knowing totems of this one. Haynes has entertained with this era before for his beautiful melodrama pastiche Far from Heaven (2002), but this seems far from the more broadly drawn and colourful characters from his previous venture. For me, Carol often reminded me of the isolated characters who feature in the painting by Edward Hopper. It’s doubtful that Hopper is an influence, yet Haynes’ direction and blocking of characters along with cinematographer Edward Lachman’s framing, makes nearly every person we meet feel like Hopper’s figures. Almost consumed by the industrial world around them.

It’s no surprise that when the films action shifts from city to country, the characters seem to feel less suffocated by their surroundings and in turn, their societal trappings. Carol’s beauty lies in its small subtleties. Trying on new fragrances. A quiet drive with someone you admire. The small token gesture of a gift, or an admiration of talent. These moments can seem so typical of a romantic drama. However, the softness and slightly alien aspect of an all-female romance within such a bygone era and the shifts of tensions within the relationship dynamics makes Carol stand apart from more universal films of a similar nature. Looking back at the film’s final outcome, the final moments are both heartening and fretful. There’s elements of rejection we ignore due to what we observe on the screen. Even at that moment the film’s closure lays a shade of ambiguity that a more universal romance could perhaps ignore for surface pleasures. I found that the excellence of Carol lies in its ability to sow such seeds. It’s only after leaving the screen did the film’s deeper resonances strike me. For that I am thankful.