Intimacy and repression are two things that you don’t expect to see side by side. Todd Haynes’ (I’m Not There, Far From Heaven) latest film combines the two in Carol, a film based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt. It is set in the 1950s in the United States and due to that time period some of the issues (class differences, marriage, lesbian relationships, divorce, dating, women’s place in the world) addressed in the film will seem antiquated and stiff. Every character and conversation they have seems guarded and hesitant to be forthright about their feelings. Instead of creating a cold atmosphere it actually heightens the emotions. Carol is a beautifully filmed movie of the type that does not come around often enough.
When The Price of Salt came out in 1952 it was immediately categorized and derided as a lesbian novel. As such it sort of disappeared from the radar. Even when talk surfaced of it being developed into a film many years later it took around 15 years for it to finally be made. It is only with the clout of Cate Blanchett being attached and Todd Haynes’ touch that the film was made. After having seen the film it is one in which you cannot imagine another director creating the vision or another lead actress assuming the role of Carol. A case of kismet that they were both interested and available
This is not completely foreign territory for Haynes. He waded into this end of the pool before with his film Far From Heaven. It was also set in the 50s and involved same-sex love. Unlike Far From Heaven the issue is not that the two people are married rather the obstacle is what society thinks about same-sex relationships. The 1950s world was no way near ready – especially when it came to women. Haynes really has a grip on what it meant to be in this type of relationship in that decade. It takes a sure hand to direct a romance that involves looks rather than touches or fleeting moments rather than the usual hitting you over the head with the romance. Instead of feeling cold or impersonal, Haynes’ way of depicting the story makes it even more romantic and intimate a relationship.
There are few actresses of the calibre of Cate Blanchett. She belongs in the category of ones that can keep an audience interested even if they are reading a phonebook. She elevates whatever she is in. In Carol as the lead character she is absolutely regal. Her ability is up to the challenge of conveying what her normally reserved character is thinking and feeling simply with a look or movement. Every scene she is in your eyes are fixed on this glamourous creature as she owns whatever room she is in. As expected by everyone who has seen the film, Blanchett has been nominated in every major awards show this year. Hers is a mature, nuanced and beautiful performance.
Therese (Rooney Mara – The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is a working class girl with a boyfriend (Jake Lacy – from television’s Girls) and a job in a large department store. It seems like she is going to have a typical life of a young woman of that era. That is until she meets the glamourous Carol (Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Carol is an upper class woman who is in the midst of a divorce from her wealthy husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler – The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty).
After a chance meeting at the story the two, who are obviously taken with each other from first glance, embark on a non-traditional relationship. There is a definite age and class difference between the two women, but somehow they click. Their relationship begins to exact a heavy price upon Carol and she has to decide between her relationship with her daughter and the woman she loves.
Because most of the characters, especially Carol, guard their feelings like they were priceless treasure when their true feelings burst through, even if it is only for a few moments, then it has that much more of an impact.
Heightening that impact is the cinematography of the film. Edward Lachman (Erin Brockovich, The Virgin Suicides) has enveloped every scene in an almost dreamlike film. The pseudo hazy look to every frame contributes towards the sexual tension inherent in the film.
Yes, Blanchett is Blanchett in the film, but one should not overlook the performance of Rooney Mara. Her depiction of a young woman falling under the sway of first love is marvelous. The way she transforms from an almost elf in a Santa Claus hat to the closest I have seen to a young Audrey Hepburn at the end is great to watch.