Frank Ritz’s review published on Letterboxd:
Oof. This movie is a doozy of a time. The first hour was so fucking intense and uncomfortable I often found myself not breathing, with my whole body tightened to unbearable degrees. While the second hour is still very good, it kinda takes it down a path that’s underwhelming in comparison. Regardless, Todd Haynes has crafted something akin to a horror movie, but really is a societal drama, that should service as an EPA PSA.
Something is wrong with Carol, and nobody really knows what. She does actually, but no one will listen. In this male dominated society, she’s just a housewife who’s being crazy. It’s fucking tragic the way our world has operated, and sadly continues to, and maybe not to such severe degrees, but things are far from good. So she goes to doctors who can’t help her, and like most people, when science fails, she turns to something else. In this case it’s a thinly disguised cult/religion. The movie does a good job at attacking both the disingenuous of the medical industry, and the crazy hoopla that is religion. Both are rackets that like to make you think it’s about helping you, but inevitably all anyone cares about is control and money. Such a sad world.
Haynes and Moore brilliantly teamed up to have us completely submerged in Carol’s uncomfortable world. That’s why the tonal shift does happen, and it works thematically and fits with the message, it just was almost too much of a change. In the first half there’s tons of dolly zooms, an ominous score (eerily reminiscent of Badalamenti’s work on Mulholland Drive), muted performances from everyone else around Carol, a spot on vocal choice for the character, and never leaving Carol’s side. There’s also a hyper attention to all the things that are polluting our environment that are probably all in conjunction causing Carol’s illness. She slowly feels more and more dreadful as the illness gets worse and remains mysterious, and the anxiety they induce with these techniques is on-fucking-point.
The second half hits the breaks hard as we enter Wrenwood, where Carol feels more comfortable and accepted, and the tone shifts to a more nuanced examination of the powers of influence. Carol stars to believe she can just fix herself, and things on the exterior stop feeling so intrusive, and it turns to a more internal battle. It’s well done. Just not what I was expecting or necessarily wanted, but seriously (and I can’t even believe how much I’m saying this lately), I think on a second watch, knowing it’s trajectory, will make it a whole new chilling experience. It just felt like a hand was around my throat for the first half, and suddenly it was let go, and I guess I just wasn’t ready to breath.
I think people who say it’s an allegory for AIDS are littttttle off the mark. I mean, the disease is referenced directly in the film. I think where that comparison can be made is the fact when AIDS first became a problem, no one knew what it was or what to do. And of course it predominantly affected a community that society just did not care about at the time. So Carol’s unknown disease is marginalized because she’s a woman, and because they just don’t understand it yet. I think it very strongly plays as a warning to everyone, to stop fucking up our environment, because we don’t even know how bad it could get, because it’s definitely not good already.
An extremely effective film. The highest possible 4.5 I can give, Just a smidge away from being a 5. Hopefully on a rewatch that changes. This makes me want to revisit the few Haynes films I’ve seen and check out the rest.