This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Astrid’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
still a christmas classic
Carol is based on the book The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which was published in 1952. The film is one of the best (probably even the best) film of 2015. It received numerous nominations for various prestigious prizes (six Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe nominations, and nine BAFTA nominations), but it didn’t win any of them, which was one of the most surprising and infuriating events this award season.
Carol is the story of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a young woman living in New York in the 1950s. She is trying to become a photographer, but works in a department store, Frankenberg’s, at the beginning of the film. There, she meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a wealthy socialite, and after Carol forgets her gloves and Therese sends them back to her, they begin to spend time with each other.
Carol is in the midst of a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) who wants to take their daughter away from her in a final attempt to get Carol to stay with him. When Carol decides she needs a break from him and the divorce and goes on a road trip over Christmas, Therese comes with her. Therese has a boyfriend of her own, Richard (Jake Lacy), who would like her to come to Europe with him, but Therese is too independent to stay with him. Moreover, she is not in love with him and can’t force herself to pretend that she is.
During the road trip, the bond between Carol and Therese strengthens further until they finally give in to temptation on New Year’s Eve - finally, because up to this point, there is more tension between them than I have ever seen between two people in any film.
This tension isn’t always interpreted in this way. The DVD cover calls Carol and Therese’s relationship “an unlikely friendship” and other film critics have said about the film that it is cold and distant. It is anything but that.
Therese is stuck in a job she doesn’t like and in a relationship which isn’t fulfilling for her. Carol’s presence in her life has a positive effect on her and by the end of the film she works for the New York Times and has evolved to a point that she doesn’t have anything in common with her friends anymore. Therese’s presence in Carol’s life also has a positive effect on Carol. Harge doesn’t want to let Carol go; he even hires a private detective to follow Carol and Therese on their road trip. Carol is torn between staying with Harge and keeping her daughter or leaving Harge and having to give up seeing her daughter. In the end, Carol does what is best for her; she refuses to renounce who she is and goes back to Therese in one of the best scenes in the whole film and probably one of the best-acted scenes in Cate Blanchett’s career.
The acting in the film in general is outstanding. Rooney Mara manages to show a wide range of characteristics, from a young woman with a crush to a sophisticated, independent, successful woman. In between, she is seduced, in love, lost, and heartbroken. Cate Blanchett’s performance, on first glance, might seem cold, but she plays a woman who is in love with another woman during a time where everything, from society to her own husband, is working against her.
The film is set in the 1950s, during a time in which it was impossible to be anything but straight. Still, the film forgoes scenes about either Carol or Therese having a crisis because they don’t conform to society’s expectations about them, something which films set in the present day often do. Instead, the film is a story about two women falling in love, and it’s told and shot beautifully. What makes it so special is that it says, “This is the story and this is how we’re telling it,” without the usual discussions of sexual orientation and fears of what society will do to them.
In fact, Therese asks Richard once if he’s ever been in love with another boy, but she doesn’t do it because she wants confirmation that her attraction to Carol is natural. Richard also doesn’t judge her because she is in love with Carol, but he is unhappy that she isn’t in love with him.
So much has been said about Carol already that there is no need to add anything. It is safe to say that Carol is the best film about sapphic women ever released. It is a beautiful love story which will pull you in and will never let you go again. Everything fits together perfectly, from the music to the cinematography, from the costumes to the editing. If you haven’t seen this film yet, go and watch it now; this is all I can add.
Homophobia: 1/10 - I debated putting 0 instead of 1. Despite the film being set in the 1950s, there is essentially no homophobia in it. The only thing which is worth mentioning is that Carol is forced to go to a therapist who is supposed to help her overcome her “unnatural” attraction to women.
Violence: 1/10 - Again, there could also be 0 here. There is psychological violence against Carol, but she manages to break free from it. Other than that, there is no violence, psychological or otherwise, against any of the characters because of their sexual orientation.
Ending: The film has a happy ending for Carol and Therese’s relationship.
Sexual orientation: Except from the conversation Therese has with Richard, sexual orientation isn’t much of a topic here. Of course, Carol’s past relationship with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) is discussed and Harge is aware that Carol prefers women to men, but never talks about it with her. Carol herself knows that she is a lesbian and accepts her orientation by the end of the film. Therese doesn’t seem to care as much as Carol, possibly because she hasn’t formed any attachments to other people yet, like Carol has to Harge. She can better react to the fact that she is in love with a woman without having to fear consequences from her acquaintances.