Carol ★★★★½

The world of Todd Haynes’ Carol is one of whispers and subtle glances, one in which actions are minimal, but the gestures go a long way. In one of the film’s earlier scenes Cate Blanchett’s titular Carol spots Rooney Mara’s Therese behind a doll counter. Their eyes meet, both searching for something, a sense of longing and desire. Without the near exquisite restraint by Todd Haynes, this is a scene and a film that could have descended to melodrama, but the director stays in control. 

Depicting an era in which same-sex relationships were seen as immoral, Haynes keeps the scenes sensual and elegant. The streets of New York seldom feel fresh and airy. There is a struggle, a tension, a sense of conformity that runs deep through the city, and that tone is captured effortlessly by cinematographer Edward Lachman. He shoots the film on 16mm allowing the colors to feel muted, but the saturation to pop when bright imagery appears such as the city nightlights or Carol’s bright orange fingernails. The visually striking imagery is paired perfectly by Carter Burwell’s beautiful score, which feels melancholic yet hopeful. 

Carol’s heart lies at the performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Blanchett is as good as she has ever been: graceful, confident, and bold, but fearful of her desires. In a role that relies on the actress’ flair for the “dramatics”, Blanchett excels. Matching Blanchett in acting is a near impossible feat to nearly any actress in this era, but Mara may have done the unthinkable here. She is timid, shy, unsure of her life, her ambitions, and afraid of change, but she is desperate. She wants something, someone, but unable to express it. The film is centered on Therese, and though her role may be understated, Mara’s nuanced expressions speak volumes. 

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, “The Price of Salt”, the film is just as relavant and groundbreaking as it was on release. Haynes has crafted a near masterpiece with Carol, featuring two of the most impressive performances of this decade. The ending of the film is just as it started, two characters looking into each other, not uttering a single word, but revealing their innermost thoughts.

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