Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
Words: R. Topham
I saw ‘starring Cate Blanchett’ and was sold immediately. But labelling Carol Aird the ‘role of her career’ seemed somewhat of a grand statement following her unbelievable performance as the lead in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. More than ten years after the initial screenplay was written, Carol has garnered universal praise, and, on this instance, you should believe the hype.
I had high hopes for Carol with regards to its adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical book The Price of Salt, the angle being that it represents homosexuality and, of course, stars Blanchett. She is nothing less than exquisite as the title character, a chain-smoking, fragile and reserved woman who maintains a strong faith in love despite enduring a messy divorce from her husband resulting in the loss of custody of her beloved daughter. The first thing that catches my attention, aside from the realistic recreation of 1950s glamour which is bound to win awards, is the strange and distracting pout Rooney Mara’s character Therese sports. And not just when she meets Carol for the first time and they are both flagrantly smitten straight away. The pout is perpetual. This, and the inclusion of the phrase “Don’t be daft” (in the upper-class of 1950’s Manhattan? C’mon) are my only complaints.
Aesthetically, it’s a very elegant film; the Super 16mm film marries the cinematography with the makeup and costumes beautifully, and the composition of the camerawork is expertly executed. Likewise, the soundtrack is a pleasant succession of smooth jazz featuring the likes of Billie Holiday. It’s purposely an incredibly subtle film to exemplify the lovers inability to be overt with the nature of their attraction and relationship with one another; no lavish displays of affection or excessively saccharine declaration of uncontrollable lust. The script is in itself quite weak, but the simplicity of it enables the rigour of Blanchett and Mara’s performances to take centre stage and really shine through.
Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy have adapted Highsmith’s original story to create a complex journey through sexuality and emotions. Therese’s initial besottedness with Carol is replaced by desire which is replaced by lust which is replaced by genuine adoration. To paraphrase Haynes himself, the paradigm of their relationship in terms of who’s the object and who’s the subject shifts as quickly as Carol’s marriage deteriorates. It’s a story that transcends the typical love-at-first-sight charade by incorporating real life dramas – the qualms aroused by the age difference between Therese and Carol, for instance – to successfully speak to a modern audience.