Or cigarettes and sombre faces. Carol is directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven), based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley) and stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Good credentials as far as I’m concerned. It is set in early 50s New York, a post-war world where women are beginning to emerge from the constraints of the past and it explores a lesbian relationship, highlighting the challenges and inequities for women who don’t conform. It is based on an experience of Highsmith’s and her story existed many years under a pseudonym with Highsmith denying authorship until the late 80s, a telling fact as to how long these inequities existed (and still exist).
The film has a sumptuous palette and the 50s style is gorgeous. The cinematography uses windows and mirrors to create mood and separation and the languid pace of the film allows us to immerse ourselves in the world of these two people, Carol (Blanchett) and Therese (Mara).
Although on the surface this seems to be something of a romance, the real story is Carol’s, who is faced with a choice that no one should have to make. There was some controversy before the last Oscars as Blanchett was nominated for Best Actor and Mara for Best Supporting, even though Mara has more screen time than Blanchett. I can see why though as the interesting story arc is Carol’s, and perhaps this is one of the weaknesses of the film, that we see too much of Therese. I found Mara blank in this role, there was no subtlety of expression and action that helped me understand her motivation or care too much about her. The final scene is an example of this and her woodenness perhaps emphasises her lack of experience.
My attention did wander a bit in this film. I was not convinced of the chemistry between the leads, although there are some nice scenes. At first Blanchett seemed to be playing her character from Blue Jasmine, all brittle privilege and desperation, but we soon realise that there is more behind the facade. I mused on the inequity of women’s power, even now, that allowed Mara’s breasts to be shown but not Blanchett’s. I counted cigarettes, apparently smoked whenever Carol was stressed and unhappy (thank you IMDb trivia). I wondered whether the (spoilers) sex scene would have been different if the film had been directed by a woman, or a non-hetero woman.
So good but not great. An important story reasonably told.
Bechdel test – pass