Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Movie Review - 'Carol'

Todd Haynes is no stranger to directing films centered around same-sex awakenings.

2002’s ‘Far From Heaven’ held up a mirror to 1950’s melodrama, as a perfect housewife (played by Julianne Moore) discovers that her perfect husband prefers the company of other men. While he tries, with her help, to suppress his urges to keep them from being socially shamed, she winds up seeking solace in the company of a black neighbor and, ironically, is shamed for this. There’s just no escaping prejudices and expectations, the film argues. You’ll be expected to conform. (Julianne should’ve won the Oscar for this, but Nicole Kidman was ‘due.’ But I digress.)

For ‘Carol,’ in theaters now, Haynes returns to the 1950’s, where we follow another housewife (this time played by Cate Blanchett). She, according to this society, is very much imperfect. She prefers the company of other women and has a hard time suppressing it. Her husband refuses to accept this and uses their daughter as blackmail to keep the relationship together for appearances, and because he still believes he loves her, or at least the idea of her. Or maybe he’s insecure in his masculinity?

Enter Therese (Rooney Mara), the lens through whom Carol is largely seen. An aspiring photographer stuck in a retail job during the holidays, the younger woman spots Carol in the toy department. Therese, unlike Carol, is very much inexperienced in same-sex dalliances, even though she’s clearly uninterested in all the boys who throw overtures her way. She’s just never thought it was an option. They talk. Therese sells her a train set. Carol departs and leaves her gloves behind. When Therese returns them, they have lunch, and … well, after some careful flirting, it escalates from there.

The film has a cool, detached eye toward all involved, as if it doesn’t want strong emotion getting in the way of the intellectual message. And, indeed, the cinematography (clearly digital) is weighed down with cool, wintry tones. There’s often snow falling, sleet on car windows. Everyone is dressed to the nines in their winter coats. The production design is sublime. Everything looks like a retro Christmas postcard from Metropolitan, USA. At one point, ‘Silver Bells’ even plays to drive this atmosphere home.

While the love affair between the female leads is not traditionally passionate, I think it’s realistic. They’re living in a society where, being what they are, they have to be careful and guarded. To express sharp, happy emotions is almost impossible. This habit of ‘playing it cool’ follows them behind closed doors. To start, Carol is using Therese to attain something she never had and Therese is using Carol to trigger her sexual awakening. But it becomes more …

I began feeling physically nervous as the film went on, like a bomb was about to go off, waiting for society to find out and for the consequences to rain down. Everyone in the film is dancing a careful dance to stay within the lines, even when so many of them are living inner lives outside them. No one is living out loud.

Unfortunately, I relate to this very much. Even today. Which is perhaps why I was having such palpable reactions. I sympathized with the characters. And I suspect many others will, as well. The film doesn’t hammer its messages of tolerance home. It simply lets you observe the situation and realize the injustices unfolding. The acting is very good. Blanchett, as usual, is amazing. Mara holds her own against her as a blank slate only starting to be filled. And, as stated, it’s a gorgeous production. Everything looks beautiful, though the musical score is a rather blatant Phillip Glass ‘homage.’

I hope ‘Carol’ receives some Oscar gold, but I suspect ‘Brooklyn’ will siphon votes away from it. ‘Brooklyn’ is also set in 1950’s New York and also centers around a young-ish retail clerk trying to find herself in life. Indeed, they could very well be set in the same universe at the same time! But ‘Brooklyn’ is a good deal safer and warmer. And the romance is straight. Not good reasons to choose one over the other, but I suspect that’s how it’ll play out. We’ll see.

I give ‘Carol’ four stars (out of four). The best LGBT film I’ve seen in ages, if ever. (But maybe I need to see more?)

I have heard a few good things about this movie.

It’s very good! See it if you can. Very touching and stylish. =^.^=

Though I said above it was shot digitally. It looked it to me, but I guess it’s actually 16 mm film.

I was correct, though, about Brooklyn siphoning attention from it. Brooklyn was nominated for Best Picture. Carol was unfortunately not. But it did get more nods overall (6).