“Carol” – a film review by Gary Chew
Two movies that have stayed with me come from novels by Patricia Highsmith: Strangers On A Train, her first, and The Talented Mr Ripley, her fourth. Highsmith titled her second novel, The Price of Salt. Now it’s a new movie directed by Todd Haynes called Carol. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are the leads.
The Price Of Salt was published in 1952 under the nom de plume of Claire Morgan. At that time, it wasn’t quite acceptable in America for a novel with something other than an unhappy ending about lesbianism to be shelved in a bookstore or library. Phyllis Nagy made the screen adaptation for Carol.
The narrative is about a young, inexperienced and aspiring photographer and the relationship she has with an older, upper-middle class woman and mother locked in a hurtful divorce. On reading a bit more about Highsmith, I found that much of what happens in the picture is similar to earlier events in the author’s life … likely another reason Highsmith didn’t put her actual name on the cover.
Haynes’ earlier film Far From Heaven is also set in the fifties and known for its authentic look to that decade. He goes full bore with Carol. Since I remember those years as a teenager, I don’t have much sense of awe about the period. Haynes never misses an opening to remind you that Ike was in the White House, Edward R. Murrow was on the air and Billy Holiday, Eddie Fisher, Jo Stafford, Patti Page and Perry Como were singing songs. We even get a calendar-on-the-wall shot in a later scene that declares the “Aprilness” of 1953. All of this and these personalities mentioned are fine, but I’m not so rapturous when I hear or see something I was part of in junior high. Haynes really has the automobiles down: Cadillacs and stodgy Packards etc., really cool wheels of the mid 20th century.
Blanchett as Carol, the older and Mara as Therese, the younger are memorable. The bonding and love that overtake them is handled with exquisite restraint by Haynes. The film doesn’t have a rude moment and the chit chat never gets very blue. One love scene is used; it’s intimate, warm and passionate, but brought off with class. I’ve raved about Blanchett before of course, but I have to say both women here are terrific on screen.
Blanchett is so much so, if you remember in the 2007 picture I’m Not There, Haynes had Blanchett as one of his several cast members (all others male) doing their own a take on a Bob Dylan character. You could’ve fooled me — if I hadn’t read the cast list prior to seeing that movie.
In Carol, Cate is a very long way from seeming to be Zimmie. Carol is quite the well-off, head strong, very feminine woman who loves her little daughter so much, but after some years, has had it with her boozing but wealthy husband, played by Kyle Chandler. That role’s place in the story is much like the Dennis Quaid part in Far From Heaven.
Mara appears so solid as she begins her part as a smart, yet rather naïve young woman who works in a New York department store that looks just like the ones my Mom used to me take along to when she shopped for new shoes. Therese slowly takes on a satisfying maturity by the end of the picture.
Carol is conversely spun if compared to the other current film The Danish Girl. It tells the story of a man who slowly evolves in his mind to knowing he is in the wrong body. At first, his wife helps him in his appreciation of the feminine, and ultimately because she loves him first of all as human being, stands with him in his efforts to switch genders. The women in Carol are in love as much as the man and woman in The Danish Girl. But each couple’s sexual predilections are as different as night and day — and as the stories have it, each couple’s love is as strong as the other’s.