Todd Haynes’s Carol is a tasteful lesbian movie set in the fifties, drawing strong performances from its principals. Under golden locks of hair, encased in perfect makeup and adorned in fur, Cate Blanchett is Carol Aird, an affluent housewife in the final stage of her divorce, which her husband (Kyle Chandler) actively resists. Underneath short black bangs, adorned in mismatched tartan-patterned outerwear, the wide-eyed Rooney Mara is Therese Belivet, a salesgirl with a boyfriend anxious to marry her. After a chance encounter at the department store where Therese works—Therese and Carol exchange magnetic glances—the pair embarks on a slow-burn romance under the dangling dagger of propriety. DP Edward Lachman creates a rich patina for Carol. The opening image, a metaphor for misdirection, and the following tracking shot is remarkable. With film grain and opaque shots through windows, Lachman’s photography also conveys obfuscation. Lachman summons intimacy with intense close-ups of faces, hands, napes of necks, and feet without shoes—we can almost smell Carol’s perfume. Carter Burwell’s score is beautiful but unnecessary at least half of the time. Carol incorporates the historical milieu: the House Un-American Activities Committee is mentioned by two drunken passersby; Therese watches Sunset Boulevard, with friends, from the projectionist’s booth. What’s missing is a backstory: After the film is over, both characters remain enigmatic. Although their feelings for each other are clear, what’s not clear is, Who is Carol Aird? What’s her background? And who’s Therese Belivet? We know her last name is Czech, that she aspires to be a photographer. But what of her accent, which appears and disappears at random? We suspect that some of this information was shared in the scenes that Haynes chooses to show without dialogue, accompanied by music.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White