“CAROL IS ANOTHER” magnificent film from Todd Haynes (“I’m Not There”, “Far From Heaven”). Like his earlier movie “Far From Heaven” (in which Julianne Moore’s pampered 50’s character finds comfort and solace in the arms of a Black man – Dennis Haysbert), this one (from the novel by Patricia Highsmith) is also ostensibly a story of forbidden desire. It too is set in the late 50’s (the movie is played out against a wonderful visual and audio tableau of the period), when the Sapphic love between the married Carol (Cate Blanchett) and the gamine Therese (Rooney Mara…looking amazingly like Audrey Hepburn) was regarded as more than an adulterous affair: it was morally repugnant.
The point Haynes examines in both movies is the nature of this “forbidden desire”…who forbids it? And just what is the nature of attraction (“just physics” as one character says).and desire anyway. When Carol, a magnificent, glowing vision of gilded sophistication, glamour, wealth and confidence meets the shy shop-girl, Therese, whose own demure beauty lies half hidden under a silly Santa hat, the attraction is immediate and irresistible.
When we meet them at a Macy’s type department store, both women are trapped in less than satisfying relationships, where any hint of attraction, if ever there was one, is long over. Carol is married to Harge (Kylie Chandler) the uber businessman (not unlike “The Great Gatsby’s” Tom Buchanan). Carol is to him little more than arm candy: a prized possession and proud demonstration of his power and potency (is “Harge” a combination of “hard” and “large”?). Therese herself is also feeling trapped… by her dead end job (she’s an aspiring photographer) and the suffocating demands of her sweetheart (Jack Lacy), a ‘straight-up’ man ever pressing for marriage, sex and a joint trip to Paris. What girl could ask for anything more?
The meeting ignites a spark of intense mutual attraction. They both represent to each other a world of possibilities, of freedoms, an unshackling of whatever’s hold them back. For Therese, Carol is the golden, shining possibility of a better self: self-confident, accomplished and (she imagines) free. For Carol (herself far from confident and ever unconsciously touching her hair, her neck, in subtle nervous gestures) Therese exudes a kind of uncontaminated innocence… unsullied by years of living up to “what’s expected” from both a demanding husband and the rules of her social class… those ‘forbidders’ of desire.
Carol ‘forgets’ her gloves on Therese’s counter…an invitation that Therese willingly accepts. Attraction leads to courtship; courtship leads to love, desire leads to sex. These two, breaking across barriers of class and age, make a wonderful loving couple, comfortable and safe in the cocoon of their love.
Or so it would have been, had this not been a story of lesbian love.
To the husband (less concerned about Carol’s infidelity – as they’re deep into divorce proceedings anyway – but obsessed by her desires), to the family and the law, Carol’s lesbianism makes this shining love immoral and repugnant. There’s a nice scene where, at the point of Carol and Therese’s consummation, the camera cuts to a private eye recording their lovemaking. What they/we see as joyful love, the –intrusive – law regards as grounds for separating mother from child. That she’s a lesbian means she’s an unsuitable mother.
In the end, the story pits the strength of love against the powers of the status quo. Will love out? From Romeo and Juliette battling against tribal loyalties to the doomed love of Bathsheba and Sergeant Troy, this is the essential love story… the fight against the odds for the self-enriching honesty of love .
And there’s no-one better to tell this – a non-rom com, adult love story – than Todd Hayes
His actors: Cate and Rooney are extraordinary. This is a movie of glances and silences, of muted gestures and hidden exchanges; and both actors manage effortlessly to convey whole pages of script in a few simple turns of the head.
Such a breath of fresh air to see an intelligent and heart-felt movie about love and passion, free from the puerile nonsense of typical Hollywood ‘romances’
“Carol” Dir: Todd Haynes. With Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sata Paulson. Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy. Cinematographer: Edward Lachman. Production Designer: Judy Becker (“American Hustle”, “Silver Lining Playbook”). Composer: Carter Burwell (“Legend” “The Twilight Saga”)