February, 2016, Drama


Director Todd Haynes revisits the complex state of America’s changing social mores during the 1950’s in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel about the sexual awakening of a young woman at the hands of an older and more sophisticated lover.  Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s lean script punctuates the visual sensuality of cinematographer Ed Lachman’s camerawork, producing two of Carol’s richly deserved Oscar nominations, along with those awarded to Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (for Best Actress & Supporting Actress respectively). Yet these individual honors, (along with those for musical score and costume design) beg a further question: how could a movie, recognized for these achievements, fail to gain a best picture nomination for the film itself or one for Haynes as best director?

Blanchett plays Carol, a sophisticated New Yorker in the initial stages of a very messy divorce from wealthy husband Kyle Chandler, who assumes that his wife’s role in life doesn’t extend beyond reflecting favorably on his status in the social circles both inhabit. While Christmas shopping for their young daughter, Carol meets Therese Belivet (Mara) an introverted young woman struggling to choose a fulfilling career path while dealing with her ambivalent feelings about the young man who’s aggressively pursuing her. The chance encounter between these two women - separated by age, income and marital status – marks the beginning of relationship that grows increasingly sexual and fraught with risk for both of them.

Blanchett won an Oscar in 2013 personifying a self-delusional socialite in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine; in this film she delivers a portrait of a comfortably self-aware woman determined to accept her true sexual orientation. Pursuing the withdrawn Therese with gentle conversation, decorous flirtations and encouraging career advice, Carol persuades Therese to join her on a cross-country road trip that culminates in Therese’s first satisfactory sexual experience. But pursuing this blossoming love affair carries a painful price for both women that neither may find it possible to pay….

 Haynes’s direction and Lachman’s intimate images conspire to hermetically seal their brilliant leading ladies with intimate small touches; stolen glances and whispered confidences are captured in enigmatic dialogue and camera angles that convey the passion these characters feel for each other.  Blanchett’s mature sexual self-awareness insidiously seduces Mara into a fully-realized relationship that’s wonderfully erotic but never lurid. It’s hard to imagine a more romantic coupling than these two fine actresses capture; both are worthy of golden statuettes at Oscar time.

Was Haynes denied a nomination this year because his approach to a post WW II social taboo here bears great resemblance in content and tone to his 2002 movie Far From Heaven, which dealt with an interracial love affair? If so, that’s scant justification for failing to recognize the impressive skills he brings to this beautiful film.

The Verdict? A compelling love story, thoughtfully told and beautifully realized.       



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