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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


See It Or Skip It: See It

An Elegant Journey Of Self Discovery

There are many quiet, masterful and sensual romance films to choose from but none of them are quite as elegantly crafted as Todd Haynes Carol. I ate up every exquisite moment of it. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both reign the screen in their legendary performances that will rattle your heart and move your soul.

Set in Manhattan in December in 1952, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring young photographer working at a department store when she meets Carol Aird, (Cate Blanchett) a luxurious older woman going through a complicated divorce. After helping Carol pick out a gift for her daughter and mailing back her forgotten gloves, Carol invites Therese to lunch, and from there, what will eventually become a passionate romance starts to manifest.

What makes Carol such a unique film is that the language for these kinds of romances was not used back in the 50’s so you see Carol and Therese evolve towards one another in other ways. From the way, they study one another from afar and keep their heads so still when they listen to what the other has to say. For Carol, it's out of desire but for Therese, it's out of curiosity. She's someone who's trying to figure out who she is and what she wants and she's still putting the pieces together of her own identity.

Sadly, identities like Carols came with consequences if discovered during these times. Carol's custody for her daughter is put on the line and her ex-husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) holds a very possessive grip over Carol because he still loves her. He knows what Therese is to Carol the moment he sees her and there's already momentous tension between him and Abby (Sarah Paulson), Carol's childhood friend who shared passion with her in the past.

Frankly, Carol’s not in any position to be looking for someone new anyway but she does and the cracks that lie within her family drama don’t take long for Therese to understand. There's a scene where she hears him and Carol arguing outside Carol’s house and Therese responds to it by turning up the radio very loud. Deep down, she knows what Harge’s glare towards her meant and she's not ready to acknowledge it. Not only that Carol wants her a certain way but that Therese might feel the same way. She's not ashamed of it, she just doesn't understand what it means and the difficulties that will follow.

Halfway through the film, the drama proves too much to bear for Carol and she invites Therese to go on a cross-country trip with her. Once on the road, a sudden calm seems to wash over them both. They're supposedly out of the suspicious territory and neither of them has verbally acknowledged what they're feeling yet. There's so much buildup to their physical passion and that buildup was so important for the film to shadow because it says so much about what they're thinking when there are things they just can't say out loud.

The score and the cinematography both skyrocket from the moment the film opens but it's especially in the scenes where Carol and Therese are away from it all where it starts to blossom just as they do. The melodies and the visuals just pair up together in a successful attempt to shower praise over the two travelers.

The overall tone of Carol is very specific and in many ways similar to that of Far From Heaven, another Todd Haynes film. In that film, Julianne Moore plays a 50s housewife whose life starts to fall apart upon discovering her husbands (portrayed beautifully by Dennis Quaid) closeted homosexuality. She seeks comfort in the arms of a man society forbids her from being with too, so she and her husband both find themself in the same bubble but never do they free themselves the way Carol and Therese do.

I loved Far From Heaven. I really did but honestly, I loved Carol so much more. Both Far From Heaven and Carol take place within the same self-repressive time period but I found the characters in Carol to be much more open about their feelings. There are things they can't say but they still find ways to fill in the blanks while Dennis Quaid’s character was never able to. His portrayal of self-hatred was just too deep and while that was so important to portray (Because sadly, that's what really happened to so many), I could never figure out who he was beyond his suffering.

As for Julianne Moore, my problem with her character wasn't that she was happy being a homemaker, it was that she was happy being that sexist 50s stereotype of what a homemaker back then supposedly was. The life she lived was so cliche, so nauseating and so false. Women didn't look like that when they rolled out of bed in the morning. They didn't sound like Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to JFK when they scolded their kids. They didn't escape puffy, swollen, tired feet with red scars and blisters when they took off heels so high and they didn't smile like obese squirrels with 90 acorns in their mouths over GINORMOUS pitchers of pink lemonade spiked with alcohol in the middle of the day.

Was I really expected to believe that just because this group of women had nothing better to do, they were really going to anatomically consume all that pink liquid (Which if I recall correctly had ONLY one sad lemon in it)? I just could not STOMACH her happiness at just being THAT particular housewife, someone who doesn't exist beyond the picture book image she flaunts to the world. When her life falls apart she doesn't mourn it, she only mourns the image of that life and how people saw her and that made it very hard for me to sympathize with her. Yes, she's suffering but she's suffering for the wrong reasons. It certainly didn't help to see the very definition of female empowerment we all know as Viola Davis portraying her yellow dressed maid at least eight years before she rose to stardom (Maybe that's why the pink lemonade only had one lemon. Oh well. The rest of the lemons looked much happier on Viola than in a pitcher tall enough to waterboard a tiny elephant anyway).

Carol and Therese on the other hand exist way beyond their relationship with one another. They are their own people with their own passions and their own ways in which they see and approach the world. Carol is a film of self-discovery and I think as human beings, we’re all learning new things about ourselves all the time. Sometimes people come into our lives to stay and others come in to help us grow but eventually leave us. That's what I took away from Carol and what I hope others will take away from the film too.

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