"Dearest, there are no accidents, and everything comes full circle."As she awaited the publication of her novel ‘Strangers on a Train’, Patricia Higsmith wrote another story to pass the time, one of relationships, love and loss. More specifically, the relationship between a long time housewife and a humble shop girl. Was it a daring political statement, a spin on the classic love story or just an interesting experiment for the author? In the context of 1952 it could be any of them but just because this one is coming out in 2015 does not make it any less relevant or less endearing.
In 1950s New York, a chance an encounter in a local department store leads to a forbidden romance between a sophisticated housewife named Carol (Cate Blanchett) and a quiet shop girl named Therese (Rooney Mara).
As I just stated, could a story about a romance of this nature still be relevant today, after all the world can be a much more tolerant place now than it was in the 1950s. Yet it can also be a harsher one, and that is exactly why ‘Carol’ is so engaging and compelling, and why it is nothing short of spectacular. It is hard to find a wrong note, from performances, to writing, to the brilliance of Todd Haynes’ meticulous direction. It also transcends many genres to find its own comfortable area from which to convey this story, obviously it is part romance, but there are touches of drama, mystery and at times thrills (though don’t expect ‘Fury Road’ levels of action) as these characters become embroiled in a plot that they themselves do not understand, one that is controlled by their own emotions, ones far deeper than they themselves can comprehend.
But these various elements are held solidly under one inescapable theme. It is the theme of entrapment, and the loneliness felt by a repression of one’s true self. Even with this love between the two main characters there is a painful sense of loss that is infused throughout he film, emphasised by how they must keep their love a secret.
Todd Haynes is fairly familiar with such a theme as it has been incorporated into all of his films in one way or another. The conformity and repression felt by the many incarnations of Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’ is mirrored by the subversive nature in ‘Poison’, these themes are still very much present in ‘Carol’. But what Haynes also achieves magnificently here is painting a picture of layers, you have the surface level and everything beneath it. We as a society can pretend to observe things on a surface level (as the first scene of the film does so) but though a chance encounter of the two main characters we are given a window into the world hidden from society, one of aching beauty and enduring emotion. Their interaction looks like a brief business meeting, but only after do we learn that it is flirting with danger and mystery.
The picture that Haynes paints is also a stunning one on every level. Beyond that it is designed exquisitely, as if every shadow, every colour and every image was meticulously scrutinized before being delivered to us. Each shot conveys so much about the themes of the situation, from romance to treachery. Just as the story encourages, the truth lies in the detail.
But it would have been easy for Haynes to simply run away and make a showcase for his directing skills. There is more to ‘Carol’ than that. Chiefly are its two leads, Blanchett and Mara. Rooney Mara induces a superb amount of innocence and curiosity, enough to make the otherworldly nature the situation obvious but not to appear as if she is not in control, she realises her own feelings even if she does not fully understand them. Blanchett, like the direction it is the tiniest detail that can leave the most striking impression in her performance, balancing her own conflicted emotions all the while. ‘Carol’ only really strays when the two are not together, losing focus on its own viewpoint occasionally and not fully invigorating the motive for each character. If anything it speaks to how compelling they are as a couple.
‘Carol’ is a subversive story of romance and repression. Balancing many different emotions and various visual set pieces make it compelling and alluring.