I recently watched Brooklyn, and I was somewhat disappointed in it. I was hesitant about Carol, a film that shares a lot of themes with Brooklyn, such as the 1950s setting, the story of a girl out of water, finding unexpected love and a job that allows her to grow as a person. The two films even at point point shared a director (John Crowley, the director of Brooklyn, was initially hired to direct Carol). However, I found myself far more interested in Carol, which is undoubtedly a far better film, and the comparisons with Brooklyn can essentially stop there, because Carol is a magnificent achievement of a film with a wonderful cast, and the work of a truly talented filmmaker, and it is one of the most emotionally resonant and absolutely lovely films of the year.
Now to be perfectly honest, while I do adore Cate Blanchett, I am somewhat intimidated by her. She has such a remarkable talent, but she seems almost like a goddess in her acting style. She doesn’t have the down-to-earth style of acting like her contemporaries, and it almost seems like she is the grand, regal dame of cinema in real life, which is both magnificent and terrifying. She is very much the embodiment of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, where people like Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Greta Garbo had prolific careers, but never really changed their public persona to try and seem more “normal” – they were proud to be these towering figures, and that’s the way they lived their lives. Blanchett may have shown her penchant for humor and having a good time in the past, but in recent years, she has ascended to the throne of being quite possibly the best currently working actress. This isn’t criticism, it is praise – Hollywood needs these kinds of heavenly creatures to counteract the blatant pandering many celebrities do to appear more down-to-earth. Her performance in Blue Jasmine was an absolute tour-de-force, and I thought it would be difficult for her to ever top it. Her performance in Carol…doesn’t top it (unfortunately, I doubt Blanchett will ever give a better performance), but it is still extraordinarily good. In Carol, she plays the titular character, a woman in New York’s high society, a woman with an intense passion, but an immense hatred for her husband, ever since he found out that she had an affair with her best friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), and they are in the middle of a very painful, but strangely peaceful, divorce. She exhibits a wonderful range of emotion, from quiet rage to heartfelt passion, and it shows exactly why Blanchett is a cinematic icon that should be revered. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she is certainly a fantastic actress and when she gives a great performance, she truly embodies her character, and she proves why she is one of the best actresses working today. I hope the rumours of her being courted for the next Thor film are true – Cate needs to branch out and do some mainstream film work so that members of the general public that wouldn’t necessarily know what she is capable of can witness her furious talent first-hand. Her performance in Carol is restrained, classy and absolutely wonderful.
Now don’t get any ideas – the film may be called Carol, but it is far from being the story of Carol Aird. Instead, this story is that of Therese Belivet, a young woman who finds others know more about her that she does herself. She works in a job she hates, as a boyfriend she doesn’t love and lives a meaningless life where her passions take a backseat to reality. The role of Therese requires someone with a complicated range of emotions – the actress needs to be quiet and have a dignified outlook, but also be capable of showing the inner turmoil and emotion that goes through Therese. It has to be said that Rooney Mara was a fantastic choice for this film, because she is an interesting actress – she possesses the ability to be endearing and adorable and sweet, but also has an elusive quality of mystery that constantly makes the audience and the characters in the film wonder about her intentions and her thoughts. Therese is an absolutely fascinating character for any actress, and it just so happens that Rooney Mara, who is truly on the rise since her breakout role five years ago in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and perhaps this will put her officially on the map of notable stars, and she is one of my favorite young actresses, and her natural charm plays very well in this film. The film may not be named after her character, but there is not a doubt in my mind that she gives the best performance of the film, and along with Brie Larson in Room, possibly the best leading female performance of the year.
Todd Haynes has a talent with performers, most notably the actresses who work with him. Perhaps his greatest collaborator is in Julianne Moore. Both Haynes and Moore had a fantastic breakthrough in 1995 with the drama, Safe. Then a few years later, they had their success when they collaborated on a similar story of forbidden love in Far from Heaven. The role of Carol is far too tailor-made for Moore for it to be possible, so it makes sense that she wasn’t in it (however, this year she did star in a similarly themed film about the difficult love between an older woman and her younger partner). Other than Moore, Haynes was worked wonderfully with Kate Winslet in the fantastic miniseries, Mildred Pierce. However, the one performer who did get a considerable boost out of Haynes was Blanchett herself, but not in Carol, but in Haynes’ gonzo, experimental biopic of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There. Carol is a very strange successor to I’m Not There, and all of Haynes’ other films (other than the aforementioned Far from Heaven, which is a fantastic companion piece to Carol), and it seems Haynes doesn’t have a particular style of genre, but his films are all characterized by their great performances and their flourish. Carol is not an exception. I have mentioned the performances, but I do think Haynes himself plays a very important role in this film, because a story like this – based on a novel written in 1952, entitled The Price of Salt – needed to be honest, dignified and classy, while still showing the forbidden nature of the love of the two characters. Haynes effectively captures the essence of the 1950s, and transfers it from the pages of history onto the cinema screen, telling an honest story about love and heartbreak. It is never overly explicit, and it is truly reminiscent of similar romantic films of the 1950s, where the most gentle glance can be the most romantic gesture of all. Much like Brooklyn, this film doesn’t only set the film in the 1950s, it becomes a film that would’ve been made under that period. I can see Carol being a controversial but fitting melodrama that the likes of Douglas Sirk would’ve directed in the exact same way Haynes did so, and that is a testament to Haynes’ talent as a filmmaker, and his attention to detail.
Everything about Carol is fantastic – the costumes are beautiful, the production design is gorgeous and the script is absolutely fantastic. The performances are some of the best of the year, and the film itself is a wonderful testament to the beauty and splendor of the 1950s. It is a beautifully heartbreaking film, and one I highly suggest to anyone who loves romance, but is tired of the same kind of trite romantic comedy cliches. It is an absolutely fantastic film, and a wonderful ode to a previous time and the people who lived in it.