After seeing Carol in a small theatre in South Carolina, I heard a woman ask, “Was that film made by an American?” Perhaps it isn’t a literal foreignness, but Todd Haynes brings countless “foreign” elements, particularly to a film receiving such high praise, to Carol. His latest is colorful, hauntingly quiet, intentionally shot and refreshingly without male gaze. Based on Patricia Highmore’s The Price of Salt (which was later republished and named Carol), Carol explores a love affair between two women in 1950’s New York. For credits to begin with three female names makes the film an exceptional experience enough, but with Haynes at the wheel, Carol exceeded all my expectations. And I had high ones.
In a recent Film Comment interview, Haynes said anyone new to his work should begin with Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (which, lucky us, is on YouTube). I studied this film in college, as well other from Haynes, though Carol has become my immediate favorite. Cate Blanchett stars as Carol, who seduces shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara). These two porcelain women blend into the fifties so ridiculously well, but its their delicate performances that are getting so much attention. A scene regarding Carol’s child’s custody is enough for Blanchett to win an award, but more than how she (or Mara, or Sarah Paulson, or anyone else in the cast) speaks is how she simply exists on screen. Haynes transports us to a time in which this relationship is so taboo that words are spoken in glances and affection is given with a pat on the shoulder. In one scene Carol tells Therese “you finally blossomed,” which made me laugh out loud since Mara, too, shines from start to finish.
Set in Christmastime this could be added to my non-Christmas Christmas movie cannon without question, but more importantly it could top my Films to Watch on Mute list because of its astonishing quality and tone throughout. Potentially my favorite shot of the year occurs when we see Therese look back at Carol, who is partially blocked by three suitcases. Yes Haynes, show us the baggage in this relationship! More! Countless shots come through windows, reminding viewers that not all details of loved ones are transparent and arguably the repetitive use of snow simultaneously shows the isolation and rebirth of Therese. The evident work put into every detail and frame and word of Carol makes it a film unlike any other in 2015.