Verdict: 4 / 5
It’s upsetting how easily films with so-called “niche appeal” get ignored by the general public when they get a quick summary of its subject matter. In today’s world of 140 character Tweets, many people I encountered, when speaking of Carol, described it as follows: “Oh, that’s the lesbian movie right? I don’t really care about that.” But to so narrowly classify a movie with so much depth, to pigeonhole it into such a brief, uninspiring description is to miss out on a great piece of filmmaking, produced by people who really cared about its vision.
Set in 1952, Therese is an aspiring retail store worker and part time photographer. After a chance encounter with the older, married Carol, Therese finds herself drawn to this enigmatic woman, and eventually a relationship develops between them, only to be brought into the conflict of the place and time in which they live.
The first home-run this film hits is with the setting and the attention to detail in it: 1950’s America is lovingly re-created down to the finest set-details, and you will easily lose yourself in it. The second high point is the acting. Cate Blanchett is on her best form ever, and Carol becomes as captivating a figure for the audience as she does for Therese. Rooney Mara provides a good contrast to the older actress, and you get the feeling she understands how to position herself as a younger actor and character next to the more senior and experienced Blanchett.
What’s great about this adaptation (for it is based on a book) is how the film both honours the original and breaks some new ground for itself. For instance, in the book, the relationship is entirely from Therese’s perspective, meaning that there’s a double layer of subtlety about whether Carol’s character is actually so, or if Therese is impressing her own ideals upon her. In the film, we get several scenes with Carol alone, which changes her characterization in careful ways that make this film take her in expanded directions.
Carol is a film about love and about making difficult choices when it comes to love. I’m glad it doesn’t stray into the tired old clichés that get added for melodrama, but instead, presents realistic problems faced by realistic women who we can relate to for their intense humanity that is shown on the screen.