There seems to have always been a degree of prudishness in the United States when it comes to anything sex or sexuality related. That may well be rich coming from an Englishman, but the juxtaposition between the apparent blanket acceptance of gun wielding patriots and the often vociferous disapproval by many of ‘love’ expressed in any way other than through a conventional, heterosexual union, is both stark and prominent.
Mid-century America seems as glaring an example of this as any relatively recent moment in time.
Carol is the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt,telling the story of a young lady, Therese, discovering her sexual identity, and Carol, a woman remaining stoic through the breakdown of her marriage and a subsequent messy divorce.
Right from the off, by way of Therese and Carol’s shared fascination with a model train set on display in the department store in which Therese works – something perhaps that would be considered traditionally the domain of young boys or men – we are made aware that both ladies are in some way ‘different’ from the then accepted norm.
Their initial introduction to one another through Carol’s purchase of the aforementioned train set as a present for her young daughter, is developed still further by way of a fateful occurrence when Carol leaves one of her gloves behind in the store. Therese’s good natured deed in posting the glove back to its owner begins a friendship, which quickly develops, underpinned by latent sexual desire. The simmering passion lurking beneath the surface can ultimately only be contained for so long.
As with all good romantic sagas, something inevitably arises to threaten the course of true love and happiness. Carol’s attempts to reach an amicable divorce settlement, particularly with regard to custody of her young daughter, are thrown into disarray when her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), discovers Carol’s secret and threatens to deny her any form of custody whatsoever.
A woman such as Carol, aware that this is 1950s America, holds none of the aces and faces a battle for custody that she simply cannot win with things as they stand.
Tough choices therefore lie ahead for both her and Therese…
Director Todd Haynes has certainly brought out excellent performances from the Audrey Hepburn-esque Rooney Mara as Therese, but particularly from the here, aloof and rather unapproachable Cate Blanchett in the lead role, producing arguably her career-best work to date.
Shot on 16mm film through a near constant haze of many a provocatively puffed upon cigarette, there is a grainy, soft-focused effect at play, adding significantly to the film’s heavily-stylised and somewhat beautiful mystique.
Carol is a well paced, evocative study of sexual awakenings, forbidden love and longing in the face of adversity, but equally, a tale of men’s frustrations, bordering on exasperation, when they perceive that they have been in some way ‘wronged’.
There is sometimes no telling the lengths that a man might go to under such circumstances.
Underpinned by a strong Carter Burwell score, Carol is award-worthy stuff on many levels – make no mistake.