From stunning cinematography, gorgeous production design, and glamourous costumes, everything about Carol (2015) screams sumptuousness. However, what is most impressive about Todd Haynes’ latest film is what we don’t see, with an emotional and spellbinding story that is all about the loaded glances between the characters, and the things that are sadly left unsaid.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, Carol feels like the perfect counterpart to Haynes’ Far from Heaven (2002). Set in the 1950s and featuring another slice of American life, this too centres on the controversial relationship of two characters, who long to be together when society says they can’t. Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Highsmith’s book is beautifully restrained, her script revelling in the quiet moments of their relationship and of the overall narrative – and this is where the story’s power comes from. There’s no melodrama or overwrought declaration of sentiment, as would often be the case with a drama like this. This makes Carol all the more gripping and impactful, with a devastating story that is emotional without having to say much at all.
While the title is ‘Carol’, the focus of Nagy’s script is really on Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer working in a department store and one half of that controversial relationship. Witnessing the story through her eyes, we see how a chance meeting in the store leads to gradually growing feelings between her and the titular Carol, as Therese comes to the realisation that she wants to be with this older woman more than her current beau (Jake Lacy).
Wide-eyed and with her face full of innocence, Rooney Mara perfectly portrays Therese’s naivety at her and Carol’s situation, as well as her unwavering love for her. Impressing more than she previously has in any other film, Mara’s fragile and muted performance makes the story heartbreaking, as does Cate Blanchett’s. Her Carol is the epitome of a headstrong woman who is continuously stoic and determined to do what she wants in a man’s world – a world that is represented by her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler – also brilliant). Blanchett and Mara work perfectly together onscreen, especially in the earlier moments of their relationship when you can practically see the tension hanging in the silent air between them.
Haynes has the sense to step back and let their performances breathe with stripped down direction. Yet where his personality shines through most is in the use of gorgeous imagery, with production design that uses a gloriously rich, yet often muted, colour palette, as well as luscious cinematography achieved by shooting on Super 16mm film. Every moment is a joy to look at, the imagery perfectly complemented by the dazzling costume design by Sandy Powell.
Contributing to the richness of every scene is a beautiful, emotive score by Carter Burwell that stays in your mind long after the film’s ending. And this isn't the only thing about Carol which lingers. The production design; the imagery; the subtle, yet emotional performances; the beautiful story: everything about it burrows its way into your heart. A sublime masterpiece from director Todd Haynes that is sure to do well come awards season.