(Todd Haynes, 2015)
[5 out of 5 stars]
CAROL is a lesbian romance set in 1950's New York about a department store shopgirl who falls in love with an older married woman. It is one of the most sublime romances I have seen in a long time. It has a sensual tactility, a movie that visually caresses you.
Shot in Super 16mm film, it looks like it was made during the era it was set in. There's grain and texture that adds a physicality to the image that one can't help but long to reach out and touch it. In the beginning, I feel like if one was to touch it that they'd feel the coldness of glass.
There's initially a distance between the audience and the characters. We see their emotional depth through the emotive glances casted by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett and the subtext in their conversations but we have no access into their inner lives.
The women in the film - as they were treated at that time - existed as artefacts. Carol and Therese are repeatedly photographed behind glass windows. In cars, in diners, in apartments. Always behind glass, boxed in, framed in. Precious and preserved. Looked at but perpetually trapped. The pretty dolls displayed inside glass cabinets in the department store where Therese works is an emblematic image of this.
It's only until they give in to their desires and love for one another that this glass wall is shattered and what comes pouring out are the complex passion and feeling that only two people in love can produce. Back then there was no way of understanding that kind of love or expressing what it means. There was no language for it - spoken or otherwise.
Carter Burwell's score does a fine job in articulating the unspoken. I'm not too good at describing music but it sounds like there's an underlying urgency to the score. It's suspenseful (the film is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel after all) but it's ingrained into the romance. It makes you hold your breath for the uncertainty of their loving relationship. At the same time, like the film's aesthetic, the music is sensual and tender. It's the equivalent of a gentle caress of a shoulder that turns into a desperate, tight grip.