Carol was to be my first press screening of the festival, and ahead of the press conference that afternoon I felt that I had to see the film – it would have been rude not to. All I knew was that it’s about love, and that Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett – who I wasn’t the biggest fan of – were starring in it. On a scale of one to ten, my anticipation was on about five.
It’s a press screening and I am a member of the press, so I must go to it. I’m 19, I can shake off tiredness. I told myself, ‘I am one of the first people in the country that’s lucky enough to see this’, really only for the sake of making myself get on the tube at 8am. I am so very glad that I went.
Carol is mesmerizing. The film tells the story of Therese Bellivet (Rooney Mara) who by chance catches the eye of the eponymous woman (Cate Blanchett) over the counter in the department store in which she works. One thing leads to another and the two women develop an electrifying bond and thus ensues a hypnotizing love story, made for movie screens indeed.
The story is based on The Price of Salt, a novel written by Patricia Highsmith in 1952. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy explained how the decision to change the name of the book to the name of one of the lovers was in order to capture the strange and obsessive nature of the desire to call something by one’s name. And it is fair to say that those are a couple of words we could use to describe the film. Obsessive and strange, but also all-consuming, decadent, intoxicating and moving. Carol focuses on the bond between these two women and depicts love at its most passionate.
The lovers display such chemistry and a proximity only enhanced by the framing – an impressed viewer overheard on Leicester Square said ‘It’s clear to see the film has been stylized within an inch of its life’. Later director Todd Haynes, jokingly, refers to ‘the chemistry filter’ when the actresses are asked how they managed to portray such a strong on-screen connection.
The fact is, as Rooney Mara pointed out, ‘chemistry isn’t something you can create’. We have to hand it to them, the two actresses are at their best in Carol and not only compliment each other, equally giving and receiving as lovers, but also individually act as fundamental pillars.They have Nagy and the original novel to thank for the poetic dialog and rich characters, but we can only applaud the actors themselves for the sensual delivery of lines, and commend the vast emotional nuances and wide spectrum of intensities displayed in the leading pair’s performances.
Perhaps not a chemistry filter, but whatever it is that the crew used – the film is visually a delight. The cinematography focuses on the characters point of view and emphasizes the elegance of the era, bringing the two-dimensional world of the novel completely to life in the glorious rich hues of the 1950s. The enchanting score by Carter Burwell – whose last notable work I had in mind was on the Twilight saga, also enhances the aesthetic. You may groan, but one thing you cannot take from the somewhat dried up teen sensation was the beauty of its score. The music here adds another thread to the stylish storytelling and enhances the contextual surroundings even more.
Although it is not a film based on complex plot twists and turns and is essentially ‘just another love story’, it doesn’t matter because it’s incredibly effective. The fact is, as Nagy said, ‘it’s always the right time for a love story’. When going to see this film the viewer will be completely consumed by the turmoil undergone by these two women.The role of a love story and the importance of ‘strong’ women were two issues that raised a lot of questions during the press conference, to which the panel replied that it is not a matter of gender or even of telling ground-breaking stories, but it is about ‘finding the deeply human eternal side of falling in love’ – that’s right, not only is Cate Blanchett so intimidatingly beautiful, but she also knows about love.
What Carol gets so right is that it harnesses the power to portray the inherently human emotion of love, which transcends class, gender and time. And if that makes for ‘just another love story’, so be it. When asked what it meant to be a ‘strong woman’ today, the two leading actresses returned the question to the journalist. ‘It should just be normal’, said Mara. Todd Haynes carried on, ‘the title suggests an agenda – and that they have a responsibility to be strong and courageous. They’re interested in playing human beings’.
And that is what Carol gives us. A love story. A tale about two human beings who meet, somewhat by chance, and become all consumed by devotion and by each other. It isn’t perfect; you’ll find flaws, disparities and an array of things to pick at. But at the end of the day, it does its job. Carol tells a story of passion and reminds you what it’s like to fall in love. And that’s good enough for me.
Originally published on Epigram