“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes.”
‘Carol’, directed by Todd Haynes in 2015, is an American drama set in New York in the 1950s. An aspiring photographer called Therese, played by Rooney Mara, becomes romantically involved with an older woman, Carol, played by Cate Blanchett, who is going through a divorce. The new relationship is immediately under pressure however, both from society and from the husband of Carol who threatens to use it to gain custody of their children. It’s an understated film, but by toning down the drama, restraining the performances and limiting the action, Haynes manages to ratchet up the feeling of repressed emotions and, ironically, makes the love between Therese and Carol all the more intense. Throughout the film, the other relationships, between Carol and her estranged husband, and between Therese and her suitor, seem somehow warped or lacking in affection. The key to this film is the period setting, the implications this has on the story, but also the ways Haynes meticulously recreates the past. He focuses on the costumes and set design to give the film a feeling of authenticity – Haynes is an expert at recreating the textures and well as the look or the narratives of the past. The notion of authenticity is important. The characters more around in this accurately recreated 1950s world, but their interactions are somehow (intentionally) stunted. Haynes then presents the central affair as being the only authentic one, the only time Therese and Carol can be free is when they are together. This is particularly noticeable throughout the film as characters use telephones, and Haynes creates a repeated motif of the telephone as an emotional block, much like Pedro Almodóvar in ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a beautifully directed and designed film, the narrative and performances are pitched perfectly to generate tension through understatement. Maybe watch with something like Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’ or even a Robert Bresson movie for a similar feel.