Sorry. I couldn’t wait to tell you that Carol is a masterpiece.
Here’s the highest echelon of romance masterpieces (that I’ve seen): Casablanca (1942), Brief Encounter (1945), The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977), In the Mood For Love (2000), Lost In Translation (2003), Before Sunset (2004) …..
Now Carol (2015)
I won’t spend too long praising Todd Haynes Carol. No need. It’s so distinct and supremely crafted that it’s undeniably a masterpiece. Even those that don’t swoon over it’s stylish yearnings have to bow down to it’s artistry.
Doe eyed Therese (dimples included) stares across the department store at Carol, a mature and high society women whose soon to be divorced. Director Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven) captures the intangible feeling of these two woman falling in love and enraptures the audience with a sensory experience as their love blossoms through the form of film itself.
It is a love story in the classical sense through and through. A Hollywood film from a bygone era. Haynes time travels to 1950’s New York and reincarnates his stars, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, into iconic screen legends like Monica Vitti and Audrey Hepburn.
Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman conjure the spell of love in New York with Christmas lights/candy cane cinematography on 16MM film. Colors are coated like frosting as Lachman’s camera rhythmically moves it’s way through the space. Voyeuristically we watch from afar and then move in to partake in the devastating intimacy. They’ve created a world so rich, tactile and full of ache that the screen encompasses the audience in a melancholic snow globe where we’re trapped and yearn to escape just as much as Therese and Carol.
And so like snowflakes we’re just floating in the aching beauty of it all, meandering wherever Haynes goes, elliptically moving through moments and feelings. Dialogue is almost unnecessary because the mood is so polished and atmospheric that you feel as though you could just reach out and climb in while breathing the dreamy atmosphere.
Carol is a simple, classic story, and that’s where some might lay a few complaints. That’d be dismissing the mastery on display from Maestro Haynes and also misunderstanding the film’s use of storytelling outside dialogue. One feels they could dive in and swim through these scenes because of the palpable depth aesthetically and thematically. Ephemeral moments slip away in scenes and you can’t help but wish the film could rewind.
He’s created a language of touches, stares, and caressing sewn beneath a glossy surface of 1950’s oppression. Therese and Carol are prisoners to an intolerant society, but unlike most oscar/award films, it never becomes the “lesbian awards movie” or a pandering message film. It is just a story about two people falling in love in a time when such purity was only an unattainable dream.
In my Brooklyn review I mentioned that 1950’s diner scenes make a film instantly at least good. That film had a couple quick ones. Carol is littered with them, even built on them. It is AWESOME. Really, it’s a film about communicating to another person without saying anything. About fulfilling that primal yearning for belonging. Haynes realizes that creating a text between lines of dialogue is where he can say the most, and it’s what makes the film so magnificently profound. Also why it’ll leave some viewers unable to access the language of the film.
But it’s all delicately calibrated and if you just float along and embrace it, you’ll get it. As masterful as Haynes direction is, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are what make it a landmark film. Mara lets her feelings ever so slightly boil beneath her innocent beret. Blanchett listens intently while masking her vulnerability. They’re the two greatest screen performances of the year.
Carol is a stained glass painting of love in it’s many iterations; excitement, ache, yearning. At the film’s elusive center is the longing to be known. Haynes keeps catharsis at arms length for the audience before he shatters his glass painting and lets the emotion pour out in what is the most emotionally cinematic moment of the year. As the film ended I whispered “thank you Santa” and the faint jingle of a bell was heard in the distance.
Grade: A+ Instant classic. It’s so distinctly Christmassy that every December CAROL is not watched in your household, Krampus will ride from the darkness into your home to punish you.