As Frank Sinatra said, “Love is the tender trap.” It’s a strange thing to feel, especially if you’ve never been in love before. It can be beautiful but nerve racking at the same time, even frightening if love can hurt something else in your life. But even when being in love with someone can throw your whole life to hell, it helps to keep finding the beauty in it. According to Todd Haynes latest film, Carol, one touch is well worth a life of trouble
The title character in this new romantic drama (Cate Blanchett) is a middle aged, high-class mother of one about to divorce her wealthy but stern husband (Kyle Chandler). Carol is then stricken by the gaze of Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department store clerk also in a loveless relationship and aimless in her own life. A chance encounter leads to an immediate affection but slow-building relationship between the two women, equally entranced by their own lives. But when Carol’s husband finds out about her bi-curious nature, he threatens to take Carol’s daughter away from her.
Director Haynes is a patient man and not one for putting his movie’s message front and center (see his wild biography of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There). Carol is no exception, as the two main lovers rarely ever use the word “love” itself, let alone to each other. But they didn’t need to, as it blasted from the screen just from the looks and interactions of Carol and Therese. The two want to collide into each other every moment they make eye contact, even if they’re not sure about what they have. It’s the perfect romance to watch onscreen: the one where the two are in love with who each other are (damaged or not) and not what they have. Haynes and his crew build and shoot everything with a glowing beauty, making Christmas time in 1950s look like something out of a Life magazine issue from the same era. Everything from the sets, the music, even the choice of the weather for certain scenes fits.
For this movie, it’s more about what isn’t said between the characters that speaks loudest. With these actors, they speak volumes. The ever flawless Blanchett plays the title character like a broken belle of the ball desperate for something that feels real. She drapes herself in furs and jewelry, but she’d strip it all away for a meaningful touch. She gets that from Therese, played with unease and timidity by Mara. She seems more fragile than Carol, like a little girl in love for the first time and doesn’t know if it’s right or wrong. Therese appears to become a real adult by the end of the movie despite ha in her feelings for Carol called “a crush.” Even Kyle Chandler (forever Coach Taylor on TV’s Friday Night Lights) is fully-realized as Carol’s estranged husband. He’s jaded but it’s out of true love for Carol, adding dimension to the usual jerk husband character. Everyone in the movie is acted out very well, intersecting with each other while getting their own spotlight.
Carol is a quiet movie, choosing to let something blossom on its own instead of forcing of it. It feels like an interesting take on falling in love for the first time: it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s unknown and it’s wonderful. Some may call Carol tedious for letting everything play out on a slow pace, and it feels a touch longer than its 118-minute runtime. Stick with Blanchett and Mara, who make the whole thing fly by. Carol is easily one of the best movies of the year and a surefire Oscar contender (at least in the acting category) because it’s a love story that feels real. It shows the struggle of being in love without sugarcoating the surroundings. Love hurts, but it’s still worth it.