I started the new year in grand style by watching two four-star films (from 2015) back-to-back in the theatre and then watching a third four-star film at my film night. Since I saw relatively few four-star films in 2015, it suggests the possibility of a late surge, especially since I still have at least five critically-acclaimed 2015 films which I plan to watch in the next two weeks.
Carol was the first film of the three. It’s an engaging and evocative period drama starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as Carol and Therese, two very different women who fall in love (with each other) in 1951, a time when such a relationship was not only scandalous but a sign of serious psychological dysfunction.
Carol is a wealthy woman who has recently initiated divorce proceedings with her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). She has a close friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), who was a former lover, but she has been seeking more. Therese is a much younger woman who works as a cashier in a New York City department store, where she meets Carol. Therese is insecure and lonely despite the attention of Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants her to marry him. But how, in 1951, can she tell Richard that she’s not really attracted to men in that way?
As Carol and Therese fall in love, Harge decides to use a custody battle over their young daughter, Rindy, as a way to force Carol to come back to him. He knows that Carol is attracted to women but sees it as a psychological problem that can be cured by a therapist. Things heat up over the Christmas holidays when Harge discovers that Carol has gone on a trip.
Carol is a quiet understated film featuring terrific performances by Blanchett and Mara as well as gorgeous cinematography, a great score, tight flawless direction by Todd Haynes and a beautiful intelligent screenplay by Phyllis Nagy (based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith). The period detail and atmosphere are perfect.
What makes Carol special, however, are the strong fully-developed characters of Carol and Therese, who are forced to struggle so hard to be true to themselves. Their relationship will change their lives forever as both women grow in profound ways.
Carol feels like a classic epic; perhaps a forbidden classic that only the most daring arthouse cinemas would risk screening, relying on whispered word-of-mouth marketing. That such vital stories can now be told openly and shown in the local cineplex is a triumph, especially when the film is a work of art. Carol gets ****. My mug is up.