Carol ★★★★★

wrote something about my favorite female-lead romantic period dramas for women’s history month for a website, and then the world fell apart, so it is now a recommendation list of period dramas to watch during quarantine. you can read it on my personal blog here if you feel so inclined. (it’s pretty self indulgent lol)

anyways! here’s what i wrote about carol

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, Carol follows the romance between two lost, lonely women living in 1950s New York. Shopworker and hopeful photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is living a life that feels inexplicably incomplete until the mysterious, mink-clad Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) waltzes into her life. Carol, a mother and soon-to-be ex housewife is fighting her way through a messy divorce, but hides the disaster her life is becoming under a thick layer of charm and charisma.

The film feels distant but visceral. Ed Lachmann’s camera observes romance through window panes and eye contact obstructed by crowds, as that is how the two are forced to observe one another. Therese and Carol fall into intense love unconventionally. They spend the first half of the film navigating their feelings in unsafe surroundings. They steal glances and touch shoulders while hidden in public places. Right before Christmas, Carol invites Therese to join her on a road trip West. Everything that’s been boiling under the surface gracefully comes to a head when the couple is finally given space to breathe.  

Rooney Mara is stunning as the quiet and complex Therese. Her brilliant choices are so very subtle in this role that (in the best way possible) one may forget they are watching a Rooney Mara performance and not just Rooney Mara. Cate Blanchett delivers what might be a career-best performance. The deep timbre and frequent manipulation of her voice as well as constant re-adjusting of posture lead us to believe that the wounded animal that is Carol Aird is a character Blanchett understands and deeply empathizes with down to her very core.

In many ways, Carol falls into the classic tropes of romantic melodramas of the days of yore. Two beautiful and repressed creatures find themselves in a life-altering situation that could in almost no circumstance have a happy ending. Carol plays into these tropes and flips them on their tired old heads. Instead of its leads being rewarded with death or irreversible trauma for their feelings, without spoiling too much, no one is bleeding or sobbing at the end of the film.

Carol is about a lot of things, but one of its themes I find myself most moved by is the strength of female bonds. The love women share for each other (whether it be romantic, platonic, or maternal) is one of the most powerful, uncompromising forces in the world.

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