Carol tells the story of a young photographer by the name of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) who meets a beautiful, glamourous but troubled older woman Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). They both fall in love. And I’ve no idea why so many people fall in love with this movie.
Carol is one of the more disappointing films that I’ve watched this year. It’s subject matter is smothered by it’s own art to the point that it doesn’t really connect at all. When watching Carol, I was often hoping the film would develop its scenes into something more rooted and relatable, but only found it to be more obscure. Todd Haynes relies alot on shooting long drawn out shots of close-ups to convey to us the conflicts within his characters. But it has an inert feeling, scene’s are just waiting to have life injected, after which it dissipates into a vacant place where nothing more profound can be gleaned from it.
It’s not all bad. There were some nice moments like when Therese tinkers with the toy train in the store and the build-up to her mesmerizing first encounter with Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). It was so charged with an undercurrent of infatuation and a prescient sense of a taboo love in a conservative time. To give the film credit, it does actually try its best to expand on its themes. In one passionate scene, Therese and Carol engage in an intimate moment which leads to sex. Here, the scene’s soft sounds complement the slow and yet increasingly intense atmosphere. Again, the film shoots the two lovers in close proximity, as if they were lost in the own paradise far away from the real world. A few more scenes are also like this; They’re beautiful, have nice tempo and are thematically consistent.
But what’s such a let-down is the fact that Todd Haynes’ painfully slow and overtly-subtle style in general, waters down the emotional grip of his best scenes. In my view, there’s just too much he tries to do with too little. Carol is at its best when zooming in on the interactions between its characters but becomes a languid and distant picture when shooting static shots of static images. It’s as if the film wanted us to look at frames of still life and close-ups of blank faces, and somehow be able to derive some sort of profound understanding and feeling.
I’m kind of baffled by the character arc of Therese as well. Whereas I thought Cate Blanchett’s Carol was someone whose journey was complex and enlightening (both for her and for the audience), Therese’s ride from start to finish was literally just a ride. Yeap. She just sat there in the figurative vehicle of life’s direction and allowed it to decide the course of her fate. Therese’s self-doubt when she asks Carol if she should have left before Carol and her husband had gotten into a fight may be interpreted as an innocent girl’s conflict between id and super-ego. Sure, it would be perfectly fine to have a character whose true and innocent desires are pure but goes against the traditional lifestyle/expectation that has been imbued in her by society. But this self-guilt extends to an even greater degree of solemn passiveness when she constantly apologises to Carol and saying that it was all her fault after their sexual encounter. Her passiveness makes her kind of flat. In another scene, she’s seen lying down at the back of Abby’s (Carol’s friend) car on Carol’s direction. Again, she remains a pitiful curled up figure whose personality is now virtually non-existent. Using metaphorical language, Carol was the photographer while Therese was the camera; We only get to see the meaningful progression of Carol as she reflects on her life while Therese simply takes in everything while initiating nothing significant of her own.
It goes without saying that this is the fault of the direction and not with Rooney Mara. Even with the lack of characterization on script, she still manages to shine in some moments. Her sense of curiosity and wonder is something that she pulls off really well and is befitting of her symbol of innocence. Rooney Mara’s Cannes award for Best Actress is puzzling to me, but perhaps a greater testament to how well she played a mediocre character given to her. The film though, is ineffectual and has a style that adorns itself with the subtle and the static. This makes for a film whose tempo is so distant and faint that not even it’s most passionate scenes can lift it above its flaws.
Images courtesy of Number 9 Films, Killer Films, Film4 Productions, The Weisnstein Company and StudioCanal