The first quality to immediately jump out at me in Carol was Carol herself, particularly Cate Blanchett. Every movement, every word that came from her lips, her cool air, all were mesmerizing. She commanded the role with such elegance that it made such a nice contrast to Rooney Mara’s Therese – timid, mousey, intimidated.
Both are in need of a distraction, something to pull them into something worthwhile. Carol, an upper-class woman in the midst of a divorce from her husband Herge (Kyle Chandler), has a commanding presence that owns the room. She instantly catches the attention of Therese Belivet, innocent, a dreamer, and department store employee headed toward an inevitable life with boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants to take her to Europe.
When Therese has Carol’s gloves returned to her after she leaves them at the department store, Carol uses the opportunity to take Therese out. From there, their time together becomes frequent. And it’s subtle.
The subtly is another quality that time and time again becomes apparent. Every element is displayed with gentle ease, right to the end. The dialogue, their relationship, even the colouring is delicate, never grabbing on its own, but still able to capture. With the story set in the 1950s, the focus never strays from their relationship to external distractions such as the setting or societal views of the time, even though there were times it probably should because the way their relationship progresses is itself influenced by societal views.
Carol is a beautiful film with spectacular acting, with one exception that pulls the whole story into question. There wasn’t a single moment I was convinced Carol truly felt genuine admiration toward Therese. The mutual chemistry between them was largely absent – perhaps purposely on account of the obvious difference of wealth, class and age between the two, but emotion between them is overwhelmingly one-sided with Therese led on by Carol who seems willing to invest in her at times, while others she is dismissive – sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. As such, their relationship doesn’t feel authentic and I had trouble caring about them as a pair.
And maybe that was intentional. In the 50s, they were always going to be in opposition of society. Therese’s life just beginning with dreams of a career, Carol’s role as wife and mother of a young child, and us watching through the lens of the time. Curious, but not fully supportive because our idea of romantic connection doesn’t align with theirs.