NYFF Review: ‘Carol’

Carol

Carol | Todd Haynes | New York Film Festival 2015

If we could turn back history’s clock for a moment, post-World War II, we would find a world rife with secrecy and paranoia. On a global scale, the temperature began to fall as tensions rose between the United States and Soviet Union, and our culture shifted toward a more conservative identity. Carol, based on the novel ‘The Price of Salt’ by Patricia Highsmith, presents a microcosm of that era. However, the message contained within is just as relevant for the present.

Set in New York, Carol tells the story of a young woman searching for a sense of belonging in a fast-paced world. She’s bowed to society’s expectations, but enjoys her own creative expression in photography. One day she has a chance encounter with an older woman, searching for a toy for her daughter, that changes her life forever.

Director Todd Haynes, known for exploring homosexuality in his films, has successfully tackled one of modern literature’s landmark works. Patricia Highsmith is probably most famous for her ‘Ripliad’, the collection of novels starring (the very talented) Mr. Ripley. Published as a contemporary story, ‘The Price of Salt’ had lesbian content explicit enough for Highsmith to shield herself behind a pen name to avoid persecution. While gay fiction was not a new concept, it was usually more tragic in its conclusions. You can see how large an issue this all was in 1952, and for years to come.

Now it’s 2015, gay marriage is finally legal at the federal level. But the fight isn’t over, it’s never over…and that’s why Carol’s narrative matters so much. Prejudice and paranoia are still here, whether it’s sexuality or privacy. We can easily watch a film like this and, in hindsight, think of how barbaric those times were. Parents suspected of “immoral conduct” were interrogated, threatened with loss of custody and blacklisted professionally. Others were labeled communists amidst McCarthy’s Red Scare. Now our government is circumventing encryption and the NSA will use your pornography browsing habits against you in the event that you happen to cause trouble. I think that your private sexual preferences should be irrelevant in such matters…but I digress.

Carol honestly isn’t too heavy-handed in its political message, though. That’s the beauty of it. Shot on warm, 16mm film stock and brilliantly composed, your eyes will be invited by beautiful interiors and holiday scenes. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have an near-perfect chemistry on screen that truly drives the heart of the film. I’m talking clearcut Oscar-worthy levels of acting. Todd Haynes, who has previously collaborated with Blanchett on I’m Not There (2007), proves that he’s still got the chops to helm an impressive cast and crew. The work is rife with thought and intent, and probably evocative of something very close to his heart. The holiday setting provides a neat little diorama that frames the story perfectly. Those distinctive activities and traditions that make us remember the period more vividly. Many of the shots are gorgeously set, the work of cinematographer Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides, Far From Heaven, I’m Not There). More or less, you can start making your Academy Award bracket now because Carol is going to be storming almost every category.

I truly hope that this film gets all of the attention it deserves. It’s not “just a gay film”… it supersedes that, carrying a truly universal message that will resonate with audiences far and wide. We’ve all had to make hard choices, and loved people under difficult circumstances. Maybe we’re parents, or maybe we’re young kids just trying to make a life in the city. Hands down, Carol is one of the best films of the year. It will leave your heart reeling.

 

Rating: 9.5/10

Carol hits theaters in limited release on November 20th, 2015 from TWC.

Want an even more in depth look at Carol? Check out our own Kate Royal’s brilliant piece, ‘Carol and the Secret Lives of Women‘!