Directed by Todd Haynes and based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Carol tells a lovely story, but ultimately I wanted more.Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works in the toy section of a New York City department store around Christmas of 1952. She has friends and a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), and is an aspiring photographer. Richard loves Therese and wants her to go to France with him, but she’s not sure. Therese has a perpetual look of longing, which one day falls on Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a married woman who comes into the store looking for a gift for her daughter. Therese sells Carol a train set and after they engage in some chit-chat, Carol leaves her gloves behind. Therese, who is drawn to the older woman, mails the gloves back to her using Carol’s address information on file at the store. Wanting to thank the shop girl, Carol takes Therese to lunch. Carol, who is very obvious in her intentions, is going through a divorce with her wealthy husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is threatening to fight for full custody of their daughter. Through all of this, Carol and Therese grow closer and closer, eventually taking off on a spur-of-the-moment trek out west. In a world where a relationship like theirs is treated with scorn, can these two women find love?
I liked Carol very much, but there were a few elements that kept it from moving from good to great for me. The story told is a very good love story made all the more poignant due to the societal pressures that both Carol and Therese have to endure. In this day and age, it’s inconceivable how homosexual couples were denied the right to love who they wanted. Of course, depending on where you live, this is still a problem today. The biggest issue I had with the story, though, is that though it focuses a lot on Carol’s family life and issues, the story is really Therese’s. The problem is, though, there is so much that we don’t learn about Therese throughout the course of the story. I wanted to know where she came from. Where is her family? Simple details like that. A key element to her character – which made her compliance with Carol’s requests more believable – is that Therese can’t say no to anyone. Where did this piece of her personality come from? So, the story is really Therese’s, but we know next to nothing about her because she kind of exists on the fringes of her circle of friends and keeps Richard at arm’s length. When she begins her relationship with Carol, all of this makes sense, but it also prevents the audience from really getting to know the main point of view character.
The issue I had with Carol herself is that we’re never quite sure if she’s sincere or not in her advances toward Therese. She keeps her emotions in check for the most part, save for a crucial scene in a lawyer’s office when hashing things out with Harge. So, this emotional withholding as well as the fact that most of the story is told from Therese’s point of view, limits what we know about Carol as well. We know that Harge is wary of her relations with other women, his ire centering on an old friend and lover of Carol’s, Abby (Sarah Paulson). Basically, I could never tell if Carol’s feelings for Therese were genuine or just a more experienced lover toying with another’s affections. Carol definitely has her reasons for appearing wishy-washy, but we are only told of the trials and trauma she is made to endure. The film might have been more powerful if we had been able to see her struggle – I’m being vague because I don’t want to give the store away.
The cast is absolutely stellar here. Blanchett and Mara give Oscar-worthy performances, though Mara really should have been nominated for Best Actress and not Supporting Actress, considering the story is really hers to tell. Their growing attraction is teased out and played to perfection by two expert actors. Kyle Chandler also puts in a topnotch performance as his hurt and confusion over what is happening with his wife drives him to villainy. Sarah Paulson is also great as Carol’s longtime friend and confidante. She plays Abby as a strong woman, but there may be a streak of longing in there too, she may not even be sure of it herself.
Overall, Carol is a very strong and touching story that had just a few hiccups that kept me from loving it. The cast is fantastic and the chemistry between Blanchett and Mara really drives the film. You feel for these characters and hope for the best for all of them even though the world they live in will never let that happen.