Carol is available to rent, buy or stream now.
In 1952 author Patricia Highsmith published a novel under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan. This novel continues to inspire and fascinate new readers today, its bravery widely discussed in Universities, Colleges and writing circles. What is this book, I hear you ask? It is, of course, The Price of Salt/Carol, a sweeping tale of lesbian love in 1950s New York. This subject matter was a world away from the thrilling crime drama of Highsmith’s, Strangers On a Train but was also her most personal work. However, the semi-autobiographical nature of Highsmith’s novel would only be revealed many years later with her famous text, reprinted under her real name in 1990.
It would take another fifteen years for Highsmith’s novel to make it to the silver screen, but the result would be a defining moment in LGBTQ+ cinema. Here director Todd Haynes creates a luscious period piece that dovetails hidden desire, repression and unrequited love with the changing landscape of 1950s America, his adaptation an exquisite love letter to Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel.
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It’s December in New York City, and the Christmas season has begun as the nights draw in and the snow starts to fall on the cold sidewalks, parks and avenues. For young Therese (Rooney Mara), the season is her busiest time of year behind the toy counter of a New York department store. Her hard work, merely scraping her a living as she dreams of becoming a professional photographer. Meanwhile, Therese’s male friend Richard (Jake Lacy) sees the festive season as the perfect opportunity to move their casual yet complex friendship beyond the occasional kiss. However, Therese has no intention of responding to Richard’s advances, much to his frustration.
However, Therese’s life is about to change forever when the beautiful and confident Carol (Cate Blanchett) walks up to her toy counter. Carol is searching for a Christmas toy for her young daughter; however, as Carol and Therese discuss potential purchases, flirtatious energy bounces from one side of the counter to the other. Therese finds the woman standing before her, both enchanting and mysterious. While at the same time, Carol is confident in her sexual interest, leaving her gloves on Therese’s counter as a door to a further meeting. But as both women embark on a secretive and impossible love affair, their love will ultimately face the barriers of expectation, social rules and class conflict.
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Director Todd Haynes exquisitely layers Carol and Therese’s journey with the beauty and austerity of 1950s New York and the oppressive reality of post-war sexism and homophobia. Here, the confidence of Blanchett’s Carol hides the pain of her false marriage, her relationship with her husband, Harge, a mere smokescreen for her true desires. While at the same time, her escape routes are hostage to the love and care she holds for her daughter.
Meanwhile, although Therese is free from the constraints of a male relationship, she is equally bound by the social restrictions surrounding her. However, unlike Carol, these restrictions sit within the realms of socioeconomic status and a need to survive and thrive. Ultimately while both women find solace, freedom and rebirth in the arms of the other, their relationship is doomed by the oppression surrounding their brief union. Here Carol dovetails themes of hidden love with the sexism and control of the men surrounding Carol and Therese. Following the success of Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Hayne’s film would break new ground in lesbian drama while earning a place as one of the finest LGBTQ+ movies of the past twenty years.