Carol (2015)


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In 1952 author Patricia Highsmith published The Price of Salt, a sweeping tale of forbidden lesbian love in 1950s New York. It was the story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer confined to a department-store job until she meets Carol Aird, a suburban housewife going through a messy divorce. The 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, finally reprinted under her real name in 1990. Highsmith’s novel would take another fifteen years to make it to the silver screen, but the result would be a defining moment in modern LGBTQ+ cinema. In adapting The Price of Salt, director Todd Haynes would create a luscious and stunningly detailed period piece exploring desire, repression and unrequited love within the changing landscape of 1950s America; an exquisite love letter to Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel. 

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. For young Therese (Rooney Mara), the festive season is her busiest time of year behind the toy counter of a major New York department store. But Therese dreams of escape as she longs to build her photography career. As the beautiful and confident Carol (Cate Blanchett) walks up to her toy counter, searching for a Christmas toy for her young daughter, Therese initially has no idea that the escape she is looking for stands in front of her in a beautiful, elegant dress. But as both women enter a secretive and impossible love affair, their growing love will face the social barriers of expectation, class conflict and forbidden desire.


Haynes’ genius lies in his ability to create an electric undercurrent of desire from Carol and Therese’s first encounter to their final separation in a film that pulsates with passion. By framing this unstoppable and unavoidable love and lust against a backdrop of 50s New York’s conservative norms and inbuilt prejudices, Haynes not only heightens the stakes for Carol and Therese but creates a hum of tension in the audience as their love battles the societal pressures surrounding them. Here, Carol’s confidence hides the sharp pain of her unhappy marriage with Harge and her need to hold on tight to a daughter she cannot and will not lose. At the same time, Therese is bound by the social restrictions of her class and her nerves about the bubbling desire that engulfs her the minute she lays eyes on the beautiful socialite standing before her. 


The cinematography of Edward Lachman is nothing short of stunning. Lachman’s muted colour palette and soft focus lens bathe us in a glorious portrait of 50s America that captures the light and dark of a society of glamour and oppression. Every scene is meticulous in detail as the camera picks up on each subtle gesture, glance and unspoken thought. Performances are as divine and complex as the cinematography and direction as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara offer nuanced and emotionally charged portraits of two women from different sides of the tracks brought together by a single look. Blanchett’s Carol carries poise, charm and a deep vulnerability as her character struggles to navigate social expectations and personal happiness. Meanwhile, Rooney Mara has a quiet strength at the heart of her emotional need to escape a life that will never bring her joy and contentment. 

Carol is no paint-by-numbers story of forbidden love; it is a thoughtful exploration of desire and fear in a city of defined social rules. It is one of the best LGBTQ+ films ever made.


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