From the first opening scene, Todd Hayne’s Carol is pure cinematic poetry. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling novel The Price Of Salt, Carol is a complex and enthralling love story, circling around two very different women who seek something that is missing from their lives.
The film begins in the middle of the story, a meeting between Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). Interrupted by an acquaintance, the women are forced to part ways but Therese’s thoughts return to Carol while heading to a party in a cab, and this is where the film truly begins.
Saturated with a nostalgic and grainy textured look, it is Christmas in 1952. Therese Belivet is young woman living in Manhattan, holding a job as a shop girl in a department store, one that she neither longs nor cares for. Her monotony is broken the day Carol Aird, a woman in her thirties clad in fur and pale blond beauty, makes her way to the counter she is tending in the toy department, asking Therese for a certain doll to give her daughter as a present. When Carol carelessly forgets her gloves behind and Therese send them back, Carol offers to take her to lunch. That first encounter is detrimental to both of them, causing Carol to murmur to Therese: “What a strange girl you are, flung out of space”.
Hayne’s work is magnificent in translating Highsmith’s work into a collage of lingering looks, details of hands, objects, and landscapes. Even the chosen soundtrack for the film is perfectly suited to what we see on screen, the unveiling of a love that society orders cannot be, but yet manages to break free and push Carol and Therese into something they cannot ignore.
Carol is told from both women’s POV, following Highsmith’s novel to a certain extent. Carol’s life is a battle, more than Therese, a budding aspiring photographer, knows but will be confronted with when the women take a trip west, Therese following Carol as she escapes the heartbreak of having her daughter taken from her by a resentful husband.
Their mission on this journey becomes twofold: self-discovery and an attempt to love freely for the first time, without judgment or fear. They share many hotel rooms, but they only come together once before they are forced apart, their reverie interrupted by a private investigator disguised as a traveling salesman, ordered to spy on Carol by her ex-husband as evidence of her failure as a mother on the grounds of immorality. The heartbreak of their forced separation is fused by the beauty of the cinematography and the brilliance of Blanchett’s and Mara’s performance.
The film nears its end with the same opening scene, Carol and Therese sitting together in a restaurant, their glances sad, their bodies tense. They part in a final farewell, but Therese realizes she cannot let Carol go. As she hurries to seek her out in the place she knows Carol will be, it becomes clear that this isn’t just another love story between two women; it’s a declaration of freedom, a breaking of the chains. Carol is the visual testament of what unbridled and pure love looks like, a smile amid the white noise of the crowd.