It is easy to define the act of falling in love into the grand moments that make up the story of the romance — just look at the romantic dinner in front of them or the lavish wedding ceremony or the kind words said while holding hands and looking into each others eyes. Those moments help to bookend sections of a good love story, but they are not what truly encapsulates the feeling of eternal affection that small moments can spawn.
With a focus on these minor moments, Carol is a glimmering fixture of a true romance and a masterpiece by director Todd Haynes in the act of capturing two people falling in love with each other.
The film follows Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a department store clerk who comes in contact with Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), becoming transfixed by her. The two spark a friendship, which turns into a quiet romance in 1950s New York City. Therese is looking for more out of life rather than making a living and she is dissatisfied with the desire of her boyfriend, Richard Semco (Jake Lacy), to achieve this as soon as possible.
To get away from this, she commits to interacting with Carol and becoming a part of her seemingly interesting and important life. This isn’t the case though. Carol is on the fringes of divorce from her husband, Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler), with the threat of losing custody of her daughter looming over her due to past romances with her friend, Abby Gerhard (Sarah Paulson), and now Therese. Harge desires a symbiotic relationship, reminding us of the climate of the 1950s and where being in a homosexual relationship places you.
But, Carol isn’t a political movie. It is a movie about two people falling in love with one another. The first time Therese and Carol meet is at the department store. Therese stands behind the counter, scanning through the crowd of people and sighing at where she is at this very moment, only to make quick eye contact with Carol, who is at the far end of the room. People move between the both of them, but Therese is clearly keen on keeping contact with Carol. There is something that is drawing her closer and she is not sure she understands what this feeling is quite yet.
Later on, the two convene at Carol’s home. Harge comes home, distraught at the thought that another woman is here and spending time with his wife. He knows the consequences of interactions like this and he lashes out at Carol due to the implications. This creates frustration for Carol and she takes Therese to the train station to go home because of it. On the train, Therese looks at the other people interacting with each other — searching for that one quiet moment and chance to break down and begin to cry at the idea that she has messed up this genuine and fulfilling affiliation she thought she had with Carol.
In a distraught state much like Therese, Carol phones her as she walks in the door. The sequence illustrates the power of Haynes’ ability to capture the moments in between — the doubt, the anticipation, the fear of opening up to this other person and despair that it could all come crashing to a halt at a moment’s notice.
Carter Burwell’s score swells and swoons with their fleeting moments together and it only heightens what is happening between two people from seemingly different worlds. Blanchett plays Carol with such a degenerating prestige that you can’t help but be drawn to her much like Therese is. She carries herself with such a bravado that you wouldn’t think simple things could bring her to the ground, but the hidden burdens of life take their toll on her and show that even the strongest exteriors can have decaying factors inside.
But, the star shines brightest for Mara as Therese, who plays her with both a hopeless optimism for grander things in life, but also with a sense of realities and the ramifications of her actions on the lives around her. She knows that what she is doing may cause discourse in her life, but it is what drives her and what inspires her, and she knows that chasing passion rather than security is what makes life worth living.
Carol is a story about people in love and the intimacy between the two characters is so amorous and heart-aching that it is difficult to feel for the clear danger of pushing forward with the relationship. At the same time, it is so impassioned that it seems like a crime to even ignore the clear connection that these two people have.
It is sometimes hard to depict romance in art in its most intimate states, instead filling this space with more fantasy rather than anything drenched in fact, but Carol understands the nuances of love and the tragedy and exhilaration that comes with it, and that is as inspiring as anything a fantasy romance can do for you.