Oscar season tends to see us being served up a lot of crap. Overly emotional films stuffed with showy performances designed to catch the eye of the Academy. For every work of art, there is ten that just outright stink. However, every now and then one comes along that blows everything else out the water. A film that nails real emotion on the big screen. Carol is one of those rare breeds.
Based around a blossoming relationship between Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara). Carol watches them fall in love, at a time where two women doing so was considered morally reprehensible. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, it is a film centered around two extraordinary lead performances.
Of course, that is what we have to come to expect from Blanchett. So often the star of whatever she is in, Carol almost appears to come to her easily. Blessed with the self-assurance of her class, she is an elegant figure but one that constantly seems to verge on the edge of a breakdown. We watch her struggle as she battles the consequences of this newfound relationship and her sexuality at a time when such things were considered to be the very epitome of wrong. Blanchett plays it to perfection and we would expect nothing else.
The real revelation is Rooney Mara, as she goes blow for blow with her more experienced counterpart. Therese is everything Carol is not. Shy and fragile, she shrinks under the gaze of others and yet Mara allows her to grow as the film goes on. Her confidence drawn out of her by this incredible older woman, to whom she has become completely devoted.
The final piece in this film, and maybe the most important, is director Todd Haynes. Shot on Super 16 mm the film has a warmth to it that compliments this burgeoning romance. Yet he, along with the script by Phyllis Nagy which is surprisingly uncluttered, come to the fore in the treatment of the central relationship. This is a film centered around a gay couple and yet they never fall into the temptation to sensationalise it. It may be about two gay people, but it is not a gay film. It is a film about two people falling in love, no matter what gender they may be.
Carol is a beautiful film and one that very much gets it right. As we come to award season and get bombarded by brilliant actors putting everything onto the screen, there is a chance that much like Brooklyn, its subtletlies will be overshadowed. However, it will take something special for any of them to grasp the emotional depth that this film brings to the table.