Carol (2015) Movie Review
Starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara
Directed by Todd Haynes
The 1950s saw a boom in the genre of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, affordable and often lurid novels penned by men, and certainly not intended for female readership. These short novels presented lesbianism as a certain tragedy and often ended with their protagonist's demise or salvation through ‘the love of a good man’. When Patricia Highsmith published The Price of Salt in 1952, lesbian fiction was revolutionised. The queer author told a self-inspired tale that did not result in a nervous breakdown, suicide, or heterosexual marriage.
The novel was adapted into the movie Carol in 2015. The large gap in time between publication and premiere shows the prevailing reluctancy to present queer love that is not ill fated (google the ‘bury your gays’ TV trope for more). But make no mistake, Carol’s central romance is not without its trials and tribulations. Some may take issue with the couple’s age gap or the inclusion of past infidelity, preferring to see LGBT representation that is unproblematic and embraceable. However, the 1950s setting means that an ‘easy’ lesbian love story would simply be innacurrate owing to the illegality and subsequent danger of same sex relationships in this era.
Carol’s tumultuous love story carries all the tension of a thriller balanced with the emotional intensity of a romance. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara perfectly show their characters’ connection through subtle gazes that befit the difficult environment they have found love in. Though queer actors for queer parts is an essential component in diversifying the movie industry, Blanchett holds gay icon status and is the embodiment of Carol Aird. Sandy Powell’s historically accurate and nuanced costuming convincingly moulds her into the repressed mother and black sheep of her elite social circle.
Visually, Carol is faultless, its players are dolls posed gracefully amongst set pieces that transport viewers to 1950s New York. Its sophisticatedly muted colour palette and delicate script, penned by queer writer Phyllis Nagy, create a quietly powerful movie. This subtlety may lead viewers to find Carol slow going; the story relies heavily on what is left unsaid and is certainly not action packed. Worth the watch though for the simple pleasure of seeing lesbian royalty Sarah Paulson in the role of Carol’s best friend and former lover.
Carol makes regular appearances in LGBT movie charts alongside favourites like Moonlight. Unlike its rival, however, Carol lacks somewhat in diversity of casting. However, by starring an established actor like Cate Blanchett, the movie undeniably gained traction outside of the queer community, helping to normalise queer love stories. It is clear that Carol has been handled with care by the members and allies of the LGBT community involved in the movie’s production. This intimate retelling of a game changing piece of queer fiction is a must see.