While Haynes has stressed his intention for Carol to be purely a love story rather than an ‘issues-based’ film, all the obstacles to Therese and Carol’s love are external ones springing from attitudes at a time when male homosexuality was criminalised and lesbians were considered mentally ill. Carol becomes hostage to her resentful soon-to-be ex-husband who threatens to withhold access to her daughter should she continue her involvements with women.
The relationship between Carol and Therese itself is not internally conflicted, however. It is one of unadulterated passion, a little stiffly negotiated initially given the formality of the period, but always moving towards a destination of high romance. Carol and Therese are unequivocally in love, so why does their relationship feel so null? It’s not for lack of commitment on the actors’ part.
Blanchett’s every gesture (the raising of the hand to the hair, the arch sideways glance), her every low-cadenced utterance is weighed and considered in a mannered performance that recalls her role in Blue Jasmine (2013), as another woman attempting to shrug off her past, with that film’s theatrical echoes of A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a style of acting that draws attention away from the couple’s interactions and towards its own evocation of 50s femininity.
Mara’s Therèse is terse, curious and wide-eyed, not yet quite at ease with herself, in contrast to the experienced Carol. The uneven dynamic between the two at times causes Blanchett’s character to seem faintly predatory; something I assume was unintentional. But beyond these performative quirks, a more fundamental issue arises, something that’s crucial to films depicting love—how do filmmakers and actors go about conveying chemistry between characters?
|Blue is the Warmest Colour|
Carol is in almost every respect polished, considered cinema, its re-creation of the human dramas playing out in a stultifying era eloquent—but where is its beating heart?
Carol, director Todd Haynes, writer Phyllis Nagy from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, cinematography Edward Lachman, score Carter Burwell, 2015
RealTime issue #131 Feb-March 2016 pg. web
© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org