Friday, July 1, 2016

The Films of Todd Haynes: Carol (2015)

Carol (2015)
Directed by: Todd Haynes.
Written by: Phyllis Nagy based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Starring: Cate Blanchett (Carol Aird), Rooney Mara (Therese Belivet), Kyle Chandler (Harge Aird), Jake Lacy (Richard Semco), Sarah Paulson (Abby Gerhard), John Magaro (Dannie McElroy), Cory Michael Smith (Tommy Tucker), Kevin Crowley (Fred Haymes), Nik Pajic (Phil McElroy), Carrie Brownstein (Genevieve Cantrell), Trent Rowland (Jack Taft).
Watching Carol for the second time in a matter of months – shortly after having re-watched all of Todd Haynes films only increased my love of his latest film. This is the only film in his career that Haynes did not have a hand in writing, and even though it does seem like it was tailored to him, I also noticed that even more than normal, Carol is stunning visual film – a film where more is communicated through looks and gestures, subtle camera move and shots, than in anything that the characters actually do say to each other. That has always been true in one sense or another of Haynes film – but it’s heightened here. Carol would work perfectly well as a silent film – with just Carter Burwell’s wonderful score carrying it along.
Carol is one of the best modern, cinematic love stories – an erotically charged movie that is more sexual and sensual than many, far more explicit movies could possibly be. It stars Rooney Mara, in a wonderfully subtle, quiet performance as Therese – an apprising photographer in 1950s New York, with a job in a department store toy section, and a perfectly nice boyfriend (Jake Lacy – who seems to specialize in playing perfectly nice boyfriends). It’s at her job that she meets Carol (Cate Blanchatt) – a rich housewife, going through a divorce from Harge (Kyle Chandler, who may not be as perfectly nice as Jake Lacy, but is far from a villain either – he’s just a sad man who loves a woman who cannot love him back). Carol’s there to buy a doll for her daughter for Christmas – but who allows herself to be talked into a train instead by Therese. On the surface, their initial conversation is innocent enough – but there is a charge between them even then. Blanchatt does something quite daring in these early scenes, as she acts lays on everything a bit thick – almost to the point of it looking like bad acting. It’s perfect for these scenes though because, of course, it’s the character not the actress who is laying it on so thick. For her part, Mara does a wonderful job conveying the confusion and tumult that Therese is going through – she knows that their relationship isn’t quite normal, and doesn’t know quite what to do about it – just that she wants it to continue. That the two actresses share this connection – without them verbalizing it – is one of the accomplishments of the movie.
There isn’t much plot to the movie. It is about how far these two women are willing to go – how much they are willing to sacrifice to be together. The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, but it isn’t really a thriller like she is mostly known for (like Strangers on a Train of the Tom Ripley novels) – although there is a tension of a different sort here. The two women will eventually hit the road together – on a cross country road trip to nowhere in particular – as Carol tries to escape her feelings of futility as her divorce threatens to turn nasty. It’s here the women really do come together after an extended buildup – even as them doing so could destroy them.
There doesn’t need to be much plot though – the movie has more than enough just when it’s focused on the two brilliant performances at the core – and everything around them that enhances that connection. The cinematography by Ed Lachman is probably the best work he has ever done for Haynes. The colors are more muted than they were in Far From Heaven – which went full Sirk – yet still classical in nature – a little film noir, a little 1950s melodrama. Carter Burwell’s Score is some of the best he has ever done – for Haynes, or anyone else for that matter, and is the perfect mood setter for the film. The costumes, production design, etc. are, as usual for Haynes, just about perfect.
Carol is another masterpiece from Haynes – but unlike many of his films, it’s the simplicity of the film that works so well in its favor. There are not as many ideas floating around in Carol as in films like Safe, Far From Heaven or I’m Not There for example. It is a much simpler love story. Complexity though doesn’t necessarily mean greatness – and the final moments in Carol may just be the best work Haynes has ever filmed. Carol is an erotic film and a touching love story all at once. It contains moments that haunt me – and as pure cinema, it’s as brilliant as anything Haynes has ever done.

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