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Carol - Tragic, Gorgeous, and Immersive

Updated on February 8, 2016

Despite strides made in the course of the last ten years or so, the stories of LGBT people still remain largely untold. One could still file something like Carol as a “lesbian Brokeback Mountain” for ease of dismissal, but that does this masterpiece and complete vision from director Todd Haynes an absolute disservice. Every gear behind Carol is in top shape, the film is expertly crafted, masterfully acted, and thematically resonant across the board. It is a landmark of 2015.

Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is in the middle of a divorce from her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler).When buying a Christmas present for her daughter, she meets Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and it is love at first sight (more on this in a bit). Harge eventually discovers her same-sex relationship and opts to take advantage of this to seize full custody of their child.

Carol could easily be described as “another Oscar-baity LGBT movie” or another “the 50’s weren’t so great” movie but that does a disservice to the emotional core and humanity that sits here. This is a gorgeous film, both inside and out, due in no small part to how Phyllis Nagy’s script connects to the lives of its two characters and to Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s career-best performances. There are scenes in the film that are clearly meant to be thematically resonant, and Carol is the rare arthouse film that actively engages you in that regard. You want to analyze it, you want to dissect it.

One aspect of Carol that doesn’t seem like it gets touched upon often is Kyle Chandler’s performance. His husband is fundamentally a good man, but he is a product of his time period, and sees Carol’s lack of affection for him (something neither can control) as a personal insult. He loves her, but he demonizes her, and begins to see her as an obstacle to what society tells him he needs to have. He is corrupted by things he cannot control, and this clearly troubles him.

Cate Blanchett accesses humanity and a certain emotion that I had not often seen of her. I know everybody sings the praises of Blanchett’s acting all the time, but I just rarely catch the bug. With Carol though, I get it. Her layered performance creates a gorgeous yet flawed figure that connects with the viewer with relative ease. Rooney Mara is also pitch-perfect, as a young woman who does not know what she wants until she does.

Every single shot helmed by director Todd Haynes could be hung up in a museum as a painting (which I suppose is the only similarity Carol shares with Mad Max: Fury Road). The mixture of Haynes’ stellar blocking and the gorgeous cinematography by Edward Lachman is a marvel and an achievement of filmmaking. Credit must be given to Phyllis Nagy’s script, which understands these characters at the core of their being.

Carol is a masterpiece of filmmaking and one of the best films of 2015. It is a singular vision and an emotional rollercoaster. It is a film that not only needs to be seen twice, but demands it. Not to be missed.

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