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Far From Another Heaven: Carol

Updated on January 23, 2016

In the movie Carol, two women seek to develop a relationship that meets with strong disapproval from many they know. Cate Blanchett stars as Carol Aird, a well-to-do woman in early 1950s New York in the process of divorcing her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). While shopping for Christmas presents, she meets Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a sales associate with an interest in photography, and young men interested in her. She's particlarly friendly with Richard Semko (Jake Lacy), who has considered marrying Therese. The ladies, however, reconnect a short time later, when Carol returns to the store to thank Therese for returning the gloves she'd left at Therese's counter. Therese also gets attention from Dannie McElroy (John Magaro), a newspaper photographer who sees that she and Richard aren't as close as Richard believes. After rejecting Dannie's advances, Therese accepts an invite to a quiet Christmas Eve at Carol's house. Although Carol's daughter is supposed to be in Florida with Harge, he has actually come to the home unannounced, finding the ladies together. An argument ensues, and Therese asks to go home.

The next day, an apologetic Carol comes to Therese's apartment with a new camera and a road trip proposal for her young friend. Therese accepts, which leaves Richard angry and frustrated. They make their way west, where Carol would like to permanently relocate. In Ohio, though, they meet the friendly Tommy Tucker (Cory Michael Smith), a traveling seller with some travel advice for Carol and Therese. When they reach Iowa, though, they meet Tommy again, and find out he's working for Harge, who has added a morals complaint to his divorce proceedings. Carol rushes back to New York, but has sent her good friend Abby Gerhard (Sarah Paulson) to bring Therese home. Carol insists on remaining separated from Therese, while the photos she has taken get the attention of Dannie, who helps Therese get a newspaper job based on his impressions of the photos.

Carol, based on Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price Of Salt (aka Carol), returns director Todd Haynes to familiar territory in terms of subject matter. In the 2002 movie Far From Heaven, Dennis Quaid played married father Frank Whitaker, married to Julianne Moore's character Cathy, who learns following Frank's arrest his interest in men. She then takes an interest in divorced African-American man played by Dennis Haysbert, which creates even more trouble for her. Both films speak to relationships that caused the characters trouble in that day and age, especially when revealed. While I have an admiration for Carol in terms of presentation and detail, I also found the movie to be a bit cliche. So much of the relationship between Carol and Therese is routine, from the attraction at first glance to the angry reactions of their men to the inevitable revelation. I also prefer the wider scope that Haynes offered in Far From Heaven, as well as that film's better pacing. Carol is not a bad picture, but it's a slow go in predictable cinematic waters.

Blanchett and Mara, though, keep Carol from being a losing effort. Blanchett, as Carol, knows she has a complicated life, partially because of the choices she's made, and partially because of the truth she has desperately tried to hide. Harge knows Carol's desire, and knows he can use it against her. Carol, through her ordeal, knows she can't run from her situation. She can openly have a marriage, or have nobody. Nevertheless, she creates a bond with her young lover, and the moments stay with the both of them. Mara's Therese, like Carol, does not object to the company of men, and certainly enjoys being a passenger on Richard's bicycle. Unlike Carol, she does not want to commit to a life with a man she could never love as much as a woman. Therese, in some ways, could be seen as unfeminine, as she seems more fascinated by her store's train set than by dolls or other traditional girl toys. Paulson, Chandler, Lacy, Magano, and Smith contribute small but effective supporting performances. Carrie Brownstein makes a brief appearance as Genevieve Cantrell, a woman Therese meets after Carol distances herself from Therese.

Carol presents a realistic depiction of same-sex attraction in an age before many accepted the reality of homosexuality without condemnation. The movie, though, doesn't really say anything fresh or very interesting about the matter. I cared about these characters, but perhaps a 21st century perspective, where change has come and continues to come, makes these characters seem quite ordinary. It is never easy for people to go against societal views without garnering a great deal of scrutiny. Carol Aird and Therese Belevet had to live a certain way of their life in the proverbial closet. They always wait for a moment when it's okay to open the door.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Carol 2.5 stars. Two of a kind who can't say so openly.


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