Review: Carol (2015)
What is love? How does it start, how does it grow? At what point does it blossom from that warm butterfly'd feeling into something more substantial and exclusive? And at what point does it start to fizzle out, and why?
Carol, the new film from Todd Haynes, the maestro director of the melodramatic, asks these questions against the stifled and somewhat plastic backdrop of upper and upper-middle class late 40's America. At time when the American dream was measured not in how happy you were on the inside, or even how much stuff you had on the outside, but how you carried these things.
There has been a fascination with this juxtaposition of well to do Americans in internal agony in the 50's in the cinema forever. The best examples of this have come from Douglas Sirk, who's plastic pictures about plastic people trying to hide their discontent, and failing, have influenced film and filmmakers since their releases throughout the 50's. A more recent example of this is Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road from 2008.
But the difference between these films and Carol, is that Carol's characters have far more difficulty hiding their struggles, and, in the case of Carol herself, must decide at a point whether it is better to pretend and make things easier in one regard, or be true and make things easier in another regard.
Carol is essentially about two women. Carol, who is in a loveless marriage, which is crumbling despite her husband's best efforts to hold the relationship's tattered strings together, and Therese, who seems to be floating aimlessly through life, unsure of what she wants, but sure she wants more out of life than what she has. They meet at a department store where Therese works and sparks fly between them in a mutual attraction that, under the cover of secondary objectives, blossoms into a full fledged affair. The film takes great care in presenting the details of falling in love. When you're falling for someone, every glance, every light touch, everything you say and, more importantly, everything you don't say become novels of passion and waterfalls of emotion that are forever cascading within yourself, but remain hidden from the other person. Carol nails these minutia while adding another layer to the attraction cake it bakes: forbidden love. This is the 1940's remember and same sex love was considered not only morally wrong, but in many ways criminally wrong. At least as far as the character of Carol is concerned, who's husband is suing her for full custody of their only child on the grounds of moral indecency in essence, because he knows she's a lesbian.It would be easy to film this story in a straightforward, unassuming way, with static camera positions and proper angles. But Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman do something brilliant with the material and chooses instead to mimic 1940's photography by shooting it with 16mm film and using expressionistic angles and focal points to create not only an achingly beautiful film to look at, but a emotional visual palette to explain the wants, desires, and tribulations of the characters in lieu of expositional dialogue. This is a film where even the natural grain of the 16mm film tells you something about the story. Watching it is akin to finding a very old book in a library or bookstore that was never opened and flipping through its browned pages, revelling in the smell and the feel of a bygone era, and as such connecting to that era and the people who lived it.
2015 was filled with films with astounding cinematography and Carol is one of the best looking films of the year.
On one hand Carol seems to evoke the classic lyric from the classic Buzzcocks song, 'Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With)', on the other, it seems to champion not only same sex love, which is no different than opposite sex love (l'amour c'est l'amour, as they say), but the importance of being who you are, even if it sets you apart. It is a beautiful film beautifully done and one of the best of the year.
What is love? Go see Carol.