It’s awards season aka one of my favorite seasons of the year. I find it exciting to learn about the nominees and speculating with my friends over who’s going to win. It’s also the season where I watch a lot of movies in a very short amount of time in order to take part in the heated conversations on Oscar night. And in this movie-watching-mess it can happen that I forget about movies. (Sorry, Bridge of Spies, I totally forgot you were even nominated for an Oscar). But it’s also possible that, if the movie is really, really good, I can’t stop thinking about it for days.
This year’s Oscar nominees are exactly my taste and I’ve seen some very good movies in the last couple of weeks (I’m looking at you, Room and Brooklyn). And one movie that I actually saw just a few days ago and I’ll definitely think about for a long time is Carol. Now, I know, this one isn’t even nominated for Best Picture but that’s not really the point. Best Picture nominees tend to be the big ones, the ones that make the viewers grab their seats or hush their mother while she’s gossiping about the neighbors new mistress. Yes, those stories tend to be the winners and I don’t have anything against ‘big stories’, I love them even. But Carol isn’t simply just extraordinary or ordinary.
Carol is the story about Carol, a high-class woman in her 40s who falls for a younger department-store clerk. That’s the ordinary part. The complicated thing about the story, though, is that Carol is married and has a little girl. What’s also complicated is that the department-store clerk – Therese – is a woman and it’s the 1950s. That’s where the trouble sets in and where I almost thought this was just another ‘lesbian love story’ doomed to end disappointing. But thank goodness there’s also an extraordinary side to this story: the love between Carol and Therese.
One the one hand we have Therese, the young, shy clerk that doesn’t really know what she wants. She’s in a relationship with a guy who obviously loves her to the moon and back and even wants to marry her. But she doesn’t seem to be very happy with him and probably merely stays with him out of comfort. It’s the same thing with her job. She loves photography and with her talent she could make a living out of it. But she doesn’t. Instead, she works a boring job as a clerk because she needs the money and it’s comfortable. She just let’s life happen to her.
But all that changes the day she spots Carol in the department-store she works at. She sees her and her world suddenly spins faster. She quickly realizes that all she wants is that mysterious woman over there who captured her with her magical gaze. The woman who opens her eyes and makes her long for things she didn’t even know she wanted. Life doesn’t happen to Therese anymore. Carol happened to her and she wants to happen to her as well.
One the other hand there is Carol. It’s whole different story with her. She’s married and about to get divorced from the father of her little girl which she loves more than anything. She’s trapped in a marriage with a man that she doesn’t love anymore and uses their child to say close to his wife. It’s never really explained but I guess the turning point of their relationship was when Carol had a fling with her childhood friend who happens to be a woman and is still a very close friend of hers. Again, it’s the 1950s and something like this is outrageous. But Carol doesn’t distinguish male from female. She’s drawn to a person and not a gender. So, it’s perfectly understandable that Carol goes after Therese in such a natural manner.
While Carol is shopping a Christmas presents for her daughter she notices this graceful clerk staring at her across the room. Carol is somewhat intrigued by her and knows exactly what to do to get her attention. She starts off asking Therese what to get for her little daughter. She then subtly manages to flatter Therese in a flirty but mature and classy way. By leaving her contact info and her gloves at the store Carol makes sure that Therese will contact her. After Therese sends her the gloves Carol’s got the perfect excuse to call her and invite her to lunch. The rest of it is pretty much is history.
It was something like love at first sight for both of them and they slowly but deeply fall in love with each other. But it’s not until after more than half of the movie that they get physical with each other and start a romantic relationship. This turning point was anticipated from the moment they first set their eyes on each other. After trying not to get too close to each other for such a long time, they finally surrender and just let themselves happen to each other. But that point is also where Carol’s husband finds out about the affair and let’s her know that he will fight to get the sole custody of their daughter. Devastated about this turn of events Carol leaves Therese with a heavy heart a few days after, while Therese is still sleeping.
They don’t hear from each other many months. While Therese is finally finding her way as a photographer at The New York Times and visually matures, Carol seems to be aching. Although she gets to see her daughter regularly, there’s something big missing from her. Something – someone she let go and loves so dearly. Over the course of several months Carol tries to function without Therese but she can’t. And to my surprise she is the one to contact Therese and trying to get her back. I was actually expecting it to be the other way around since Carol was the one that opened Therese’s eyes and made her world spin. Carol was always the one who gave Therese things and led the way in their relationships. And Carol is a woman to get what she wants. Not in a demanding, spoiled way. She just gets what she is striving for. But not with Therese, at least not at first. Therese has moved on and after they see each other after such a long time she manages to fight Carol at first and leaves her defeated. But you can’t fool a loving heart for long. Therese finally realizes that she’s still so drawn to the woman that happened to her. Therese can’t deny Carol any longer. The movie ends with a beautiful scene where Therese looks for Carol in a crowded bar and Carol notices this graceful woman staring at her across the room.
What Makes It So Good
Now, I don’t want to get in too much detail about what makes this movie one of the greatest love dramas of all time. So, here are just a few quick aspects:
The Sexual Orientation Is Never An Issue
Neither Carol’s nor Therese’s sexual orientation is ever discussed in this story. The fact that two women are in a romantic relationship isn’t portrayed as something that needs to be treated or named and shamed. The deep love between these two women is being treated as any other love and played down or declared as ‘not real’. And this is really remarkable since the story isn’t only set in the 1950s but was also actually written in 1952 in the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
The Acting Performance And Chemistry
I’m really not surprised that both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are nominated for an Academy Award for their performances. Both managed to say so much with just their looks and gestures. You could really understand the feelings they have for each other. We don’t get to see how they both talked about their feelings for one another with a BFF or write a diary entry about it. The feelings aren’t spelled out for us. We see the love between the two women by the looks they exchange and by their body language. And if you can achieve that as an actor, you’ve done a pretty amazing job.
And I guess it goes without saying that the chemistry between Blanchett and Mara is miraculous. They just fit and made the love between their characters so believable.
Not Another Tragic ‘Lesbian Drama’
As I mentioned before, many love stories centered around two women aka ‘lesbian love stories’ (what a funny way to say love stories) are just doomed to fail. It often happens so that one of the women leaves the other woman for their (male) ex because it means less trouble. Or one of the women kills themselves because they can’t take the drama anymore. And last but not least – and this is my favorite – one of the women was just in a ‘phase’ and is actually totally straight. Ugh, I can’t stand those stories, there’s just too many of them. And that’s why Carol is so refreshing. Despite all apprehensions the story ends well. Thank you, Ms. Highsmith.
The Meaning and Importance of the First Scene
Now, this is a little mindblower. In the very first scene we see Carol and Therese having a drink in a restaurant but by the point of view of one of Therese’s old friends. What I first thought was that this was a scene of a point where Carol and Therese were still in a happy relationship. In this scene we get to see how Carol lies her hand on Therese’s shoulder when she’s leaving the restaurant and Therese looking at her shoulder. What you first think is that the camera wants to capture the sexual tension between those two. But we realize later that it meant something totally different. This scene is shown as one of the last scenes of the movie. This time from the perspective of Carol/Therese. And we find out that the scene was actually the one where they see each other again after being apart for such a long time. So, what we got to see in the scene wasn’t actually sexual tension. Carol’s hand on Therese’s shoulder and Therese closing her eyes and taking it in? It was actually a moment of desire for each other and a reminder for Therese of what extraordinary feelings they once shared and still do.
I could probably go on and on about how much I loved this movie. But I actually wanted this post to be a short review and it ended up being about 1900 words long (sorry for that). All in all, I can say that this may seem as a regular romantic drama at first. But if you look closely at all the details you’ll understand the greatness of the story and why it’s important for more people to see it. It shows us the meaning of true love, desire and loneliness in such a subtle and beautiful way. That’s why I give this movie a score of 9/10.