Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara bravely take on a same-sex love story in “Carol,” based on the groundbreaking 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” by Patricia Highsmith. Beautifully shot by director Todd Haynes and adapted for the screen by Phyllis Nagy, it’s a stylish and atmospheric film. More importantly, it gives us a disturbing glimpse of the confusing and difficult world of women in the 1950’s who found themselves attracted to other women.
Mara plays Therese, a shy young woman who works as a New York City department store clerk and who is engaged to a man who is crazy about her. She, on the other hand, is quite lukewarm about him and uncertain of what she wants.
One day, by chance, into her store walks an elegant woman of wealth – Carol, played by Blanchett. The attraction between them is immediate, but they don’t own up to it, of course. Carol buys a train set, Therese arranges for the delivery, and Carol walks out without her gloves. This gives Therese an excuse to get in contact with Carol.
The two women begin an unlikely friendship, and it takes a long time to get to the film’s love scene. This fact makes the story all the more believable. I was surprised by how much flesh was shown in the love scene, but I thought it was courageous of both actresses to be willing to go there. Maybe this is a sign of more inclusive filmmaking to come in the industry beyond just the indie fringes. We’ll see. It has been quite a few years since Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
As the women begin their relationship, Carol is in the process of divorcing her husband (played by Kyle Chandler), with whom she has a small daughter. When he discovers what’s happening, he threatens to sue for full custody of the child. At the time, a woman seeing another woman was enough for the court to find her unfit as a mother. (I’m sure there are places in the U.S. where such a thing would still occur.)
I’ve never seen a film like this, and I’m happy that the Highsmith novel has finally been brought to the screen. Her work is certainly cinematic.
The acting in “Carol” is excellent across the board. Much is said through the eyes, especially on Mara’s part, and I think Blanchett could earn some nominations for her performance. I recommend the film, which will open nationwide on Nov. 20, 2015.