I saw Todd Haynes’ Carol this afternoon, a bitterly cold day, snow falling softly as I left the theater, apropos for a film set in the winter of 1952-53, featuring one of the most beautiful snow scenes I’ve ever seen, Rooney Mara’s Therese taking photographs of Cate Blanchett’s Carol in the midst of falling snow. Whatever else may be said about the film, such that it is a statement regarding the taboo of lesbian relationships in the early fifties, it is essentially a love story told tenderly and patiently, advancing the notion of the implacability of deeply-felt attraction enduring and overcoming all obstructions of trepidation and deterrents of risk aversion and guilt.
Through much of the film, Therese’s and Carol’s feelings for one another are sublimated in the forms of kind gestures – a returned pair of gloves, Christmas gifts, a hand on the shoulder – that stoke the building affection and passion between them. When they finally give in to the visceral magnetism, their love is thwarted by the surveillance of a private investigator Carol’s estranged husband has hired to build a case of moral turpitude against her for use in the custody battle for their young daughter. Fearing her relationship with Therese will result in her never seeing her daughter, and seeing the guilt her situation has caused Therese, Carol withdraws from the relationship as soon as it’s been consummated, leaving both Therese and Carol in emotional isolation and ruin.
A beautifully filmed movie with an emotionally affecting musical score, it is the evocative performances of Blanchett as the elegant and experienced Carol and Mara as the young, diffident and yearning Therese that give the film the rich pathos unique to the suffering of unfulfilled longing. There are many shots with the characters observing one another, and the audience observing the characters, through glass, sometimes opaque. Possibly Haynes’ intent is to suggest that no matter the power of the connection we feel to another human being, in the end we can never fully perfect the union, always separated by our individual consciousness; by the world.