TFS the Season: Carol (2015)
We all like a little romance in the holiday season. It’s the time of year where we want to go home, cuddle up underneath a cozy blanket, drink some hot cocoa, and watch two characters fall in love, surrounded by snow and holiday lights as they dramatically kiss for the first time. And yeah, movies like that are usually some fun distractions, but maybe this season, you should forgo the Hallmark movies full of heterosexual nonsense and choose the lush, queer romance of Carol.
Todd Haynes’s masterful film is the story of Carol Aird (played with a wonderfully seductive flair by Cate Blanchett), a lesbian who’s trapped in a loveless marriage with her husband. Their relationship is a necessity deemed by the 1950’s period in which they live. However, despite this, Carol can’t help but fall for the adorable sales girl, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), who sells her a train set during her Christmas shopping. They continue to meet in the next weeks, first for a thank-you meal after Therese returns Carol’s gloves, then for Christmas tree shopping, then more and more until they slowly fall in love. As they do, they take a long road trip through the holiday season and escape from their respective lives for a chance at having one together.
But, reality has a way of ruining the best-intentioned plans, and Carol’s husband has no intention of letting her get away so easily with her wrongdoing. Carol and Therese are separated for a while thanks to his machinations. During this time, Carol tries desperately to save her crumbling marriage for the sake of her child, but she fails when she simply cannot push down the person she truly is. A divorce is finalized, guardianship is granted to her husband, and Carol must come to terms with this. Meanwhile, Therese is figuring out just what she wants to do with her career, so she assembles a professional photography portfolio, which is notably free of her best work: her breathtaking photos of Carol. She begins work at a newspaper, but there’s an emptiness in it all. Finally, the two women reconnect and must figure out what future, if any, lies within their relationship.
Granted, it’s not strictly a Christmas tale, as it stretches through the holiday season and beyond, but there’s such a wonderful seasonal feeling to it. The outdoor scenes are cool and calming as Carol and Therese shop for Christmas trees and gifts in the film’s first half and travel through gorgeously snowy towns all over the country in the second. Indoor scenes are a little more complex, though. When Carol shares a room with Therese, the feeling is as comforting and warm as that blanket you’re all wrapped up in. But when they’re separated, the inside is just as cold and unwelcoming as the public world, where their love is not allowed. Things only truly make sense and feel right when they’re together, trading those small, quick touches that carry the weight of the whole world. Through those little moments, Carol becomes an almost stiflingly romantic film that runs the gamut of what we may think of as intimacy. From the careful hands furtively resting on shoulders to the exquisitely shot sex scene that’s completely free of male gaze, Haynes makes you feel each ache of their passion in the deepest part of your heart. This real emotional punch of the film is rooted in the intensely empathetic camerawork of Ed Lachman and the stunning, heartfelt score from Carter Burwell. These images and sounds allow this lovely romance to sweep you away, just as Carol sweeps Therese off her feet.
So, this winter, when you’re in that Christmas love story mood, treat yourself to the decadence of Carol, and make your yuletide gay.