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Film Review: Carol, so much more than a love story

Carol is a beautiful film that has had too much emphasis placed on its lesbian element. This is a love story for people who don’t like love stories. The style of the film, around the 50s, about the same time as the hit TV series Mad Men is instantly appealing but the acting and the story are so much better than a mere nostalgia-based trip to ‘when times were better’. Even the film company’s trailer states; ‘a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.’ thereby turning the film into some bit of light titillation. True, this is the main tenet of the film but it is so much more. It is also part road movie, the road used, as so often, as a metaphor for the two women’s journey of mutual discovery.

The costumes and the atmosphere of the times; the cars, the toyshop where we first see the two women, will bring back memories for older viewers and be of interest for those involved in the burgeoning craze for ‘vintage’ ephemera. Most of all though the time is crucial for the attitudes.

The direction by Todd Haynes and the superbly restrained acting from both Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therèse) in particular, turn this into a deeper, more heart-felt examination of what it meant in past decades to fall in love with the ‘wrong’ person.

The male characters in the film; vindictive, one-dimensional and mean-spirited, are products of their time, treating the women as chattels to be used as necessary and discarded in the most damaging way, irrespective of the consequences. The one, tiny glimmer of hope comes from a photographer Therèse meets at a party who seems to genuinely admire her photography and be slightly more advanced than most of the emotionally stunted idiots she has to deal with, but even he fails at the first opportunity.

This male-dominated society, and the treatment of two women falling in love as a mental aberration, best treated with psychotherapy, creates some of the most heart-breaking scenes of the film. When Carol’s love of Therèse is revealed to her husband (played by Kyle Chandler), who has known of her leanings since before the beginning of the film, he acts with utter spitefulness and uses their children as bargaining chips, rather than face his own shortcomings and the impossibility of their position. Carol, faced with emotional ruination, rises above the devastation she feels and acts with so much more dignity than the men, especially her husband, that we do indeed feel she is perhaps of a different, and superior, species.

The gradual shift of power and emotional commitment between Carol and Therèse is fascinating and bewitching to watch, from the moment of their first encounter, with Carol smouldering over Therese as apparent ingénue. The ending is, perhaps unexpected and, without revealing anything, beautifully made. What is the hope for two women in that position in the 1950s? Can they face their own nature? Go see the film and find out.

written by  Paul  Dance

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