Forbidden relationship in 1951

Sure to be nominated for numerous Academy Awards, Carol is an engaging and evocative period drama about two women who fall in love with each other in 1951, a time when such a relationship was not only scandalous but a sign of serious psychological dysfunction.

Carol is a quiet, understated film featuring terrific performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as well as gorgeous cinematography, a great score, and tight, flawless direction.

Carol (played by Cate Blanchett) is a wealthy woman who has recently initiated divorce proceedings with her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). She has a close friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), who was a former lover, and she has a young daughter, Rindy, whom she adores, but Carol needs more in her life. Specifically, she is seeking a romantic encounter and possibly a long-term relationship. Carol has spent most of her life hiding her true sexual orientation and so, despite her intelligence and other obvious strengths, she has felt insecure and vulnerable.

Therese (Rooney Mara) is much younger than Carol, but has also spent her life hiding her true sexual orientation and experiencing insecurity and loneliness, despite the attention of Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants her to marry him. How, in 1951, can Therese tell Richard that she’s not really attracted to men in that way?

Therese works as a cashier in a New York City department store. One day, Carol walks into the store to do some Christmas shopping and spots Therese across the room. There is an immediate, mutual attraction. When Carol accidentally leaves a glove behind, it provides the perfect excuse for Therese to pursue a friendship with Carol.

As Carol and Therese fall in love, Harge decides to use a custody battle over Rindy as a way to force Carol to come back to him. He knows that Carol is attracted to women but sees it as a psychological problem that can be cured by a therapist (whom he gladly provides). Things heat up over the Christmas holidays when Harge discovers that Carol has gone on a trip with Therese (Harge had told Carol that he was spending that time alone with Rindy).

Carol is a quiet, understated film featuring terrific performances by Blanchett and Mara as well as gorgeous cinematography; a great score; tight, flawless direction by Todd Haynes; and a beautiful, intelligent screenplay by Phyllis Nagy (based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith). The period detail and atmosphere are perfect.

What makes Carol special, however, are the strong, fully developed characters of Carol and Therese, who are forced to struggle so hard to be true to themselves. As their relationship develops, both women grow in profound ways that will change their lives forever.

Carol feels like a classic epic. That such vital stories can now be told openly and shown in the local Cineplex is a triumph, especially when the film is a work of art. Unfortunately, the film’s understated, classic feel is not something today’s audiences are accustomed to, so people’s appreciation of this work of art may not equal what its quality deserves.

While films about same-sex relationships are becoming more common (such as last year’s Pride and Love Is Strange), it still remains a taboo subject in many societies and churches. Films like these can help open up discussion, and hopefully understanding.

Carol is rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.