New film explores a lesbian love affair in the 1950s.
By B. Root
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s seminal novel The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes’ new film Carol follows two women from differing backgrounds as they fall into an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is a young, aspiring photographer who spends her days working as a clerk at Frankenberg’s department store. Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is an older, alluring woman who is trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage.
The film opens following a man as he walks through a hotel lobby and bar. He orders a drink and starts for the phone booth to make a call when he notices Therese—an acquaintance of his—visiting with Carol at a table in the lobby. The man calls out to Therese, interrupting the women’s conversation, and asks if Therese will be attending a party at the home of a mutual friend that evening. Therese says she plans to be a little late to the party, but Carol insists that they go ahead, quickly getting up from the table and leaving.
The story actually begins a few months prior to that scene, as Carol drives into the city from her suburban home to find a Christmas gift for her daughter. As Carol is walking around the Frankenberg’s sales floor, Therese lays eyes on her and is immediately captivated. Carol approaches Therese’s counter and explains that she is looking for a particular doll for her daughter, Rindy. When Therese informs Carol that they are out of stock, Carol shows her a picture of Rindy and asks what she wanted when she was that age. Therese says she had wanted a train set, and after describing her favorite set that they carry in the store, sells one to her. Carol fills out the payment and shipping information to have it sent to her house. She wishes Therese a merry Christmas and begins to leave, but turns around to compliment her on the Santa hat that her boss she has required her to wear. There is an instant connection between the two women, and they become so mesmerized with each other that Carol forgetfully leaves her gloves behind on the counter, and Therese does not realize this until Carol has already left.
Taking her address from the shipping information she filled out, Therese mails the gloves back to Carol, who then calls Therese at work to thank her and ask her out to lunch, saying it’s the least she can do. Therese hastily accepts the invitation, thrilled to have another opportunity to see Carol. At lunch, Carol reveals that she is married to Rindy’s father, Harge (Kyle Chandler), but expresses her intent to divorce, as she is not happy with him. Therese tells Carol how she is somewhat dating this man named Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants to marry her and take her on a trip to Europe, but Therese is also not satisfied with this relationship. The two women are clearly intrigued by each other. Carol calls Therese “a strange girl . . . flung from out of space.” But her strangeness and delicacy seems to be what attracts Carol to her, and Carol’s charm and grace draws Therese in.
From here, their connection deepens as they begin seeing each other regularly, and their passion for each other inevitably grows. With both women craving more from their lives, their need for each other becomes obvious. Given the circumstances and time period, however, they soon encounter unexpected tribulations that could lead to the demise of their budding romance. As the opening scene is revisited toward the end of the film, the audience is fully aware of the relationship between Therese and Carol, and the scene takes on a deeper meaning than it appeared to have at first glance.
Nominated for six Academy Awards and featuring appearances by Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) and Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia), Carol is a beautiful testament to the extremes that the heart can endure for love.
Carol will be available on DVD and Blu-ray March 15.
B. Root is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.