Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give magnificent performances in director Todd Haynes’s superb, sensitive adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel about lesbian love set in the early 1950s. They make one feel deeply in hope that the love of the characters they play will survive the obstacles they face. Phyllis Nagy has written a mature, always involving screenplay based on the Highsmith book,” The Price of Salt,” called “Carol” in this film version, which was showcased in Cannes and subsequently in the 2015 New York Film Festival.
The lovers come from opposite walks of life. Blanchett as Carol Aird is an upscale wife and mother who dresses elegantly and lives in a luxurious New Jersey home. Mara as Therese Belivet is a saleswoman in a New York department store. She is immediately fascinated with Carol, who arrives at her counter to shop for a Christmas gift, and the heat begins after Carol leaves her gloves, and Therese then contacts her in order to to return them. A lunch together follows.
The situation is perilous for Carol. Her husband, played by Kyle Chandler, is already furious at Carol’s previous lesbian relationship, but wants to keep their marriage intact. If she defies him, she risks losing custody of their young daughter. Indeed, one of the film’s potent scenes involves their eventual legal bout.
The affair takes shape when Carol and Therese go off on a motor trip together. I think it takes too many motel stops before they finally make love, but that’s a quibble. The relationship grows so beautifully and realistically that one is easily transfixed by it. Mara, in sharp contrast to her totally different past performance in “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo,” demonstrates what a terrific actress she is. Blanchett’s ability has long been widely recognized.
Their performances here are so effective and complex that one roots for them to prevail, given the difficulties they face personally as well as in the context of that period. Without going further into what happens, suffice it to say that the eventually look on Blanchett’s face at the film’s ultimate moment is one you may long remember. She can say so much just with her eyes.
Director Haynes works with cinematographer Ed Lachman in the use of Super 16 to achieve amazing visuals. The film is gorgeous to watch, whether inside or outdoors, and has a rapturous effect. It also assumes importance as a touchstone in depicting the road to change as to how lesbian rights have been regarded. Today, Carol and Therese might celebrate their love with marriage. A Weinstein Company release. Posted November 1, 2015.