Charlie Chaplin once said, “Simplicity is a difficult thing to achieve.”
In a time where everything—even the most subtle emotions—need to be blatantly stated to be understood, Todd Haynes in his new film, Carol, goes against the grain. In what could very well be his masterpiece, Haynes chooses simplicity over fiery passion in order to tell the story of a doomed love-affair involving two women in a time where the sort of love in question was borderline criminal.
In many ways Carol is the antithesis to Brokeback Mountain. While the two movies have nothing to do with each other–except both featuring a romance between two people of the same sex–it is important to compare the two in order to highlight the simplicity of Carol. Where Brokeback Mountain features raw, visceral emotions, Carol relies on nuance and sustained shots that linger for moments on a face, an expression.
The only issue that I had is that Carol does not do that good of a job conveying how intense society felt about homosexuality at the time, something that Brokeback so heartbreakingly portrayed, because it really is a forbidden romance, just in a different part of the country even earlier in history.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara feed off of each other with extraordinary chemistry and passion. Carol (Blanchett) is married, though she is struggling through a divorce with her husband (a superb Kyle Chandler), and a chance encounter with Therese (Mara) sparks an immediate romance between the two. Yet, in the 1950s, any sort of homosexuality was to be frowned upon, hated even. Their love affair is fervent, but it is told through simple, understated scenes.
What could easily be melodramatic is handled with love and restraint; they are just two people who desperately want to be together when society says they can’t. Blanchett and Mara outdo themselves, offering up some of their finest performances to date. They are very different people; Carol comes from wealth, high-society, and even has a kid, while Therese works a retail job and aspires for a photographers job. So much goes unsaid between them that you wonder if they’re actually connecting, but they are, and it’s all done through the subtlety of facial expressions and what isn’t being said.
Enriching the film is a brilliant score from Carter Burwell, as it sometimes overpowers the dialogue, allowing the visuals tell the story. The intimate moments are some of the most gorgeous, breathtaking moments in the film as the score crescendos and the delicate cinematography from Edward Lachman captures two people who are desperately in love, committing a sultry deed for the time, but it is portrayed with discretion, showing us that it shouldn’t have even been frowned on at all.
Through simplicity, Todd Haynes has captured two kindred spirits on screen, fighting for a love that would never be accepted. While it doesn’t always show the extent as to how bad it would be if they were found out, we can’t help but feel the danger in the quiet, powerful love.