I COME TO this review of Carol as someone who does not like romantic films. I find rom-coms annoying and unfunny, I find romantic tragedies overly mopey (albeit with a few exceptions) and I find straightforward love stories meaningless and uninteresting. This is the perspective I brought to this film. I am, however, happy to report that Carol is one of the rare few to penetrate my general dislike of the genre. It was moving, captivating and utterly enjoyable.
Carol is, at its core, fairly simple. It’s a love story between two women (Cate Blanchett as Carol, and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet) in 1950’s new York, a romance that transcends age, social class and marital status. Any story must have its complexities to remain interesting, and in Carol these complexities take the form of not only the nature of a same sex romance in that time and place, but also complications introduced by Carols’ husband Harge (Kyle Chandler).
But what makes Carol great is not its plot, which while interesting isn’t overly complex or tricky. What makes it special is its deep interest and compassion for its characters. Even characters who would otherwise be considered minor have very evident emotions and feelings which inform their actions and everyone, even those characters who would, in a lesser film, be treated merely as antagonistic obstacles are portrayed in a deeply compassionate light. No one is trying to be evil, even when acting from a place of hurt, and this film makes this very evident.
Not only is the writing in top form; the film is also excellently designed on a technical level. Every shot is loaded with meaning, and every technique at director Todd Haynes’ disposal to convey even subtle messages about the characters, their feelings and relationships is used to its full effect.
To be honest, and this may well be that as a woman who is attracted to women, part of the reason I’m usually not thrilled with romantic films is that they contain very little I can relate to. Carol, simply by virtue of its subject matter, overcomes that hurdle. This is unfortunately rare. As much as we hear about Hollywood being liberal and dominated by LGBT-people the sad fact is that our media often fails to represent the diversity of human experience. Now, its true that Carol certainly isn’t the first lesbian love story captured on film, but it’s also true that it is by far the least flawed example I have ever seen.
When a minority group starts to be better represented in film, many of those films are made by people not inside that group, telling our stories for us rather than allowing us to tell our own stories, which leads to deeply flawed films. For example, many previous LGBT love stories have focused overly on sexualising their lead characters, or become overly concerned with the tragic nature of living in a homophobic society, something which Carol, despite its setting, handily avoids becoming obsessed with, while certainly not ignoring it. While it is true that Carol was not directed by a bisexual/lesbian/pansexual woman, the screenplay and novel it was based on were both written by women, and it certainly feels like by far the most emotionally honest and true to reality depiction of this sort of romance I have ever seen.
The bottom line; see Carol, wherever it is still available. It’s one of the few examples of its genre which I genuinely enjoyed, by far one of the best depictions of a romance between women I have ever seen.