Love from across the department store floor, Carol showcases a relationship that simply cannot be. Todd Haynes’ direction lingers on that simple fact, cemented sufficiently enough at the opening, and carried through with the sombre, inevitable realisation that it will blow up and fade away. But Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) don’t care to think like that. They live in the moment, for doing anything beyond that would be fatal to the sudden relationship they strike in the bustling streets of 1950s New York. Crisp and articulate the streets of the Big Apple may look, love is often at the heart of its big-screen appearances. Carol sets itself apart, though, and it is not just because of the dynamic relationship between its two leading ladies.
Love in isolation shapes many of the supporting characters. Belivet is fawned after by a man she has no interest in. To keep up appearances, she plays along, accepts his hand and moves forward, having an affair with the older Aird. Guilt plays on the mind of the former, but it should not. It is only through the expectations of her role in society that this comes through, and Carol presents that with great effect. It is not often we meet someone we are to be matched with forever, and when we do, it is all the more painful to see that there are restrictions between them, whether they be class, or in the case of Carol, sexuality.
But even when Aird and Belivet are apart, and they are often, the supporting roles that make up their lives are nice examples of Americanized iconography and the 1950s lifestyle. Writers wishing to be winners, drunken, stumbling fools that are treated with friendly chagrin, rather than avoidance and concern. Polite actions can mean more when read into, and that is the start of a kindling romance between Aird and Belivet. It is not just lusting that they channel, but an escape from their personas as well-to-do women with family in their heart and servitude to their husbands on their minds. Who can blame them for the freewheeling escapism they seek? A meal here, a moment there, Blanchett and Mara have chemistry and passion for this story that audiences can trust.
Its rejection of societal norms is stunning and adapted tremendously to the setting. Blanchett and Mara are on top form throughout, displaying the contrived emotions of two lovers who simply would not survive the times they find themselves in. That is the sad reality of their situation, and they understand that fleeting horror with pained emotions. Glances are shot at each other from across the store, their luncheons and days together spent whittling the time away are their happiest moments, but also the moments that they find themselves in danger of. Striking accusations and surprise anger from Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) make for some of the riskier, tenser moments, but Carol handles it all with a stylish flourish and touching care for its leading pair.