After eight years of absence following the distinctive Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There., Todd Haynes returns to the screen adapting the work of my favourite author with Carol. At first I was thinking to myself about a match made in heaven, given Haynes’s distinctive visions present for Julianne Moore-led dramas Safe and Far from Heaven, together with a love story by my favourite novelist – and the final result indeed was every bit as pleasing as I would have wanted, and perhaps even more than such at that. Admittedly, The Price of Salt was not one of my favourite Highsmith novels but some sort of aura hit me the moment I saw how Haynes adapted it to the screen, and in no time – that feeling of blissfulness only came clearer to me. One which only the best films I’ve seen this decade have hit me with, for that is certainly what Carol is.
Highsmith’s original novel, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, was a semi-autobiographical tale that, for once, explicitly had detailed a lesbian relationship from her own experiences from the many romances she has had with other women. From the character of Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, embodies Highsmith through thought, and after she gets into her relationship together with Carol Aird, a sense of identity comes about, a new freedom found. Highsmith intended for a very personal tale to come to life in her original text, and to see what it was that Todd Haynes has created with his film adaptation of the story, it is the best amongst the best treatments that her legacy has been given in cinematic form.
From the very first frame of Carol, Haynes draws back to the Douglas Sirk influences which he had been working on in Far from Heaven and it creates a distinctive delicacy for the screen that only Haynes could have brought to life. The imagery he brings to the screen in Carol, evokes an arresting aura, one that pulls a viewer towards the time period in which the film is set and brings one to recognize a feeling of entrapment within the thoughts of his two leads. Haynes’s shot composition together with his usage of set pieces forms a unique connection between his two leads can be felt with how their entrapment is captured on the screen, heightening the desired impact to which it carries. To see a film that understands everything that Patricia Highsmith would ever have wanted on the spot, from the emotions of her characters to the detailing of the time period, all of it feels so perfectly put together in Carol.
While I was watching Carol for a second time, I soon realized something more about Highsmith in herself that Haynes had let his film enrich itself within. I knew already from what he had managed to acquire out of Julianne Moore in his early works that he could direct women on the screen so beautifully (especially with Safe being my favourite performance of Moore’s thus far), but it was the freedom to which I found inside of their characters that ultimately made Carol all the more rewarding of an experience. Haynes’s direction of women is so empathetic towards their roles within the society that had surrounded them at the time, and it is all most evident when one looks at how he directs Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in their roles together, two of the best actresses working today both offering two of the best female lead performances that this decade has, and most likely ever will be seeing. From the way they are written to how Haynes associates with their emotions and the repression they encounter, something all the more extraordinary arises then on.
Yet maybe there’s another sense of freedom that arises inside of Carol that only left me some deep food for thought. For when I watched Carol once again and looked upon how Haynes had created such a brilliant understanding of the concept of finding one’s own identity, I was left to think to myself for a short period of time. Just caught within a feeling of being unsure where I am in my state of life, and perhaps it could be too early for me because I’m still very young. Carol, in its exploration of finding a place where oneself can experience their freedom, left me wondering what more I can do out of where I stand on the spot, just in the lack of certainty for everything set to come for me. Maybe I’m just not ready at this moment. I’ve remembered this feeling upon my subsequent revisits of The Graduate, and with Carol I was thinking to myself about where I wish to lead my life when that moment comes. Maybe I could find a sense of sureness, or maybe not.
My first viewing of Carol proved itself far too overwhelming to pinpoint on the spot, but a subsequent revisit allowed me to think back about its impact and why such a feeling had been left to sink inside of my head. It was everything that I would have ever wanted out of a film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s revolutionary novel, and maybe even more at that. Carol provided a quest that maybe at one point, could bring me somewhere I can feel a sense of freedom towards where I choose to lead myself. It was an experience which I had felt myself trapped within, not only within the emotions which Haynes has brought out of his leading roles, but like I was amidst the period of time in which it was set. Nothing about it regarded any form of normalization, because already, that feeling was normal enough. And perhaps it was the best sort of normal at that. One of the decade’s most important cinematic works, something never to be forgotten in time.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via The Weinstein Company.
Directed by Todd Haynes
Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, from the novel by Patricia Highsmith
Produced by Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, Christine Vachon
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
Release Year: 2015
Running Time: 118 minutes