Here’s looking at you
CAROL, romantic drama, rated R, Violet Crown, 4 chiles
Cate Blanchett may have the most mesmerizing eyes in cinema today. She’s been lauded for her chameleon-like performances since she turned heads in Elizabeth (1998), but it’s her gaze that stays with you from role to role. Laser-like in its intensity, by turns all knowing, sly, and elusive, Blanchett’s slightest glance holds audiences in thrall to her every emotion.
She has ample opportunity to deploy this feature in Carol, director Todd Haynes’ second 1950s-era melodrama, after the Douglas Sirk-influenced
Far From Heaven, in which Julianne Moore played a suburban housewife with a closeted gay husband. This time — in a story adapted from a 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym due to its lesbian plotline — it’s glamorous New Jersey housewife Carol Aird (Blanchett) who’s gay and nudging the closet door open. She’s going through a difficult separation and divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) during the holiday season when she meets Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an ingénue working the counter at a New York City department store.
The alchemy between Therese and Carol is instant, and glorious to behold as the film centers on the remarkable performances of these two actresses. Every movement between them is measured, locked and loaded, and Mara gives Blanchett’s gaze a formidable counterpart with her own stricken, doe-like stare.
Bewitched by each other, tiptoeing around consummating their attraction, Therese and Carol embark on a Christmas-week road trip westward. They’re leaving behind Carol’s difficult child-custody battle with the intractable Harge, who doesn’t understand or accept Carol’s predilections. As they drive through the heartland, the tension (sexual and plot-driven) mounts, as Highsmith’s thriller-writer pacing yields intriguing twists.
As Carol says, “Everything comes full circle,” and Carol and Therese, as in any epic romance, get their resolution in time. Every disparate element of the film adds to its virtuosity — from Blanchett’s Hitchcockblond chic to the transportive score, from the sheltering immensity of the 1949 Packard the two share to the crewel curtains in their hotel room. But just as with Brief Encounter (1945), another cinematic valentine to chance meetings, the movie’s gravitas truly rests on that first exchanged glance — and the electric current that passes between two strangers when they glimpse each other across a crowded room.
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered: Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett