Patricia Highsmith’s literary works have been captured through the lens of cinema on no less than twenty seven occasions, be it in the form of TV series, TV movies or in full-length feature films. It is clear from the sheer number of cinematic adaptations, the critical success of each is of no consequence in this instance, that Highsmith’s work has something unique to offer the discerning filmmaker, an unquestionable cinematic allure that lends itself deftly to the big screen. The latest addition to this plethora of adaptations is Carol, director Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and it is without a doubt the most luminous of gems amongst 2015’s year of cinema thus far. It is film that explores love, its keen ecstasy and unavoidable cruxes in the purest and most emotionally vivified form.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an ambivalent young woman who dreams of a life that is so far undefined, meets and falls for Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) in the department store she works at. Carol is a woman poles apart from Terese in what should be conventionally unresolvable gaps in age, experience and social standing, and yet they fall so deeply in love in a way that is captured on screen in the most breath-taking fashion.
After the opening sequence, which firmly establishes the unashamed splendour of an evening in 1950’s New York (which is actually modern day Cincinnati), a crucial dinner scene is placed as a moment of importance. The camera following an undefined character that interrupts an intense dinner between the two women, Therese and Carol. A scene that will be picked up on later in the film, which will unravel and unfold before our very eyes in all its unsaid tensions and emotions bubbling just underneath Hayne’s attractive 16mm aesthetic.
There is absolutely no doubt that Carol has a gorgeous aesthetic and filmic style, but it is one that is just restrained and nuanced enough to sit apart from and meld with the narrative and its feeling. This is a film where gaze and perception figures a great deal in the protagonists’ experience of love and desire, whether it is through the framing of windows, Therese’s camera lens, or visually poetic point of view shots. Silence, too, is key and provides endless moments packed with indefinable and beautifully enigmatic emotional verve. An attribute that extensively demonstrates the unified relationship between Nagy’s script and Hayne’s direction. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara inhabit their characters without any cracks showing, it is sometimes difficult for me to picture Blanchett as anything but her talented self, but her turn as Carol Aird is truly one of the best performances of her career in its subtly. Mara, too, exhibits the same kind of performance in which Therese’s world is so vividly that of Carol’s. The film is experienced from the all too realistic worlds of these two fully-realised women, whose love figures everything that is and everything that is not. Carol is an intense, slow-burning romance that will linger on tip of cinema’s tongue for a long time to come.