Patricia Highsmith has always written credible men. Her themes of masculinity, love and murder have thrilled audiences for decades both in the literary and filmic world. Carol, (originally published as The Price of Salt under a pseudonym) could not be further from the likes of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Two Faces of January. Here, protagonists are female and the thrilling cat-and-mouse chase becomes a different kind of pursuit in this superbly told love story.
New York set during the fifties, Carol tells the story of Therese Belivet (Mara); a young woman with a passion for photography but who works in the doll section of a department store. Mrs. Carol Aird (Blanchett) visits the store looking for a Christmas gift for her daughter Rindy (KK Heim) and on Therese’s recommendation purchases a train set. Upon leaving, Carol leaves her gloves behind and Therese returns them in the post. This small act of kindness changes both their lives.
Not only a love story between two women but Carol looks at the heartbreak of a mother separated from her child amid an acrimonious divorce and the sexual politics of the fifties sheds light on the limitations of women and their role in both the home and society. Haynes is a master of the period and shoots women beautifully. He appears to understand them, intuit their strengths, weaknesses, whims and nuances. He is also notorious for getting the finest performances out of his leading ladies – Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven), Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce) and now Rooney Mara. Make no mistake that while she may play the titular character and gives a stunning performance, Cate Blanchett is out-classed at every turn by Mara.
Much like Haynes’ previous work, there is a reverential Sirkian quality to this drama. The highly stylised mise-en-scène appears as if belonging to a live-action Norman Rockwell painting . The attention to detail makes for hazy viewing; the colours are rich, the costumes are resplendent and Carter Burwell’s gorgeous score sets the melancholic yet triumphant tone. Carol is an intricate, heart-swelling amour fou which depicts the mesmeric, insanity and beauty of love.