Oh Carol

I finally got around the seeing the film Carol last weekend. It had been on my list of films to watch and when it popped up as a 99c movie, I rented it and then waited until the 27th of the 28 days I had to watch it before pressing play.

Why did I wait so long? Probably the bloody trailer which makes it look like an extended and unhappy domestic drama. I watched the trailer and then thought, ‘maybe not today,’ about four times. By now I should know better, but apparently I don’t.

So with a heavy heart and because I thought I ought to watch it, I pressed play. It had got some great reviews and the two leads (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) are pretty much fabulous in everything they do. I have to admit, though, my heavy heart got a tiny bit heavier when I saw that the running time was going to be just two minutes shy of two hours.

How wrong could I have been about a film? For those not familiar with the premise, it is based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt (which is a great title for a novel to start with). It concerns two women from completely different backgrounds and the relationship that develops between them. Therese, a young woman is working in a shop during the Christmas season when she spots a woman who is the height of sophistication and grace shopping for a present. She later serves her and that sets in motion the story of their relationship in 1950s New York when pretty much everything about their backgrounds and the environment they live in makes it both impossible to develop and unavoidable to them both.

So yes, this is a story about a same-sex relationship but it is not a battle against the odds. It is a tiny delicate thing, like a fledging bird that has fallen from its nest which is vulnerable and needs to be protected, even in the knowledge that in the climate that it won’t survive. Even as you look at it and fail to recognise it as a bird because it has yet to grow feathers and learn to fly. Even as everyone tells you to leave it alone and let it die, because that is for the best.

Even though the story is called Carol, the film plays out in many scenes from Therese’s point of view, so that we experience Carol as she does. Anyone who had felt an overwhelming crush on someone older will be reminded of the feeling of sheer impossibility of being with them for a second. The early scene in the Department store is one that Highsmith herself had experienced – watching a woman who seemed to exude light as she shopped for some toys.

I am no a follower of fashion by any means but the point of view work by the camera which zeros in on this, meant that I spent some time just gaping at the glamour – the perfectly matched  scarf and bag and nail varnish, the fur coat, the tiny handbags – the most amazing necklines. Blanchett does not chew scenery but her stillness in this film commands a presence even as the outside world starts to press back in. Rooney spends much of the film looking for all the world like Audrey Hepburn and never quite belonging to the world where she works and lives.

Love is as fragile as an eggshell and there will always be losers in love, including in this film, but the film itself is a triumph and one I would definitely recommend.

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