In Carol, rich socialite, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), develops an attraction for young shopworker, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The ensuing love affair threatens Carol’s already troubled marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) and the public shame of lesbianism results in Harge successfully suing for sole custody of their young daughter, Rindy (Kk and Sadie Heim). The story takes place in 1950s New York, a time in which homosexuality received even more censure than it does today.
From the earliest scenes in the film modern viewers are groomed to recognise the gender shaping to which men and women are subject. For example, Therese works at the girls’ doll counter of a department store’s toy section. When Carol visits the store looking for a doll for her daughter, Therese admits she has never really liked dolls but is, instead, happy to recommend a train set – a typical boy’s toy. Carol buys the train set. The scene further serves as a picture for Carol and Therese’s eventual rebellion against societal norms, and for Therese’s growth as an individual.
Being a period drama makes Carol an attractive film, and the costumes, cars and lifestyle reminded me somewhat of Blue Jasmine, a 2013 film for which Cate Blanchett won an Oscar. The pace is gentle and much of the filming features windows and reflections, giving the viewer pause to reflect on meaningful dialogue. A dialogue example is when Therese lambastes herself for “always saying ‘yes’ to everything,” a failing she eventually overcomes in her journey of self-discovery.
But these are the good parts of the film. And they are very few and far between. The “reflective pace” is far too slow and nothing much happens, particularly during Carol and Therese’s road trip. I found myself checking my watch, trying to hurry up this almost-two-hour film. I also wondered if Cate Blanchett’s role as executive director was an attempt by Blanchett to recreate the Blue Jasmine feel. It didn’t succeed. So much more could have been done with this art movie; so much more could have been made of the very topical, difficult subject of lesbianism.
Carol opens at cinemas in South Africa on 18 December.