Carol ***1/2

It’s a beautiful love story between two women, lovingly wrapped in warm colors and an emotional score.

Is it worth $10? Yes

The way modern pop culture remembers 1950s America – as a time of prude women, gallivanting men, and cultural norms that belied the naughtiness lying behind closed doors – it was clearly a time of intolerance and exclusion. Things had to be a certain orderly way, and if they weren’t ostracism was the consequence.

It is in this backdrop that writer/director Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”) sets “Carol,” a moving love story that’s wonderfully acted by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Blanchett plays Carol, a loving mother to Rindy (Sadie Heim) but bored housewife to Harge (Kyle Chandler), who she’s looking forward to divorcing. It’s Christmas season, so Carol ventures into New York City from her spacious New Jersey home to do some shopping. While in a department store she meets Therese (Mara), a shy, waifish clerk and aspiring photographer. Therese’s boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), wants to take her to Europe and marry her, yet she hesitates. Something is not quite right. As she spends time with Carol, she figures out why.

Haynes’ story is in no rush to get Carol and Therese physically involved, although Carol’s years-ago fling with her now best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) clearly suggests what Carol desires. Instead of rushing it, Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy have Carol and Therese spend time together. Bond. A simple caress of the shoulder here, a touch on the hand there and intimacy is established. Eye contact lasts longer than normal, glances turn to glares that would be awkward if they weren’t so…wanted. Soon a deep emotional connection is established without them so much as kissing.

The little things tell us everything. The first time we see Carol and Therese together, in the prologue before a flashback tells us how they met, there’s an abrupt ending to their meeting. But note how Carol touches Therese on the shoulder as Carol leaves, and Therese closes her eyes and seemingly melts into Carol’s soft hand. All we need to know is suggested in this otherwise passive moment, and the phenomenal performances from Mara and Blanchett allow it all to feel pure.

The emotions become more painfully prominent with Carter Burwell’s musical score, which stays with you. It’s notable for how it punctuates otherwise mundane moments to heighten emotions, simultaneously suggesting melancholy and turmoil throughout. It also makes you feel the yearning Carol and Therese have for one another, and as a result is one of the best scores of 2015.

The camera work is straightforward, but the costumes and production design are authentic, from the staid, modest attire to the street signs, cars and furniture. Take note of what the women wear: Carol is often seen in lighter colors and sports flowing blonde locks, suggesting a “look at me” extroversion and comfort in a world that doesn’t accept her for what she is and wants. In contrast, Therese wears darker, less flattering clothes, visually bleeding into the background and reflecting her reserved nature by giving the impression that she’s completely “in the dark” about who and what she is.

The film is based on the Patricia Highsmith novel “The Price of Salt,” which she wrote under a pseudonym in 1952 because of the taboo content. Through the eyes of Todd Haynes, the story transforms into a stellar motion picture that tells its tale more through actions and mannerisms than it does through dialog. “Carol” is a patient, poetic and beautiful work that’s not to be missed.

Did you know?
Highsmith renamed the story “Carol” when it was republished in 1990.

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