Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...


I was 22 when it happened to me.  It was so weird to have it played back for me so clearly while watching Carol the other night.  It was like this film was taunting me because it knew.  It played it all out in the most identical of ways.  I was staring at Therese staring at Carol and I saw myself, I saw him, I saw his sleeping body and his hands and his mouth and I saw myself falling in love and it made my stomach drop because I hadn’t seen that moment in years.  I had almost forgotten that moment (forcibly, to be honest) because of all that came afterwards, but there it was, in my living room, staring me in the face.  I felt a shiver and I literally looked around to make sure that my wife was still sleeping because it felt like something I didn’t want her to see.

I wanted it to still be mine.

Sometimes life is hard.  Scratch that; all the time life is hard.  That isn’t meant to be some sort of gloomy statement, I promise, but it is a reality.  We live out our days and we try our hardest to reach some sort of happy center and yet there always seems to be something pulling us in another direction. 

Most of the time, it is ourselves.



“It’s selfish because I just take everything and I don’t know anything and I don’t know what I want and how could I when all I ever do is say yes to everything.”

Carol tells the story of a naïve and confused young shop girl named Therese who falls under the spell of an older, wealthy woman named Carol.  Carol is in the midst of a divorce and in the middle of a custody battle with her husband over their four-year-old daughter.  Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband is aware of her attraction to women and of a previous affair/relationship and is using this against her in an attempt to get sole custody of their daughter.  Despite being aware of the consequences that could come from entering a relationship with Therese, Carol is smitten and can’t help but fall deeper in love with her.  This of course leads to fateful moments that will drastically alter the direction both of their lives take.

But that’s just the beginning and end.  What Carol does best is give us that happy center.

As Carol and Therese slip away from the world in order to spend Christmas alongside each other, they develop something almost dreamlike, a state of euphoric love that binds them, synchs them to each other’s internal happiness.  They found what makes them happy.  As the world around them is judging them for who they are and what they want, they find solace in each other’s arms and it just feels right.  There is something so organically intimate about this whole story and the way it unfolds in such a natural progression.  We feel it, each moment of it, because it’s slowly unveiling itself before us.  We discover it as they are discovering it, and as their body language, chemistry and stares begin to take on more meaning, we are watching these two women grow into the best versions of themselves. 


This is such perfection.

Carol is such a soft and gentile film and yet it still manages to unravel me.  With its dreamlike canvas, sweeping sequences, floating about to the ethereal chamber of music fit for the heavens, Todd Haynes creates an experience that completely encapsulates what it means to find something that completes you, that is so latched to your soul you need it to breathe, and so even in its most passive of moments, Carol unearths something so primal, so human, that we can’t help but feel emotionally vanquished by it.

Todd Haynes has a knack for this slice of period drama.  His previous masterpiece; Far From Heaven, deals with similar subjects matter (although mere touches of it) and a similar time and it does so with such ease and comfort.  Haynes makes it all feel so authentic.  He takes us there.  The perfect juxtaposition of lushness and drab create a truly believed portrait of 1950’s New York and place our central characters in a world that is embellished by their approach to the material.  Blanchett’s portrayal of the title character, Carol, is the finest moment of her career.  She was born to play this woman.  Watching her cycle through falling in love to falling to her knees as her world is ripped away from her is such a tragic yet richly rewarding experience.  Her final moment with her husband, with the lawyers, the full confession, the shaking…it produced a guttural reaction from me.  And as good as Blanchett is, Mara matches her every step of the way with her honest portrayal of a young girl trying to understand herself, trying to figure out what she wants.  As her own naivety wares off and is replaced by an understanding of who she is, it becomes such a marvelously textured and fleshed out portrait.


Sometimes we don’t know what we want, or we do but we aren’t sure we are allowed to want it, and so we wind up confusing our own ideas of what we’re feeling.  Sometimes the world around us confuses us.  But there are times, there are moments when all that fades away and produces a glimmer of happiness, maybe even more than a glimmer.  The clouds part and the everything seems so much clearer; so much easier to breathe and it is here that we find our happy center.

I have mine now.  Not with him, no, but that’s in the past and I don’t like to think about that much.  Carol and Therese found theirs, but only time will tell if they get to keep it.



I like to think that they do.

28 comments:

  1. This is such a beautiful review. I completely agree with you about the movie which I strongly believe is the finest of the year. Todd Haynes's directing is something breathtaking and wonderful, it lets the audience slowly enter into the delicate, intimate world of Carol and Therese. The cinematography is stunning, the score is mesmerizing and the screenplay is excellent, it knows what has to be said and what can be expressed in the space between words. Rooney Mara is phenomenal in giving one of the most subtle and delicate performances I've ever seen, it's a performance that is almost entirely lacking in big scenes yet it's unforgettable because of how perfectly Mara realizes Therese's character arc. And Blanchett is groundbreaking: she's never been more glamorous and elegant and I love how she slowly and eloquently reveals Carol's loneliness and vulnerability. I agree she's amazing in the scene you mentioned, but I love her even more in the following dinner with Therese: the desperation and longing in her eyes, and that heartbreaking "I love you"... just wow.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      That dinner scene...the "I love you"...it was heartbreaking and so sincere in this fragile way. Brilliantly played.

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  2. This is a beautifully written review but I'm always so shocked people had such a reaction to this movie. I think you maybe projected your experiences here and that made you feel that film is all of that.

    For me Carol and Therese were so dull and uninteresting I didn't care about any of this, and Haynes' overly stylized way of telling stories didn't help - the only time I enjoyed his work was Mildred Pierce but both Veda and Mildred were fascinating and entertaining so that film had pulse, meanwhile it took me 3 days to get through Carol and I felt absolutely nothing while watching it. Blanchett is quickly approaching hamming it up territory, too.

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    1. Thanks Sati.

      I don't know how much it's 'projecting', considering that this is one of the best reviewed films of the year (so that would be a lot of projecting), but I would be lying if I said that personal experience didn't color my perception of films...but I think that's true with everyone, right? I mean, film hits us in different ways because of our own life experiences. That's what I love so much about this medium because we can all respond to and analyze the same film ten different ways depending on our circumstances.

      But I think I mentioned on your site with you discussed this that I adore Todd Haynes' style as a filmmaker, something you don't, and so I had a feeling we'd respond differently to this one. Circumstance aside, I still found the film riveting and beautifully constructed.

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    2. Exactly we can all respond to movies in different ways so however well reviewed something is doesn't really mean anything, does it?

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    3. I completely agree. Reviews, personally, have never meant anything to me. The only time they matter is when you're predicting the Oscars...and even then...not always.

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  3. Great review! Such a beautiful film indeed.

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  4. Lovely review! I wish I wrote 1/2 as passionate as you do. I also wish I could've loved this movie the same way. I wasn't the biggest fan of the book, and this just felt rather dull, like it was dragging it's pretty feet. The movie is shot beautifully though. The cinematography is breathtaking, especially that shot of Rooney in the car window when it's raining. Gorgeous.

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    1. I wish you had love this one, too!

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  5. Great review! After I saw the film, I remember thinking to myself, "I feel like Therese is me" because I've have a few instances where I've met someone and immediately feel like I've found "the one." But Rooney Mara captured that feeling beautifully.

    It's also nice that we have a recent trend of LGBT films like Carol, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Weekend, Pariah, and Tangerine that depict their queer characters attempting to carve out their own happy ending because in all those Oscar-begging movies, like Philadelphia, their gay characters are often depicted as tragic figures and I don't always want to see that. Again, great that we have films like Carol.

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    1. I'm so with you on the rise in quality of the recent crop of LGBT films, and the 'happy ending' tone that so many take, or at least 'hopeful' is a nice change of pace.

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  6. Reading this review made me want to watch Carol again right now, and I think that's just about the highest praise I can give both the film and your review. I loved everything about Carol EXCEPT Mara's performance, which I thought had moments of perfection but was mostly somnambulant (perhaps with purpose, perhaps not). I wonder if watching it again I'd feel differently though, after having turned the film over and over in my mind and reading so many people's thoughts on it.

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    1. I'd love to hear your thoughts after a rewatch, buddy. Mara's performance crept so deeply into my heart.

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  7. This is one of my favourite reviews of one of my favourite (if not my very favourite) films of 2015. It was just a beautiful movie and I thought it was even more effective than Far From Heaven.

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    1. This is such high praise. Thank you so much, Matt.

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  8. You show a little bit of your soul in this review and it is beautiful. I thought Far From Heaven was excellent and under valued so I know I will want to see this film...even more so now.

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    1. Thanks, Birgit. Some films just hit a personal spot and you have to bare a little bit of your soul to review it right.

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  9. You said it, man, and so much better than I did. This is a beautiful, intimate film that you matched with such a beautiful, intimate essay. My wife and I were both so overtaken with how lovingly this film treats its subjects. I expected so much hate and bigotry, for some reason, and was so surprised to find this film so loving, even of the Kyle Chandler character (who could've once again received more praise than he ever gets). He really gets there emotionally as well. This is a film that demands you feel its love, and I did, especially in the moments during and immediately after.

    Admittedly, that waned too quickly for me to raise the film up to masterpiece status, as some have. It sure made my best list, though. It had too. And I looooooovvvvvveeee Rooney Mara so damn much. I thought she was better than Cate.

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    1. Thank you so much, Kevin!

      I'm so with you on Chandler. I have heard so many people balk at his performance and say it's the film's sole sore spot, but I don't agree. His face in that final scene with Blanchett conveys so much...understanding. He gets it. You can see his selfishness and ignorance stripping away as he truly sees who is wife is for the first time. It's a beautifully played moment.

      I just wish he had more to do.

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    2. All Kyle Chandler needed was ONE. MORE. SCENE. and he might have been able to creep into the absurdly weak Supporting Actor field.

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  10. I'm bummed that I never got to see this in the theaters as I'm a big fan of Todd Haynes and I love what he does as a filmmaker. Plus, the idea of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara together gets me hot!

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    1. I'm sure you'll be satisfied with this one.

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  11. Honestly, I'm not interested in this movie. But your post?

    Loved it.

    Will see the movie solely because of it.

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    1. WOW, thanks buddy. If my review can convince you to see something you had no desire to see...I'm happy :-D

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  12. Beautiful review. The film is pretty much perfect, and it makes me want to revisit Far From Heaven, which I haven't watched in ages. Can't wait to see all of those Fisti noms! :D

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    1. Noms AND wins, my friend. Carol just CLEANED UP!

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