“I’m charting the correlation between what characters say and what they mean,” says a film buff while watching Sunset Boulevard in Todd Haynes’ Carol. This gloriously romantic film’s dialogue needs similar decoding, but not so its glances. As soon as flinty store clerk Therese (Mara) meets eyes with our title character (a radiant Blanchett) across a teeming department store, we palpably feel their attraction. This is the 1950s, though, and Therese is reticent to express her feelings: “I want to ask you things, but I’m not sure you want that.” “Ask,” replies Carol, achingly.
These women are trapped by their era’s conformity. Carol and Therese try to kindle a love affair, but the men who wish to own them continually snuff it out. Haynes’ images mirror the couple’s imprisonment, framing them in doorways and through windows. But like Carol says to her jealous ex-husband (Chandler), love is “like science, it’s like pinball.” Haynes is telling us that, thrillingly, passion burns hotter than fear. For Carol and Therese, the chemical reaction has begun; the ball bearings are in motion. [Jamie Dunn]