In many ways, Carol could be viewed and savoured from stem to stern with the volume off. Cinematographer Ed Lachman’s employment of wonderfully grainy 16 mm stock suits this early ‘50s tale of the love that dare not speak its name to a T (coupled with Affonso Gonçalves’ frame-perfect editing and director Todd Haynes’ thoughtfully paced realization of Phyliss Nagy’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s—first known for Strangers on a Train, cross-reference below—novel, The Price of Salt).
Watching this production “mute” can only further enhance the master class level of body language given by Cate Blanchett as wealthy mother, Carol Aird, who seeks the solace of divorce to rid herself of bullying, selfish husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler being readily despicable in the role), then fully pursue her latest desire, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara matches Blanchett beat for beat, glance for glance, bringing a wonderful touch of Maughamian “moth to flame” drive as the two women explore their inner selves together and apart).
Once the sound is switched on there are hits and misses. Carter Burwell’s original score adds much to the ebb and flow, all of the music, dialogue and effects beautifully mixed thanks to the subtle skills of Leslie Shatz and Geoff Maxwell. Yet the storyline fails to convince on a few occasions: the blackmail thread (all the better for Harge to win custody of the couple’s daughter, Rindy—Sadie Heim’s few scenes and lines as the elder girl are far too cheery to reveal just how “messy” divorces can impact on children), driven by Cory Michael Smith as the deceitful Tommy Tucker, is far too simplistic to pass the litmus test of credibility; Carol’s former lover, Abby (Sarah Paulson, doing all that is asked of her), is similarly too readily pliable by her ex, appearing at the drop of hat to escort Therese home while her new lover heads back full speed ahead to New York City and into the fray for her daughter.
At the beginning of the film there was an expectation that the inciting purchase of a toy train by Carol from Therese might blossom into a visual metaphor that could well have added another reinforcing layer as the two women set out on the journey of a lifetime (imagine eschewing the car for rail on the road trip to Chicago!).
Those quibbles aside, Haynes and company have achieved a remarkable result with this production that lovingly portrays the angst and joy of a pair of women who had the courage of their convictions in an era where those sorts of “things” were seldom talked about, much less acted upon.