CAROL follows two women from very different backgrounds who find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York. As conventional norms of the time challenge their undeniable attraction, an honest story emerges to reveal the resilience of the heart in the face of change. A young woman in her 20s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), is a clerk working in a Manhattan department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their connection deepens. While Carol breaks free from the confines of marriage, her husband (Kyle Chandler) begins to question her competence as a mother as her involvement with Therese and close relationship with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) come to light. Carol is directed by Todd Haynes and written by Phyllis Nagy with moving performances from Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy and Cory Michael Smith.
Based on author Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, 'Carol' tells the story of a young woman in the 1950s who finds herself attracted to...and eventually in a romance with...an older, well-to-do woman who she firsts meets as a customer in the large department store where she works. As noted numerous times in the bonus features of this release, this is one of the few stories that Highsmith ever wrote (she's best known for Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) that wasn't a psychological thriller, but instead proved to be a semi-autobiographical look at the author's own sexual orientation and her ideas about romance.
The young woman who is the focus of 'Carol' is Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), and the only reason she gets to meet up with the older Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) a second time after their store encounter is because Carol accidentally (or perhaps intentionally?) leaves her gloves behind. Therese mails them back to Carol, resulting in her asking Therese out to dinner.
While Therese still seems unsure about her own sexuality (she's in a relationship with a nice-enough man – played by Jake Lacy – but doesn't seem very enamored with him), there's no question that Carol is homosexual. She's in a marriage of convenience with Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler), but as we are first introduced to Carol, that marriage has already crumbled and Carol is in the process of getting a divorce. Harge knows about his wife's sexual orientation (she's already had a relationship with their young daughter's nanny (played by Sarah Paulson)), but is one of those types of guys who refuses to believe his marriage is over. Once he learns of Carol's new involvement with Therese, he uses the women's relationship to try and get sole custody of his and Carol's daughter.
'Carol' is one of those types of movies that – given its subject matter – could quickly become very preachy. Thankfully, it doesn't, although the movie's biggest fault is portraying all of its male characters as either clueless (see Therese's boyfriend) or downright vengeful (see Carol's husband). Granted, since the movie is set in the 1950s, portraying too many of the males (or females for that matter) as open-minded when it comes to homosexuality wouldn't be honest, but it would have been nice to see at least one male in this film stand up for and support Carol and Therese's relationship. Then again, having never read Highsmith's novel, I can't say how honest that would have been to her original concept.
But the focus here isn't really on any of the men anyway – they're just obstacles to be overcome. The real focus is on the budding relationship between the two women, and that's far and away the reason to watch 'Carol', thanks to a solid performance by Blanchett and a simply brilliant one by Mara, who honestly would have been my pick to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year (not only did Mara not win, but 'Carol' didn't bring home any of the six awards for which it was nominated). By the time the two characters do consummate their relationship on screen, the moment – while erotic – is never exploitative because by this point the audience wants to see these two be together.
I'm guessing some potential viewers will avoid 'Carol' just based on the subject matter, and that's a shame. This is really well-acted and well-directed stuff that honestly is nothing more than an old-fashioned movie romance, despite the fact that the romance happens to be between two women. My only hesitation in recommending the movie wholeheartedly is that I'm not sure if it's the type of film most would want to go back to and view a second and third time. Once was enough for me – and that's not taking away from the incredible acting and solid direction (by Todd Haynes). It's just not the type of story that demands a revisiting – but it is the type of story that is worth being seen...and for that reason, I'm still giving 'Carol' a solid recommendation.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Carol' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the dual-layer 50GB disc along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Macbeth, Southpaw, and Burnt. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections running horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A locked.
'Carol' was shot on 16mm film (Super 16 format) using the Arriflex 416 and gets a beautiful transfer on Blu-ray that viewers should enjoy quite a bit. The movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and, given its 16mm source, a lot of grain is evident in every shot of the movie. However, it's the color here that is rich and simply wonderfully rendered. Black levels are strong throughout and details are surprisingly good, despite the fact that the movie is shot on Super 16. The transfer here really has a film-like look to it that I loved, and Anchor Bay has done a really good job in providing a Blu-ray presentation that comes close to the theatrical presentation's look.
I detected no issues with aliasing, banding, excessive noise, or other frequently seen problems on this transfer. There are also no issues in terms of any dirt or debris on the print.
The featured audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is more than enough for a title that is as dialogue-heavy as 'Carol'. Despite the movie being one that focuses so heavily on the spoken word, the rear speakers are used more often than you might suspect – not only to enhance Composer Carter Burwell's haunting score, but there's a significant use of ambient noises as well – be it the hustle and bustle of a busy department store or the sounds one would hear in a busy restaurant.
While the track never feels quite immersive, all the sounds are distinct and nicely separated, and the dialogue from the actors – which is almost exclusively up front – is crisp, clear, and without a hint of muddiness. Overall, this is a nicely rendered track with no real complaints and no evident glitches.
In addition to the English lossless track, a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track has also been provided. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
'Carol' isn't a perfect film, but it is a quite moving and enjoyable one, thanks largely to the great performances given by its two lead actresses. Given what transpires here, I'm not sure how rewatchable the movie is, but that doesn't stop me from giving it a hearty recommendation – particularly if you're a fan of period pieces and either (or both) of the leads.