As gay people, we’re acutely cognizant of nuances of perception and communication. When a portion (or entirety) of one’s life is spent forced to suppress self-expression, we become scientists of our own behavior and scrutinize how any minute tic will reveal our identity. Whether we have hidden because of social norms or for safety, the necessity to do so results in a social class of experts in subtle social interaction. The hyper-sensitivity electrifies when we meet one of our own and use these adaptive skills to acknowledge shared truths, to show compassion, to express romantic interest. The liberated YouTube generation knows nothing of the experience of not being able to speak plainly to your own camp.
Somehow, we find eachother.
Such are the fascinations of Todd Haynes’s passionately observed Carol, a love story of stolen glances and charged embraces that is as interested in the queer longings of the central duo as it is with what remains unspoken between any of Haynes’s 50s era denizens. Rarely has every frame been so essential and packed with specific behavior in contemporary cinema, and the film is a staggering assemblage of craft that services the truth for which Haynes reaches and richly achieves. Haynes captures the breathlessness of flirtation and first touches, the cured infection of prior loves into the dynamic, the ease of feeling accepted fully. Yes, it’s relatable to anyone who’s been in love, but make no mistakes: this is a gay story, the stakes raised by the language unavailable to two women in a time where they have to hide in plain sight.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is an unimposing shopgirl whose life gets a kickstart by the intrigued Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a soon-to-be divorcé shopping for a Christmas present for her prized daughter. Naturally, things are complicated by Therese’s boyfriend (Jake Lacy) pushing for next steps and Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) open to reconciliation if Carol plays it straight. The vulnerability that Mara and Blanchett bring to the lovers as they discover each other in the moment is breathtaking as Therese and Carol are by turns awkward, turned on, patient, and enamored. These women aren’t stoic enigmas, but social outliers discovering how to communicate their mutual interest without words.