Critics are barely able to catch their breath when they use words like mesmerising, entranced and captivating to describe Carol , that I saw this week. It’s a beautifully shot period film set in 1950s New York, like Brooklyn which came out a couple of weeks earlier. They are both based on novels (Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin and Carol, by Patricia Highsmith) and are similar in parts but quite different in their core themes.
Brooklyn is about a young woman leaving home to seek love and fortune in a new land (Ireland to America) and about discovering that going back to where you came from is never simple. I found myself comparing this film to Carol and found that Brooklyn at its heart was a sincere examination of a young girl’s love for the man she meets in a new country over the sudden attentions of a man in Ireland who woos her, when she goes back for a visit. In a conservative society that once judged and ignored her, her new found success in America makes her an attractive catch overnight. She’s offered a good job and her widowed mother would love to have her stay. The nuances surrounding her circumstances, the piercing homesickness and the internal conflicts are shown so beautifully that I felt as torn as her over the decisions she has to make. Then again, I do relate to a story of migration and dislocation very well.
Carol, on the other hand is about an about-to-be divorced rich New York housewife, Carol Aird (played by Cate Blanchett) who lives on her own with her young daughter. Very soon we find that the marriage between her and her husband has broken down because of her affair with her best friend, Abby, a woman. But that’s in the past – it is Rooney Mara, a store assistant, who catches her eye and Cate Blanchett’s character pursues her with clear predatory intent. Therese (played by Rooney Mara) is young and impressionable and is surprised to discover reciprocal feelings for the older woman. They disappear on a road trip together as Carol’s lawyer has been served an injunction where she cannot see her child anymore. In the cold winter drive from New York to a colder mid-west, they consummate their love and things don’t go horribly wrong after all in the end.
With this film, Carol, I was left cold by both the women. I remained unconvinced about their devotion or attraction to each other. One was rich, bored and obsessed and the other young, confused and just eager to explore her sexuality with someone whom she’d developed a crush on. The lines were flat, bored and I couldn’t care if they were heartbroken or not. And all that repressed eroticism didn’t even cause a flutter.
In the realm of illicit homosexual love, A Single Man, made by fashion-designer, Tom Ford, was much more convincing. Colin Firth’s face was luminous with the love he felt for his younger partner and his distraught grief at his death was worthy of his Oscar nomination. Carol, I’m sure will cause more breathless gushing at the coming awards ceremony, early next year. In my opinion, it would be a strong case of The Emperor’s New Clothes.