Words || Angus Dalton
Patricia Highsmith was working in a toy store during the early 1950’s so she could afford psychoanalyst sessions aimed at ‘curing’ her homosexuality when she met an unforgettably charismatic woman swathed in fur. This encounter became the inspiration for her novel The Price of Salt, on which the film Carol is based. Therese, a nineteen-year-old aspiring photographer working in the doll section of a department store meets Carol amongst the chaos of pre-Christmas retail, and is instantly infatuated. From this initial meeting, both lead actresses conjure their respective characters masterfully; Rooney Mara (best known for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) the wide-eyed and guileless Therese, and Cate Blanchett the impeccably put-together, intensely lonely housewife in the throes of a divorce and a nasty custody battle over her daughter. Highsmith wrote that the woman Carol is based on was ‘blondish and seemed to give off light’; Cate embodies this phrase perfectly. She is luminous and utterly magnetic. The two women begin to orbit each other in a strange, awkward way until their relationship culminates in a love affair that is doomed to crash and burn; it was 1950’s American after all.
Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, a friend of Highsmith’s, has adapted the novel for film with perfect restraint. Haynes’s direction is genius, the cinematography is exquisite, and there’s a stunning score to match. Don’t go to Carol for explosions of melodrama or a twisting plot. Go for the superb acting, go because it will be the most beautifully shot movie of the year, and go because a gay love story that ends on a note of hope is a rare and precious thing, even today.