Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

The latest Todd Haynes film, his first big screen effort since 2007’s Bob Dylan biopic (of sorts) I’m Not There, has been exceptionally well received by the press and public. An adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the film tells the story of the relationship between Therese (Rooney Mara), a young aspiring photographer working in a department store, and Carol, an older woman with a penchant for younger girls. It explores their developing relationship as Carol’s marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler) deteriorates, and the reaction to their behaviour by those close to them in 1950s Manhattan.

 Not your typical Christmas film. 
The world has gone crazy for this film. It has already picked up a Palme d’Or nomination (losing out to Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan) as well as two wins at the Cannes Film Festival. It also won prizes at a host of other award ceremonies, and will compete with five nominations at the Golden Globes. One can only presume the Academy Awards and BAFTAs will follow suit.

As such, it’s a difficult film to openly ardently dislike. The source material has been, apparently, a very relevant book to the LGBT community for many years, especially in the USA. I am a straight male British man. The fact I didn’t enjoy it gives rise to an enormous fear that I’m too straight-laced to understand a masterful piece of cinematic artistry. It’s the sort of thing I should like. I just didn’t.

For me, the exploration of the controversy of a same-sex relationship in 1950s America wasn’t enough to save the slow pacing and inherently dull storyline. An easy argument is to think along the lines of replacing either of the lead characters with a man, then ask ourselves “Is this still an interesting plot?”

The more unusual channel on this stance would be to have an older woman befriend a younger man, which would bring more dynamics with social disagreement than the oft-covered “older man with younger girl” scenario.

To think like this, however, is to miss the point. There’s no reason why having a female-to-female relationship can’t be explored at face value whilst also looking at the contrasting views of those around them. The fact is that the two female lead characters’ relationships with those around them wasn’t explored enough to warrant any real threat of anguish and being cast out of society. Conversely, there was no apparent chemistry between the two actresses. My suspicion, having not read the book, is that this was all explored in great detail by Patricia Highsmith and there wasn’t enough scope to cover it all in one standalone film.

I’d describe both acting performances as adequate without being exceptional. The desperation of the situation is only truly realised when Kyle Chandler appears as the scene-stealing husband who evidently fears the rejection by his wife as much as he fears the embarrassment and damage to his social standing. It was only in his scenes towards the backend of the picture that there was any great feeling of scandal.

When Carol is announced as an Oscar front runner next month, I will refuse to eat my words. As someone who doesn’t like this film, I will be in the minority.

Carol is on general release at cinemas in the UK now.

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