An astonishing performance in a mundane setting that delivers charm, heartbreak and an unexpected emotional gratification.
Directed by Todd Haynes, featuring Cate Blanchett in their second collaboration since I’m not There (2007), the adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s pulp classic immediately appealed to critics since its debut at Cannes.
The film tells the story of two women set in 1950s New York, both possessing a tremendous lack of satisfaction with their personal lives find themselves in an unexpected love affair, which subsequently develops a gradual influence on themselves, their families and friends.
The charm of the book, ‘The Price of Salt’ is quite obvious in the modern age where sexualities become a growing issue of progress, and as the first novel featuring lesbians to have a happy ending, it soon became a landmark in literature. Todd Haynes, as one who has a distinct taste for heavy, unusual dramas surrounding woman became the obvious director to helm the project.
Now nominated for six Oscars and 5 golden globes, the film is highly praised for its distinct craftsmanship and there are certain elements to be seen that distinguishes it well above others of the same genre.
One of the first things that the film offers is its modest and somewhat humble opening score, seeking not to dominate the scene but complement it and guide the audience in the most subtle way. Corresponding with the very objective cinematography the scene immediately highlights the protagonists’ discomfort.
Using the interjection of a future scene, Haynes effectively demonstrates the outcome of the protagonists relationship at a stage of dangling limbo, which produces a guiding effect to the subsequent story
Therese, a shop clerk in a Manhattan department store shows obvious signs of discomfort at her job- the greenish set, singular in colour brings about a sense of boredom and dreaded peace as demonstrated by the lack of youngsters and therefore a lack of youth and energy, as if time had froze and such temporary job of Therese becomes an obstacle in the paths of her dreams.
Carol, the deutaragonist’s arrival then was as if a drop of water in a still well, and while paralleling with the film’s growing tension she gradually transforms into a powerful current grabbing our attention with absolute dominance thanks to Cate Blanchett’s masterful yet subtle control which she manipulates with great ease.
In the beginning the camera never quite focuses on giving close-ups of the characters, which somewhat establishes their present insignificance in our hearts. Rather it highlights their actions which unconsciously influences us to become more aware of their hidden meanings within every movement – particularly how Therese and Carol grows comfortable in each others’ presence contrasting with Therese’s initial passive tone.
One of the changes that the film has made with the book is that Carol was assigned with more dialogues, which subsequently changes our perception of the character to be much more likable and making our emotional investments seem more appealing. In addition, the tension between Carol and her soon-to-be ex-husband Harge is realised very early, allowing for swift progress leading up to the most genuine, heartfelt concern for her child – a virtue we can all relate to and cannot dismiss. This notion is then maintained by multiple appearances of the daughter, which constantly reminds us of Carol’s deep dissatisfaction and a melancholy love for her Rindy, after all that is the factor which would tie the aspects of the story together.
The pacing of the film is quite quick, which tends to diminish the development of infatuation between the characters, however in Carol the tension appeared to move at such a gradual, continuous degree we have no idea that we were even gripped until we can’t let go.
As their relationship progresses, so do the characters’ costumes. Initially Carol wore obvious aggressive colours while Therese donned neutrals, by act 2 their level of intimacy became what was represented by the complementing tones, and at last Therese begins to dress in a similar fashion to Carol, clearly evolving herself to be more independent under her influence.
Set in a very mundane and realistic setting it never seems that Carol ever tries, everything came naturally as if it was merely a documentary that ‘simply happened’. Which makes the thunderous twist at the end of act 2 feel all the more wretched, even more so as it’s served immediately after an act of transcended love, revealing a stark contrast.
Ultimately in the last act the film has complete control over our emotions, essentially torturing us with the characters unpredictable fate. The aforementioned close-ups in the first act pays off on a monumental scale as boundless tension is released at this moment.
The ending will leave you hanging, but it also properly gratifies us to the end of an unexpectedly thrilling but also immensely sentimental journey.
Overall, complemented by excellent production and musical score, Haynes has managed to create a fantastic film from a monumental book whilst preserving all its integrity and beauty. Good luck at the Oscars.
In theatres Australia wide from 14th of January
MPAA Rating: M
ACB Rating: M
Run Time: 118 min
An overzealous film critic wannabe, Henry Pan makes a trip down cinema lane once a week, in order to decrease his ever-increasing massive watch list.