Figured I should get around to finally saying something about Todd Haynes’ almost universally-beloved, Carol, now that it is finally opening this weekend. Having now seen it twice, once back in the spring and once at the New York Film Festival, I can’t help but question the remarks of calling Carol the masterpiece of the 21st century. My reaction to Carol back in the spring was relatively positive, but I could not fathom the reception it got from nearly every critic at Cannes. The buzz for Carol went into full spin when Weinstein dropped an admittedly perfect trailer for it at the tail-end of the summer. When Carol was announced to make its New York premiere at the New York Film Festival, I was eager to revisit it, especially after the bombardment of relentlessly positive feedback leading up to its premiere in New York.
When I finally sat down for my second viewing of Carol at the sold-out encore screening at New York Film Festival, it was as if every person there was seeing it again after falling head over heels for it earlier that weekend when it finally screened for the public. When the credits began to roll, I was surrounded by a nearly sobbing theater that was clapping louder than any other audience I had ever gathered with at the Walter Reade before. Having forgotten almost all of the core details about Carolbetween first and second viewings, it more or less felt like my first viewing of the film.
Now, over a month since my second viewing of Carol, I have forgotten a majority of what happens in Carol. Without the profuse amount of notes that I took down on my phone immediately following my second viewing of the film, I doubt I would have been able to write this piece. For me, Carol is an entirely forgettable experience. It lacks the incredibly emotional act that make my favorites from Haynes stick out so much and only feel a stronger liking towards as time passes. With Carol, the lack of a particular focus on a character does not allow for the proper display of emotional directness to come across in the way that Haynes needs it to in order to create a successful melodrama, at least for my sensibilities.
Haynes always seems to get some of the most intriguing performances out of his actors, whether it be for better or worse. The distinct performances he gets from his actors are always for the grand scheme of things that he has meticulously planned out from the get-go. In Carol, Haynes postures Mara in such an incredibly fascinating way that raises a countless amount of questions from my end. Haynes does not tell us much about Mara’s backstory, which I think works surprisingly to his advantage in a select few ways, despite the fact that I just think he only does it to raise intrigue from his viewer.
Therese (Mara) and Carol have a labyrinth of a relationship. There is much more to their bond with one another than the surface things that are apparent from the first few scenes. Mara plays Therese in such a way that painted a vivid picture that she is desperately craving for an older figure in her life. While Carol and Therese are clearly in love, their relationship is more than that. Therese and Carol interact like a mother and daughter outside of their romantic life, as Carol begins to show her ways to Therese.
The dynamics between Therese and her current boyfriend (Jake Lacy) are undoubtedly the weakest links to Carol. Lacy, who I genuinely like as an actor, unfortunately suffers from a poorly-written character that does not allow him to blossom as an actor into the role. His reaction to the relationship between Therese and Carol is just there to give Mara some conflict as to if she should embrace her true feelings for Carol. Haynes also uses Lacy as an outlet to showcase the typical view of a heterosexual man during the fifties, which lacks all of the subtleties we have come to expect from Haynes.
Unlike the best work from Haynes, Carol failed to linger on with me after both viewings of the film. The most memorable aspect that Carol boasts is the gorgeous Super-16 cinematography that will be sure to leave a lasting impression on everyone who is able to experience Carol in a theater. It is unfortunate that that later works from Haynes lack the one key element that made those projects so strong, which is the key traumatizing event that even his Barbie doll masterwork, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story has to offer.