I studied Cinema Studies at NYU where we picked apart some of the best films of various eras and discussed the color, the movement, the dialogue, the themes and so on. I do this now as a script consultant, picking apart ideas, story morals and innuendos, large and small, making sure they can best be composed towards the best screenplay possible.
While most people are talking about the new “Star Wars” movie today, last night I watched a film that reminded me of my days seated with a notepad in the dark theaters in NYU’s Greenwich Village classrooms. It’s rare to find a film these days where one’s college courses actually relate. Movies like “Black Narcissus” and “Imitation of Life” stand out as those we picked apart with care as we did literature such as Mill on the Floss and Pride and Prejudice while in high school.
The film in question is called “Carol”, based upon a story by Patricia Highsmith, written under a pseudonym and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The film is directed by Todd Haynes. While it is a homosexual love story, it is really about truth to one’s self, and is set in the 1950’s with Blanchett as the older woman in the midst of a difficult divorce and Rooney as the young and inexperienced shop girl who catches Blanchett (Carol’s) eye during Christmas shopping.
I don’t want to belabor the film – it was not necessarily my favorite film of the year (not sure what is yet) it should most definitely be seen and studied. This post comes from a film students passion.
It is sad and it is beautifully shot, the costumes by Sandy Powell are stunning, the makeup pristine and one feels wrapped in the stifling and slow times of the 1950’s when any hint of being different or showing oneself, perhaps attracted to women and god forbid, a mother, was frowned upon to the point of lawsuits.
I must say this – Cate Blanchett is utter brilliance. Her performance in “Blue Jasmine” is one for the record books, and is, of course there, having won her many awards, including the Best Actress Oscar. The role of Carol is subdued while Jasmine was the opposite. Carol is sad, fraught with the complexities of herself but alluring and magnetic just the same. Therese (Mara) is sad and incomplete, she is new at everything, says yes to everything just to try to find out who she is. However, they feel chemistry (maybe not even sexual, just soulful) if nothing else and it is written all over their faces. They barely touch one another let alone need to speak in order for us to understand the fascination, the crush, the attraction, the concern, the pain and so on. There are moments of silence, there is music that takes the place of dialogue and action. So many shots of actors, acting. Beautifully, but not with show. Apparently, Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton, a famed playwright and Dramaturge apparently worked on the script through rehearsals and with the actors, cut scenes where it would simply not be necessary for anyone to speak. The film is better for it because its emotion, its subdued seduction and are not always worthy of dialogue. Actors long for these roles.
Therese comes into her own in the third act (when Mara really shows her stuff against a powerhouse like Blanchett) and it’s soft and quiet though rueful at times; is all in their faces, a small glint, a smile, the camera holding just long enough, the filters on the lens….
There is moment where Carol asks Therese if she would come to live with her and she is in so much pain; afraid of what might be, both their hearts on their beautifully designed sleeves, “I certainly would not want that” she says, and the young woman’s heart, no longer innocent yet still in mourning is visible on the screen. The accessible yet soft Katherine Hepburn-esque of Cate Blanchett’s Carol, having accepted herself and lost for it, need only look at the camera in the final scene to elicit the Best Actress of the year in the same manner as we would all come to listen to Meryl Streep read the phone book aloud.
There are great actors, no doubt, but I cannot think of one who can convey the subtly of the emotions hat out great actresses on the screen, television and stage can these days. This film is a must for lovers of cinema, sexuality unimportant yet in the mood for the refinement of love, pain and life’s consequences.