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CAROL succeeds in large because of two main components: Todd Haynes’ directing and bravura performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Haynes is excellent in setting up interiors (little of the movie, like the characters’ lives, takes place outside). He is excellent at using every part of the frame, every corner, every shadow, every reflection. At times he stretches this work far, but it only works to remind you that he’s been watching every part of the frame all along.

Blanchett is making herself one of the premier actresses of this generation. It would be easy to confuse a side-by-side portrait of Carol from this film and Jasmine from BLUE JASMINE as the same glamorous, tall, blonde, urbane character. Blanchett, instead, paints a completely new portrait on a similar canvas. I’d love to see her take on a rougher character, to see what she does with it, maybe something like Charlize Theron in NORTH COUNTRY. Rooney Mara also excels in building a whole life into a character who is given very little of a back story. Both carry this film.

The curiosity of gender is also not lost in this film. Two women are more easily invisible in public than two men in the same circumstance might be. There were times Carol would touch Therese or Abby in public, just enough to let the other know she was thinking of her, but not enough to raise any suspicion from others. Or the fact that two women could travel the country, rent hotel rooms together, and largely go under the view of judgmental Midwestern eyes, was well depicted.

Masculinity, at least mid-century American masculinity, might not even grant these small freedoms. I’m reminded of masculinity in India, which has different borders. Borders that allow two men to hold hands without violating any part of their heterosexuality. Perhaps this masculinity would fit more with the world as Carol and Therese lived it, but certainly not for someone like Harge in his time. This is not meant as a “meninist” point, but merely a point about the fluidity of gender, even when it seems so imprisoned.