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The Passion Feels Distant in Todd Haynes’ Lesbian Romance, Carol

Otherwise, it's a nicely crafted film.
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I suppose I wanted to swoon. I wanted to feel even just a tinge of the almost mystical power of passion that overwhelms the two women whose eyes briefly lock across a crowded department store in 1952 New York — a fateful meeting that compels each to upturn her own life for the other.

Instead I remained distant from their affair. I blame the shopgirl, Therese Belivet, so profoundly disconnected from her own emotions. Or it’s possible my beef is with how actress Rooney Mara chose to play the part — as such a blank slate that I sometimes felt no more empathetic than I would towards an android falling in love.

Director Todd Hayne’s Carol is otherwise nicely crafted, which is why I left the theater trying to figure why I was relatively unmoved.

Therese meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), while assisting her at a sales counter one fateful day. Therese has an adoring boyfriend (Jake Lacy) whose affections she’s indifferent to even before her relationship with Carol begins. She doesn’t understand why she’s drawn to her, but she follows her instincts to do what she can to remain within her orbit.

Meanwhile Carol appears early on to be a Casanova who’s set her sights on the pretty young lady. Her seduction seems calculated and confidently executed. In this pursuit, I found Carol as off-putting as I might have a similarly older, married man bedding a naïf — even if Therese proves a willing participant.

Carol is in the midst of a divorce from her wealthy husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is aware of his wife’s sexual preferences and past infidelity. Yet he wants her still and pleads with her to stay with him, threatening to deny her custody of their daughter.

It’s an awful situation for all involved, the cause of which is the pervasive repression of the period that made it far more difficult for homosexuals to live out in the open about who they were and whom they loved.

But this isn’t a movie about the gay rights movement. It’s a love story, and its success was always going to ride on how it could make us feel for the characters from Patricia Highsmith’s source novel. Aside from one scene in which Carol bravely stands up for her truest self, my heart never ached as I’d have liked.

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