Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Carol

It’s been a hectic holiday season, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t get to a few movies worth seeking out. No, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet. But I did catch a double feature of nontraditional romances, which Chris and I squeezed in just before flying off to Europe. I’ll start with the great one.

Carol is easy to love but hard to explain. Whoever made the trailer clearly faced the same dilemma: meaningful looks and lines were precariously cut-and-pasted into a “Forbidden Love” narrative a la Brokeback Mountain, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find it in the actual movie. Digging for narrative would, at any rate, miss the point. Carol is the perfect episode of Mad Men; a protagonist-free period piece about life at a crossroads. Therese is a 20-something in 50’s New York, saddled with an aw-shucks boyfriend and aimless yes-ma’am job. Carol is a wealthy mother in the midst of divorce, brimming with over-the-top starlet charm and loneliness. The two fall in something, though I’m not convinced it’s love. Like Mad Men, the movie embraces a particular contradiction: nine parts ambience and one part disillusionment, it sweeps you up in the glamour of a bygone era while convincing you the glamour is a lie.

Variants of that contradiction pop up everywhere. Blanchett’s Carol is a victim of hollow “old money” glamour (a la Blue Jasmine,) but that same glamour makes her a spellbinding force (a la Galadriel.) Mara’s Therese is struggling for agency in a repressive society, but her ultimate freedom is found in succumbing to someone else’s (hardly democratic) control. Its substance never feels entirely certain, but its texture makes complete emotional sense. Lushly shot and wonderfully acted, I found it to be hypnotic and totally devoid of the usual gimmicks. It’s worth getting swept up in.

See my review on Letterboxd