In the opening moments of Carol—a beautifully fragile drama which may nab Cate Blanchett her third Oscar or get Rooney Mara her first—we follow an anonymous young man into the 1950s bar of New York's Ritz Hotel. He nonchalantly says hello to two women, one of whom (played by Mara) he knows. The women then go their separate ways. Nearly 90 minutes later, we watch the same scene play out, but this time take note of how, in the subtlest of gestures, one of the women (Blanchett) lingers an extra beat and softly touches the shoulder of her table mate before departing.
Therein lies the tenderness and masterwork of director Todd Haynes in his big-screen adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt. One can only imagine the scandal of 1952 when Highsmith, best known as the author of the 1950 thriller Strangers on a Train, followed the bestseller with The Price of Salt and had the audacity to end that story of a lesbian romance portending the possibility of happiness.
More than a half-century later, Haynes opens up Highsmith's then-scandalous depiction of a satisfying gay life into a story of elegance and sympathy. It's almost as if the story has been waiting for Haynes' expertise: his previous explorations of the feminine mystique have included Safe, Far From Heaven and his adaptation of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce.
By the end of Carol, when we are transported back to the hotel bar at The Ritz, we have retraced the history of the two women, not so much through the people, places or things that have surrounded them, but through their latent anxiety and emancipating deliverance.
Carol is a thing of beauty and not to be missed.