Of his time-period-hopping contemporaries—the Coens, Tarantino, Linklater—it’s Todd Haynes who uses era most effectively, not merely as a cool framing device or something to subvert with modern language. From Velvet Goldmine
’s lurid, woozy '70s palettes to I’m Not There
’s grittiness to, until this, his masterwork Far From Heaven
’s lush, painting-like world, he uses era for context and emotion. His characters are always pinned in place by time. (Even Safe, with Julianne Moore as a '90s woman made sick by her environment, felt old-fashioned in its starkness.) Like Far From Heaven
—in which the 1950s-era Moore has a gay husband and falls in love with a black man to boot—Carol
is set in the same period, in New York but that doesn’t matter. When Cate Blanchett—married to Kyle Chandler, poor dear—falls for Rooney Mara’s Thérèse, neither of them knows quite what to do. So they visit and look and graze and converse in subtext until they finally run away together, an inevitable disaster. Chandler has the lady part as the scorned man but does what he can; the usually just-fine Mara is a quiet revelation as a girl coming into her womanhood and Blanchett, on par with Streep now, is an undeniable force. When she settles her gaze on Thérèse for the first time, it’s hard to be happy for the battle they’re about to fight, but there’s no turning back. Carol
tracks the slow-burn of romantic agony, with the added weight of a closet the size of the world.