Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin's sweet nectarine of a jazz standard "Easy Living" figures, in a glancing yet potent way, in Todd Haynes's Carol, adapted from Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt. Even though the lyrics speak of contentment -- "Living for you is easy living/It's easy to live when you're in love" -- the melody has a wistful glow about it, a suggestion that while there's no such thing as living easy, the dream of doing so is very real. It's the perfect song, then, for a story about two women who defy the rules of society by falling in love, a story written in an era when unions like this one needed to be kept exceptionally discreet. And it's a touch of warmth in a piece of filmmaking that, while beautifully modulated, is also as smooth and cool as marble.
Cate Blanchett's Carol is a suburban New Jersey housewife and mother seeking a divorce from husband Harge (Kyle Chandler, superb as always), one of those classic 1950s providers. She has met Rooney Mara's Therese, a New York department store clerk, and their affair barely begins as a friendship: Carol is quietly predatory, not in a deceitful way, but in the manner of a woman who has been kept too long from everything she desires. Therese, with her too-short, fringy bangs and anxious brown eyes, is slightly awkward, but she's also alert and intelligent -- she could be Carol’s undoing, rather than the other way around. Carol gives the appearance of having been constructed without seams or joints; its plot doesn’t so much move forward as drift. Yet its emotions run deep beneath.