As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, expect to hear a lot about Todd Haynes’ Carol on this site. It’s is a masterpiece, and as of now my favorite film of the year. Set in 1950s New York, Carol is a breathtaking story two women who fall in love with each other, and the ramifications that follow. One is the glamorous looking Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), decked in fur, her skin practically radiant. The other is the plainer, younger Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), who works in the toy department. Carol and Therese soon strike up a conversation, but before they’ve even uttered a word, director Todd Haynes has masterfully conveyed the sense of growing love and romantic tension soon to come. In Carol, we already know that Carol and Therese will fall in love — it’s etched into the film’s DNA at the outset, and the opening scene begins in medias res, with Carol and Therese sitting together in a crowded restaurant. What Haynes is conveying with this film is not whether or not these two women will fall in love, bur rather how they will fall in love.
Every element of Carol comes together to create a work of rare beauty and grace, from the performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, to the cinematography and overall aesthetic of the film itself. And then there is the emotional and elegant score by Carter Burwell. Burwell has scored over 80 films, including pretty much every Coen Brothers film, most notably Fargo, Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and my personal favorite Coen-Burwell soundtrack, The Hudsucker Proxy. Burwell constructs three different themes for the score, which flows along with the narrative structure of the film itself.”There is no widely accepted explanation for the importance of music to humans, but one possibility is its ability to express and relieve emotional tensions that can’t be put into words,” explains Burwell in press materials for the soundtrack. “In Carol, two women are romantically attracted to each other but the culture of 1950’s America hasn’t provided them with a language for this. Expressing these inexpressible feelings is one of the roles of the score in this film.” Burwell goes on to elaborate about the three main themes in his score: “The music over the opening [scene] plays the active engagement and passion of Carol and Therèse. [I]t’s telling you something about the characters before you ever see them, since they appear for the first time around the last note, but eventually this will become their love theme. There is also a theme for Therèse’s fascination with Carol. This is basically a cloud of piano notes, not unlike the clouded glass through which Todd Haynes and Ed Lachman occasionally shoot the characters. This piano texture required a little studio magic so the left and right hands of the piano could be processed separately – the left disappearing into a cloud and the right still distinct enough to carry a melody. The third theme is about absence and loss…It’s the best example of the use of open intervals such as the fourth, fifth and ninth, to veil sentiment. The hearts of both women are broken, but rather than play the pain the music plays the emptiness.”
Tracks like “Opening”, “To Carol’s” (which employs the cloud of piano notes Burwell mentioned), “Lovers” and “The End” are the most stirring, but the entire score as a whole is a masterfully blended session of strings, oboes and delicate piano notes that work both in the context of the film and on their own. There are also several tracks of period music, including songs by Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson, Less Paul & Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, The Clovers and more. Carol opens in theaters everywhere November 20. The Carol – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, released by label Varèse Sarabande, will be available digitally and on CD November 20, 2015. Seek it out.
You can also listen to the soundtrack on YouTube below.