Also expanding Friday is the season's downtempo lesbian drama, Carol, starring Golden Globe nominees (and surefire Oscar contenders) Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as road-tripping lovers in the 1950s.
For as much as The Revenant is violent and macho, Carol is mannered and prim. Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) depicts the Christmastime bustle of postwar Manhattan — the fashions, the colors, the mannerisms — with elegance, though always, it seems, through glass.
Adapted from the pseudonymous Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, Carol chronicles the meeting and slow-blossoming romance of a divorced, wealthy, middle-aged woman (Blanchett) and the wide-eyed, nymphic department store clerk Therese (Mara, who has never looked more like Audrey Hepburn).
Both are under the (dramatic, if moderate) duress of hetero social structures: Carol fends off the pleading of her ex-hubbie Harge (a wonderfully multivalent Kyle Chandler), while Therese keeps postponing the gosh-wow plans and aww-shucks marriage importuning of her (accidentally?) comedic boyfriend Richard.
After a fleeting glance in Frankenberg's department store, Carol seeks Therese's advice on a Christmas gift for her daughter Rindy (these names!). She leaves her gloves at the counter to ensure another meeting. There's a tentative lunch date; a day at Carol's home in the country; next, a road trip, to which Therese can't say no; at last, the sex scene.
Though the performances are graceful and at times deeply affecting, the movie's central romance, for me, was never quite clear. That Blanchett's Carol, a powerful, seductive woman, exerts tremendous influence over the impressionable, curious Therese is evident and logical. That the influence manifests as mutual sexual attraction is not.
"Carol isn't even a love story," wrote critic Steve MacFarlane in Slant. "It's a tenuous chronology of two characters striving to get a love story started."
That they can't, that they're not allowed to (and that they still might not be allowed to), is the recurring tragedy in Haynes' hands.