“What a strange girl you are — flung out of space.”
That is perhaps the most enigmatic line of dialogue in Todd Haynes’ wondrous, acclaimed romance Carol. It’s spoken in an early scene by the title character (Cate Blanchett) to Therese (Rooney Mara) as they eat, nervously gauging their attraction to one another in a restaurant in 1951 New York City.
In the novel that Carol is based on, The Price of Salt by crime fiction maven Patricia Highsmith, Blanchett’s character is more of an enigma. Carol is an inscrutable object of desire for the twentysomething Therese, who has never experienced falling in love, much less with a woman. But screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, in her extraordinary adaptation, shifted the plot’s focus so that we get inside both characters’ heads and experience the emotional tumult that their romance is spurring within each of them.
And Mara, as seen in this behind the scenes clip that’s all about Therese (pronounced ter-REZ), shines in perhaps 2015’s most silently powerful performance, one that has already nabbed her the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, plus Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations.
Not unlike her cool, coiled performance in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which earned her an Oscar nomination in 2012), the 30-year-old actress’s brilliance lies in her ability to simultaneously portray both vulnerability and tenacity. Her introverted shopgirl in Carol experiences, through heartbreak, how it feels to truly fall in love, and Mara conveys such a delicate metamorphosis that her performance risks being almost undetectable.
In one scene, which you can catch a glimpse of in this clip, Therese rides home aboard a train after a particularly difficult and confusing evening spent at Carol’s home and she begins to uncontrollably weep. “It’s a love story, at its core,” says Mara. “Everybody can have a reaction to it because most people hopefully have experienced love in their lives.”
Praise for Mara is also a recognition of Todd Haynes, her director, who is also featured along with Blanchett in the clip. It was Haynes (and his remarkable longtime cinematographer Ed Lachman) who created the vaporously romantic environment in which Therese’s journey of discovery takes place. Carol is still opening across the country — it has so far grossed $5.2 million, playing on fewer than 200 screens. Without spoiling any specific details, Mara’s climactic scene is also the movie’s most spellbinding. As Therese strides through a crowded restaurant, the moment seems, both for the actress and her character, like a victory lap.