'Carol' Brings The '50s To Life

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett have an emotional, forbidden love affair in the new movie Carol. But personally, I'm having a love affair with the film's costumes, cars, and sets. A glimpse at the movie's trailer quickly reveals that the time when Carol takes place isn't in modern times, but in some romantic era with old-fashioned cameras, flawless hair, and lots of cigarette smoking (OK, that part isn't as romantic, but it is evidence that the movie is set in a time before carcinogens were a public health concern).

The story is set in New York City in 1952, beginning at Christmastime. 1952 was also the year that the book The Price of Salt (AKA Carol)— which the film is based on— was released. The narrative in the book, however, pulled loosely from the author's own life experiences a few years before the midpoint of the 20th century. These events were, namely, a love affair Patricia Highsmith had in the 1940s, and the sighting of a beautiful woman in a department store in 1948. But this time difference seems negligible, and the book and movie both create a genuine picture of America around 1950. These other beautiful movies also pay tribute to the era, whether or not they explicitly reveal the setting in terms of year.

The Tree Of Life

1950s Texas is the setting for the flashback sections of this experimental drama film. The stunning cinematography shows the protagonist's changing perceptions of life as he grows up in idyllic Waco and learns that the world has an abundance of beauty, but also pain.

Revolutionary Road

This tearjerker was based on a 1961 novel, but the narrative begins in 1955. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio star as a couple who fall in love and try to pursue the American Dream together, only to have life get in the way. The backdrop of picturesque 1950s Connecticut emphasizes the tragic irony of their failure. Dammit, are Kate and Leo just never meant to be?!

The Hours

Based on the novel of the same name, this movie has three different (yet intersecting) narratives, one of which involves a housewife named Laura in California in the early 1950s. Played by Julianne Moore, Laura's superficially beautiful life on the outside is contrasted by her deep anguish and depression on the inside.


This heartwarming movie finds two 1990s teenagers — played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon — transported into a TV sitcom set in a place called Pleasantville in 1958. Pleasantville's world is black and white, both literally and figuratively; there is no poverty or social strife, but there is also no real happiness. The teens' arrival throws a wrench into the mix, and conflict arises as the formerly stable (that is to say, stagnant) town is met with the threat of change.

1950s America, therefore, is an ideal setting for a film that wishes to show the contrast between a squeaky-clean, rigid environment which is populated by people who are anything but. Being human means being messy and and ever-changing, and realizing that "perfection" is largely a myth. Blanchett and Mara learn these lessons, among many others, in Carol — in theaters Nov. 20.

Images: The Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Paramount (2), New Line Cinema