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Carol by Carter Burwell (Review)

posted Nov 5, 2015, 8:25 PM by Kaya Savas

Carol sees director Todd Haynes reuniting with Cate Blanchett for the first time since his Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. Haynes also continues his collaboration with Carter Burwell who scored the miniseries Mildred Pierce for Haynes. Carol is a story about a young aspiring photographer in 1950’s New York who falls in love with an older married woman. The story revolves around their relationship as they try to keep it a secret.

Burwell was a perfect fit here, and his working relationship with Todd Haynes clearly brings out something great. What you’ll first notice is how beautifully the music establishes character and setting. I mean, the film takes place in the winter in New York City and the music just feels of that. Burwell doesn’t try to make it a “winter” sounding score, I think New York City just lives and breathes through him. The whole narrative just naturally feels perfect within his style. There is a tragic romance behind this music too, it can be stark and beautifully rich all at the same time. The main motif is pure Burwell of course, but there is something about it that echoes a warmth. There is a flutter, a flickering flame that is there and you’re worried it will go out. The phrase “shy warmth” pops in my head. Anyway, when things begin to unravel and their relationship surfaces thus putting things in jeopardy including Carol’s rights to her children, Burwell turns on the darker brooding stuff he does so well. The score has that Coen brothers feel at times, but it definitely doesn't carry a Coen tone. The whole journey Carol and Therese share here is so wonderfully reflected in the music, It’s hard to fault the score anything. It maybe could have used a little more heavier emotions to wrap up the story like Burwell did in Where The Wild Things Are. The third act just feels like it's missing that little something, but it's hard to pinpoint. The classic songs sprinkled throughout act as little time capsules to remind us we’re in the 1950’s, but they do carry more significance besides just setting the time period.

Carol is brilliant score done with a light-handed approach from the masterful Carter Burwell. The characters live and breath in the score, and their fragile forbidden relationship is so beautifully rendered in the music from start to end. The main motif does so much by doing so little. Just a small ascending build is enough to create the emotional resonance that is needed. Carter Burwell crafted a beautiful period drama set in the winter in 1950’s New York, and the music feels like a beautiful period drama set in the winter in 1950’s New York without trying to be. This is just wonderful and pure Burwell that found the right note to paint these characters’ journey.