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Soundtrack review: Carol (Carter Burwell – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Carol (Carter Burwell – 2015)


“Carol” is a 2015 British-American romantic drama film directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department store. The two women develop a fast bond that becomes a love with complicated consequences. The score is composed by Carter Burwell. Burwell is a hit and miss for me but his style is clear and unique.

The suave and elegant opening sends us to the time of the story. This cue is quite un-Burwell esque and I’m already intrigued. “Taxi” is more like him with the mysterious and almost deceiving piano. I remember instantly what always attracts me to a Carter Burwell score: the game of shadows in his music, the way the sound appears and disappears, the way the strings condemn and forgive and the way the games suddenly just stop and we get a beautiful romantic theme. Simple as it is, “To Carol’s” charms me for good with its atmospheric joy.

I like the way this score flows and I like the way it creates a story of its own. No piece of this puzzle seems out of place and the interplay of the instruments weaves a net that only pulls me closer. If it’s not the piano, it’s the wonderful violin on “Christmas trees”. The music is intimate and right for describing a love story. For me the score doesn’t deal with any external factors, just with the inner universe of the two characters.

Even if the “Carol” is generally sad, I can relate to it very well. It’s the kind of quiet composition that says a lot and tries to make us feel both the love between the two characters as well as the hardships they must endure. The wonderful and deep melodies of this score remind me of “A single man” by Shigeru Umebayashi and Abel Korzeniowski. I’ve been looking to recapture those feelings.

Every now and then Carter Burwell steps out of the romantic mode and returns with one of his trademark ironic cues like “Gun”; this one is a nod to every Coen brothers movie he ever wrote for. But these winks are rare and just something to help his fans maybe connect better with “Carol”. For me this was one of the richest and most beautiful romance scores I have heard this year. The endless dance between the piano and the strings, with gentle touches and meaningful spaces reached deep inside me and found a place there. For me this is right now one of the best scores Carter Burwell has written.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 27 / 36

Album excellence: 74%



To Carol’s

Christmas Trees

The Train




Over There



The Times


The End

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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