Cinematographer Ed Lachman explains:
ARRI News: People often choose Super 16 for the mobility of the equipment and do
a lot of handheld operating, but this film is fairly classically shot,
with one rare exception being the very powerful handheld shot of
Therese during the final scene.
Ed Lachman: That's right; in terms of camera
movement and placement we approached this as a formal,
classically-shot film, but for that one scene at the end Todd wanted a
certain emotionality to the camera movement, to reflect the
characters' unsettled feelings. It was done by having the operator
handholding the camera while sitting on a dolly. That was our
compromise, so it's partially handheld but the tracking move across
the room was on a dolly.
Director Todd Haynes also talks about this shot in another article, but is less explicit in what he tried to convey:
Ray Pride: The camera makes a slight push-in on Carol when they first
meet in the toy department, a little reframing, and the only other
shot I remember that has that handheld effect is at the end, when
Therese is looking for her in the restaurant, before you land on her
looking toward the camera, Therese, us. Yearning gazes, those are
powerful and easily overdone. Those make sturdy bookends.
Todd Haynes: It’s all about these different strengths of restraint,
different levels of restraint. One example is that lunch scene. Just
the rate at which we intercut those shots. There’s such great moments
on both sides that the tendency, the instinct at first—oh, we have to
cut to that, we have to get all that stuff in—but once you develop
that rhythm of intercutting, you can’t pull back from it. So you
really have to set up some expectations of rhythm and pace for an
audience. You can deviate from it, but you go back to it as your norm.
So to just hold on to an actor when there’s a change of topic, and
there’s that little silence. Where nothing’s happening. And someone’s
nervously trying to change the topic of conversation. It’s
Ray Pride: It also captures the unease of a potential seduction,
you’re subtly shifting to the listener instead of the speaker, the
subject of desire.
Todd Haynes: Yeah.