Therese is a pretty, scrappy shopgirl with a dapper boyfriend and rowdy, heavy-drinking friends. She's curiously watchful—actress Rooney Mara keeps her eyes opened wide—but it's not quite clear what she's looking for. Until Therese sees Carol (Cate Blanchett). Then it all makes sense.
Drifting in on a cloud of elegance to the department store where Therese is slinging Christmas toys, Carol stands in stark contrast to Therese's ordinary life. When the two become friends, and then more than friends, Therese is airlifted into a world of highly refined misery, as Carol is in the midst of a tortured divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler). Carol and Therese book it out of town on a road trip, where their relationship slowly kindles, and while Carol offers Therese the comforts of the upper class, Therese offers Carol something more rare and valuable: a chance at happiness.