This article discusses nostalgia and sensation in Carol (2015), a contemporary melodrama about a lesbian romance in the 1950s. While Carol returns its romance to a closeted past, it presents a nostalgic view of queer desire that is neither wistful nor tragic. Drawing on Tamara de Szegheo Lang’s theory of critical nostalgia and Elizabeth Freeman’s theory of longing, this article argues that Carol’s nostalgic form, particularly its use of framing, texture and colour, unsettles linear experiences of time associated with looking at the past. Carol’s conspicuous formalism intertwines the phenomena and immediacy of temporal experience with the multiple experiences of historical desire, and the film’s aesthetics productively complicate its compliance with a larger narrative of linear progress. The interaction of framing, texture and colour in Carol engage ways of seeing that are critically full, rather than indulgently melancholic, of female desire in the 1950s.