Did ‘Carrie’ Do Enough To Separate Fantasy From Recent Tragedies?

Bryan Enk
Movie Talk
October 19, 2013
Chloe Grace Moretz in "Carrie"
Chloe Grace Moretz in "Carrie"

"Carrie" director Kimberly Peirce sees her remake as a "superhero origin story" ... about a superhero that, you know, murders her enemies, anyway. (Hey, if Superman can do it ...)

Brian De Palma's 1976 screen adaptation of Stephen King's first novel is a horror classic, a film that has barely aged in the 37 (!) years since its release (despite its somewhat cheesy '70s vibe). The film about a tormented teenage girl who unleashes her telekinetic powers against her bullying classmates and Bible-thumping mama is a traditional Halloween season must-watch for many of today's teenagers — and their parents, some of whom were teenagers themselves when the film first came out.

It's Peirce who has the unenviable task of bringing a new vision of "Carrie" to life — in a world wherein school-ground tragedies now occur with worrisome regularity. Despite the fact that her film will unavoidably be compared to its now-legendary predecessor — and is now being compared to real-world phenomena — the "Boys Don't Cry" director believes this story of "tragedy and inevitability" is one worth telling again.

"When I reread the novel I realized that Stephen King's writing was ahead of its time, and in some ways it's more relevant now than it was then," said Peirce in an interview with 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio. "King's writing is not only timely but it's timeless, and it's classic — I believe King's writing reaches the level of myth, I believe it's like Shakespeare — it's a Cinderella story turned on its head, you can retell the story of 'Carrie' because it's that good."

While some theatre people out there may scoff at the Shakespeare comparison, Peirce raises a good point about the timeliness of the story — in fact, recreating the mass murder at the center of the story's final act might seem a bit dubious upon the aftermath of recent real-life incidents such as the Sandy Hook tragedy. Peirce hopes to separate her film from reality by concentrating on the story's fantastical — and perhaps comic-book — elements.

"It was vital to me in light of all of [real-life tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Columbine] that this was a superhero origin story," said Peirce. "Carrie was discovering her powers as the movie went along and she never had mastery of them. And when those powers come out, she's not in control of them, and she immediately starts looking for the culprits. And that's really important because I knew that we needed a sense of justice and a sense of good old-fashioned revenge."

[Related: Comparing the 'Carrie' Remake With the Original]

The idea of "Carrie" as a 'superhero origin story' certainly fits with the trailer, which in some ways presented the film as more of a new chapter in the "X-Men" series than a remake of the Stephen King story. But the bloody, destructive, murderous events depicted as Carrie sets out to destroy her classmates may hit too close to home for some. Still, Peirce sees Carrie as the 'hero' of the story, albeit a very tragic one.

"You have to believe that Carrie is in the right and have to root for her to do that," said Peirce. "You don't want to feel that she's in any way going overboard or that she's doing anything to innocents if possible, it has to feel motivated. Because that's the kind of movie that we can go to and feel good about enjoying — I don't think we would've enjoyed it if it were organized any other way."

Going overboard? You mean like setting things on fire and making things explode with her mind? Nah, not overboard at all.

Anyway, what's a superhero without a supervillain? Peirce saw this role being filled by Carrie's mad zealot of a mother, Margaret White, played by Julianne Moore. In fact, the new film opens not with the shower scene (as it did in De Palma's film) but with Margaret giving birth to Carrie ... and being rather ambivalent about having a child.

"The mother and daughter story was the heart and soul of the entire movie," said Peirce. "Those two are locked into a duel forever — that was a ticking clock from the beginning. And the film closes with that conflict reaching its climax."

Chloe Grace Moretz, Kimberly Peirce and Julianne Moore.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Kimberly Peirce and Julianne Moore.

Whether or not this new "Carrie" stakes its claim in the pop culture zeitgeist as strongly as its predecessor remains to be seen. And the jury is still out on whether the film's school-set violence will draw widespread criticism. For now, Kimberly Peirce sees it as a thematic — and worthy — companion piece to her other films, "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and "Stop-Loss" (2008).

"I love an amazingly strong central protagonist," said Peirce. "I love someone who has an incredibly strong need, whether it's for love and acceptance ... something that is universal and that we can all relate to and that we care deeply about. They need it, and it's a life or death thing — they're willing to pursue it against all odds."

"Carrie" is in theaters now. Watch the trailer:

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