Posted by: gdevi | October 27, 2013

Movie Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie. Dir. Kimberly Peirce. Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde. 2013.

Stephen King reportedly wrote Carrie after he was challenged by someone that his work was always about men, and that he does not know how to write about women. Carrie is all about women. The novel begins with the 16 year old Carrie getting her first period. The only child of a fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret White, who perversely considers the female body sinful, and blood, the medium of the Devil, Carrie does not know about menstruation. She thinks she is dying in the school shower when she discovers blood running down her legs.

Thus the story begins with the conflict: the other girls in the shower laugh at Carrie when she runs to them screaming and scared, asking them to help her. They throw napkins and tampons at her, all the while mocking her. The girls laugh at her, which traumatizes her even more. The first fifteen minutes of the story tells you that this is a revenge story. What is the cosmic status of the scornful laughter of a pack of “popular” and “cool” girls at a frightened young girl, a social outcast? Who else hears this laughter? There is enough material in this conflict for a horror story.

In many cultures worldwide, the onset of menarche, or menstruation is celebrated as a liminal state in the life cycle of a young woman. Not only does a young woman now become invested with the power to give birth to another human being, but this very power symbolically binds her with the Mother Goddess, the archetype of fertility.

Among certain Hindu castes and communities, to take India, for instance, particularly the matrilineal and matriarchal communities, the most important event in a young girl’s life is the onset of menstruation, which is celebrated with more aplomb than marriage. It is believed that with the onset of menstruation, the goddess, or the Devi, enters the young girl’s body. The young girl becomes an aspect of the goddess herself. The girl is bathed and clothed in brand new clothes, special food is made for her, she is given gifts of jewelry and clothes, and for five days, the girl is venerated as an aspect of the goddess herself.

In the southern Indian state of Kerala, my home, for instance, the deity of one of our temples, Chengannur Bhagavathy, undergoes ritual menstruation every month. The idol is believed to bleed every month for five days, and the temple priests observe the event with the ritual bathing of the idol in the river. The goddess’s power is believed to be most acute at the time of her menstruation.

Women share the female body with the goddess herself. The body matters. It is divine. It is not sinful. In our own western societies, this most feminine event of a girl’s life is usually hidden from everyone else. It is a secret, often a shameful one. Nobody talks about it. The uniqueness of the female biology is left unacknowledged.

Thus it is most interesting and appropriate that Carrie White, the socially isolated, traumatized, frightened, mocked and ridiculed girl is filled with extraordinary telekinetic powers with the onset of her menstruation. In Brian de Palma’s 1976 cult movie version of King’s novel, Carrie first senses the extraordinary power of her mind during her traumatic hazing by the other girls in the shower. When she screams in extreme fear, the lights crash and burn. Then the school principal mispronounces her name consistently, and she tips the ashtray off his table with her mind, and it crashes to the floor.

I liked Peirce’s remake quite a bit. Sissy Spacek was memorably awkward as Carrie in de Palma’s version, but she looked older and more virtuous than her character’s age. Chloe Grace Moretz is an equally good actress, and she carries more of that nubile awkwardness in a far more credible manner than Spacek did. From the very first shot itself, in the school’s gymnasium pool, she establishes the subtle homoerotic text of this plot. Carrie is an outcast at school not only because of her fundamentalist and weird upbringing, but also because she is rather asexual, or undecidedly homosexual, or at least homoerotic in her emotional leanings towards love and affection.

Unlike de Palma, by no means a coy director himself, but who buzzed through the girl’s locker room scenes, Peirce lingers over the physicality of the young girls, their bodies, and the subtle ways in which their sexual identities and orientations reveal themselves. Adolescence is a time when girls and boys discover their sexual identities, and Peirce’s work is extraordinarily perceptive of this lurking need within her characters. Thus Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) looks a little too long at Carrie; it is not just her guilt or discomfort at what her fellow “cool” girls are doing to Carrie. She also feels connected to Carrie in a specific but disquieting way.

De Palma emphasized this homoerotic subtext of the story at the prom when Carrie and Miss Collins, the gym teacher, hug each other. What are you doing with my date, Tommy asks Miss Collins. Then he turns to Carrie and says, the next time you hug a guy like that, I am going to have a problem with it. The homoerotic sympathy between Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher, and Carrie is subtly emphasized in this remake as well. Judy Greer plays Miss Desjardin with the right amount of teacherly concern, as well as just the least bit of additional interest that makes her solicitude for Carrie more thought-provoking than just a casual concern.

Peirce makes Margaret White, played by Julianne Moore in a scary and repulsive way, more certifiably mad than just fundamentalist. She cuts and hurts herself, and is generally disheveled and uneven that you can tell that it is not just religious fundamentalism that has messed up her mind, but her own deep, repressed psychological wounds and self-hatred. Piper Laurie was lucid and brainwashed as the destructive mother. Julianne Moore is more psychopathic and dangerous in this updated version. The final scenes of confrontation between Margaret and Carrie are particularly disturbing. Peirce again focuses on the destruction of the mother’s body. Every single sharp object in the kitchen flies through the air under Carrie’s power and impales Margaret against the wall, much like her beloved Christ with the bleeding heart. Peirce is a good horror director. She has the idiom down expertly.

Peirce has also updated the story for current times. Since teenagers are the most informed of any and all technological changes, cellphones, YouTube, social media and other teenage accessories play a big role in Carrie’s humiliation and revenge plan. Also, in Peirce’s hands, more so than in de Palma’s direction, the movie comes across as a calculated destruction of teenage vanities, particularly, the burgeoning patriarchy that rules teenage dating and romances. Because the teenage definition of “popularity” and “coolness” comes from the boys. “Popular” and “cool” girls have the boys, the boyfriends, the sex, the dresses, the hair, and the flaunted body. While de Palma left out the entire sexuality and pregnancy subplot, overtly present in King’s novel, Peirce makes that an organic part of the story. The teenagers have sex to advance their “cool” status. There is a cost to it.

After all, the adults did not become who they are, without going through the teenage years, picking and choosing their final social personas. Thus Peirce’s remake has a decidedly anti-patriarchal critique in it, that is very much in keeping with King’s novel. Carrie is not just a victim of religious fundamentalism, she is also a victim of patriarchal values. Because that is what a prom is; it is where you check out your ability to attract mates approved by social norms. King’s novel is suffused with this critique; Peirce’s remake is as well. In the final destruction of the prom, we see the explosion of these decidedly patriarchal vanities.

A very interesting remake; I am most curious to see the next remake of Carrie. Kimberly Peirce’s remake updates de Palma’s version with a decidedly female ethos, even a homoerotic one at that. I believe the next remake of this film will actually reinterpret the story from a Wiccan perspective! Because, whether King meant it or not, he has created a story where the essential plot is over determined in that direction. It is just a matter of time, and the next astute director.


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