How Peirce's "Carrie" Fixes DePalma's
Carrie (2014) Starring ChloŽ Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. Directed by Kimberly Peirce.
Carrie (1976) Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, and Nancy Allen. Directed by Brian DePalma.
- It was also important that I went back and gave it a sense of justice. ... I wanted you to fall madly in love with Carrie, identify with her need for love and acceptance, because you want her to succeed at prom. ... It's a story about justice; it's a story about revenge.
- — director Kimberly Peirce
Many film critics slammed Kimberly Peirce's Carrie as a week imitation of Brian DePalma's 1976 classic, but they seem to have missed the point. Peirce's Carrie aims, not to copy the original, but to correct it.
The Anti-Youth Zeitgeist
In the 1960's, America saw a youth movement that succeeded in lowering the voting age, changing our nation's foreign policy, and transforming race relations. Many Americans found this scary. So we started seeing horror stories about youth with too much power. "The Twilight Zone" gave us an episode about the horrors of living in a society where a 6-year-old is the absolute dictator (an episode famously parodied on "The Simpsons"). "Star Trek" gave us an episode in which the ship is hijacked by an all-powerful teenager. Soon we would have films such as The Exorcist and The Omen in which evil power in the body of a child wrecks havoc on poor adults.
With the Second Wave of Feminism rising in the 1970's, we soon saw horror stories, too, about women with too much power. So novelist Stephan King decided to combine the two and give us a horror story about a female teenager with supernatural power, and it drew enough readers to launch his highly successful career.
DePalma's film version was faithful to the ageist and sexist appeals. DePalma's film offers adult viewers 90 minutes of watching teenaged girls get punished. Teenaged girls get punished by adults. They get punished by other teenagers. They get punished by supernatural forces. And that is pretty much the entire movie until the last few minutes where Carrie finally defends herself against her abusive mother, kind of, but kills herself in the process as the powerful teenager learns she has no place in this world.
Sissy Spacek as Carrie
In DePalma's Carrie, the only teenager who shows any real inclination to stand up against adults is — of course — the movie's villain. Chris's effort to unite teenagers against the gym teacher predictably fails (the storytellers wouldn't want to encourage youth in the audience to challenge adults), but the fact that she even tries is portrayed as a sign of her evil nature and a reason she deserves to be punished.
Pierce's Revenge Fantasy
Kimberly Peirce made her name with the film Boys Don't Cry, a sympathetic portrait of a young woman. When it was announced Peirce would be helming the 2013 remake of Carrie, we should have known this would not be a carbon copy of DePalma's film. And it wasn't. Surprisingly, the plot of Peirce's version is nearly identical to that of DePalma's. But with a few minor changes, the entire film shifts from an adult's fantasy of seeing teenagers punished to a teenager's fantasy of revenge.
One minor change is to simply move the film's focus from Carrie's torment to Carrie's revenge. The film's first portion is rushed as Peirce gets us quickly from one plot point to the next. In this part, Carrie is the victim of her peers and of her mother. Unlike DePalma, Peirce shows no interest in dwelling here.
ChloŽ Grace Moretz's Carrie
When all hell breaks loose this time, Carrie is firmly in control. ChloŽ Grace Moretz's Carrie is clearly orchestrating the mayhem, targeting the individuals who have tormented her and letting the innocent go, even using her powers to clear the innocent out of the kill zone.
If DePalma's Carrie had a theme, it was "youth + power = tragedy." The theme of Peirce's Carrie is "youth + power = chance for justice." Indeed, Peirce has said she intended to make, not a horror story, but "a superhero origin story."
And Peirce doesn't shy away from letting Carrie get revenge on adults. Indeed the first target of Carrie's justice is her mother. The second half of this film announces itself with Carrie knocking her mother into a closet and welding the door shut. After the prom, where Carrie targets teenagers, she goes back home and has it out with mom.
Casting is another change. Sissy Spacek did a great job of playing Carrie the Victim. But ChloŽ Grace Moretz gives us Carrie the Avenger.
In the first half of this film, Moretz seems miscast. Moretz, after all, is a pretty girl who has brought to her most memorable roles confidence and self-assurance. She is all wrong to play the timid outcast. But when we enter the film's second half, we see exactly why Moretz was hired. As a woman in control of supernatural forces delivering retribution, Moretz is the perfect choice.
DePalma's film seems eager to stereotype teenagers in the most negative ways. The young characters who are not tormenting the helpless are depicted as the exception, not the rule. In Pierce's film, small changes remind us that actually it's the bullies who are outliers.
In DePalma's opening scene every teenager who isn't Carrie is throwing shit at her until the heroic adult steps in and puts a stop to it. In Peirce's version, it is one bully who gets a few (not all) others to join her.
When our villain, Chris, and her villainous boyfriend and their villainous buddies go to kill a pig and collect the blood, the teenagers in DePalma's version show no hesitation to kill this helpless animal. In Peirce's version, one of the teenagers at the last minute refuses to go through with it, declaring this is crossing a moral line. Pierce is rightly reminding viewers this is something most teenagers would not do.
Teenagers Can be Strong and Good
Kimberly Peirce's Carrie
Pierce breaks this ageist trope with a single word of dialogue: "asshole." Tommy, the good kid who will charitably take unpopular Carrie to the prom, says it when he sees a teacher humiliating Carrie. Yes, a moment later Tommy backs down when challenged by the teacher and pretends he said something different, but at least for that one moment, we saw a kind, moral teenager stand up to an adult. That's more than DePalma's version gave us.
And that is not the last time we see Tommy stand up to an adult. After he asks Carrie to the prom, the gym teacher, suspicious of a hurtful prank in the works, questions Tommy and his girlfriend about this. As in the original version, Tommy assures this teacher of his good intentions. But this time, he also reminds the adult that his dating decisions are really none of her business. It's another reminder that these filmmakers know the difference between being good and being submissive.
There's a brief scene in this film where Tommy, the nice boy, and his equally nice girlfriend, Sue, are, believe it or not, having sex. And this is the only sex that happens in the movie. That's quite a twist. Most films promote the slut-shaming idea that only bad teenagers have sex. Stephen King followed that clichť: the only people in his book who seem sexually active are the evil Chris and her evil boyfriend. Brian DePalma was eager to fill his film with nudity, but even he could not bring himself to let sympathetic teenagers enjoy a healthy sex life. Kimberly Peirce, with no interest in titillation, places a dialogue scene between the two nice teenagers in bed. It is another quiet way to break free of the usual nonsense.
The differences between the two Carries are often subtle. Yet with an added line here, with a change of setting there, Peirce's version managed to remove much of the ageism found in the original. And given that ageism was the main point of the original, removing that ageism and still having a functional film is quite an achievement.