Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

13 Sep 2012

(Movie - 1976) Carrie directed by: Brian De Palma

(Reaction) The True Monster by: Jelo Singson

Carrie revolves around the titular social outcast, Carrie White, who discovers that she possesses latent psionic powers which flare up when she is upset or in danger. Carrie comes to realize her full destructive potential after her traumatic humiliation at the hands of the popular girl's clique, worsened by her emotionally abusive-religiously fanatic mother's attempt to cure her of her curse, eventually resulting in catastrophe.

Ironically, while Carrie is the one born with supernatural powers and could; if she were so inclined, obliterate half the city with but a thought, she is a victim through and through. Throughout the film it is never Carrie who was the monster/freak, it was everyone else around her that acted and reacted in a monstrous manner.

Even before her psychic abilities manifested she was already being maltreated by everyone. When she discovers the frightening mystery known as the menstrual cycle her peers form a circle around a truly frightened and confused Carrie, pelting her with tampons, instead of helping her.

Her mother, Margaret, is a real piece of work. Not a frothing-at-the-mouth fanatic, but cruel and calculating master manipulator and truly disgusting example of how religion-incorrectly and selfishly applied-can be every bit as effective a tool for subjugation as the sword or the bullet.

Externally, she's extremely genteel but even her so called concern for her neighbors are covered wickedly barbed words. When her attempts at evangelization fail her smile is quickly replaced by a cold, tight lipped expression and a derisive promise of eventual doom.

When she's with Carrie though, she's another animal entirely. The irony of Margaret having a Southern accent, often associated with televangelists, is not lost on the audience either. The greatest bit of irony surrounding Margaret though is that all this cruelty towards Carrie is the result of her immense self-hatred.

Margaret White views her daughter as a living, breathing manifestation of her failure to maintain her virginal purity. Every time she sees Carrie, she is reminded that she had succumbed to the baser needs of the human body. Her whole holier-than-thou self-delusion is ruined when she sees Carrie who is, in truth, the product of a passionate (drunken) night of pleasure.

Another adult who fails Carrie is her school principal. His inability to properly recall Carrie's name can be seen as a manifestation of monstrous behavior. I doubt if he gets kids called to his office on a daily basis. Even if he did though, I would assume that a kid as quiet and meek as Carrie would stand in clear contrast from the typical garden variety school miscreant. Different enough to be remembered, or in the very least different enough for him to remember her name correctly.

This tells us two things: 1. he treats all students that get sent to his office with the same cold, transactional ineffectualness. 2. He does not feel that Carrie is important enough so calling her Cassie rather than Carrie is good enough. These two possibilities though tell us one thing: as a principal and a person he fails at both these roles.

Again ironically, even when Carrie's powers manifest fully she never becomes a monster. The minute she understood that she was now the possessor of a strange and terrible talent she could have gone on a murderous rampage, but she didn't.

I recall a scene where Carrie begins preparing for the prom. This is a perfect example of her judicious use of her gift as being consistent with her kind and caring character. Her extremist mother is truly opposed to her attending the prom and wastes no time berating Carrie, calling her breasts (her cleavage amply but tastefully shown via a low-cut dress) dirty pillows then tries to grab Carrie presumably to strike her or disrobe her. Carrie uses her telekinesis to subdue her mother then she proceeds to correct her mother saying gently These are called breasts Momma, not dirty pillows....

The film culminates with the now iconic scene of Carrie being doused with animal blood as she is crowned prom queen. The gore-soaked Carrie is truly a terrible and yet strangely saddening sight to behold. Her psychic manifest now in its complete and dreadful peak and in a blind rage she kills tormentor and bystander alike.

Visually, this scene is amazing: a fully realized psychic Carrie, covered head to foot with clotted, half dried blood slowly walks-almost floating actually-through the chaos of the now darkened gym cum dance hall. She is the very avatar of death itself and no one is to be spared tonight. Even though there is so much death and destruction surrounding her, one cannot help but feel a small sense of personal vindication at the back of one's mind. Yes people are dying, but they were jerks and they probably had it coming anyway.

The film ends with Carrie's psychic implosion of their along with herself and her telekinetically mauled mother. A fitting ending, I believe, and consistent with Carrie's deeply sensitive and caring character. I read into this course of action that she's taken as her ultimate act of withdrawal from the world and its many ordeals. Powerful beyond human reckoning and having avenged herself from all her tormentors she now implodes into nothingness taking her house and mother with her.

I cannot help but compare this scene to the ending scene in the critically acclaimed sci-fi anime film Akira. Like Carrie imploding, the psychic Akira creates an alternate dimension for him and Tetsuo to live out the rest of their new existence as fully developed psionic beings, never again to be seen or plagued by humanity. Perhaps Carrie didn't die either. Maybe she created a pocket-realm for herself to live in too, far from the concerns of people who are now very much beneath her ken.

Again, consistent with her kind and loving character she takes her mother along with her to wherever it is that they're going presumably to protect her from the rest of the world. Margaret is a victim of sorts as well. The self-loathing, the guilt, the perpetuation of the cycle of violence-all the result of a twisted religious world view-kept her shackled up and unable to accept help or kindness from everyone. This worldview isolated herself and Carrie. This perhaps might have been the greatest tragedy of all in the film.

The mother was such a crucial character in the movie and could have very well raised a messianic figure in the form of Carrie but could not because she was so blinded by her own distorted religious views and instead of seeing a gift and a privilege she saw a curse and a perverse religious duty to murder her own flesh and blood. I find it a very interesting premise to think of what Carrie could have become had she been nurtured correctly. Indeed, what wonders could she have done had she not been scarred so badly by the world?

Review:

Skilled film-makers are able to take viewers inside their character's minds and hearts and Carrie is an interesting elevator ride through the life of a deeply damaged but deeply sympathetic soul. The brilliant counterpoint to all the potential gloom of the film though was Director Brian De Palma's skill in making the movie unfold. His control over the elements of the film such as the pace, the lighting, the editing and even the careful, judicious use of the cheesy, hazy, dream/flashback effects gave some scenes in the film a certain beauty; such as the scene where Carrie is crowned prom queen, or light-hearted humor-like in his depiction of the popular/mean girl's clique going through disciplinary calisthenics. De Palma knew how caricature they (the mean girls) were and he gave the viewers plenty of vicarious laughs when he put them through the karmic spin-dryer as punishment for bullying Carrie.

Overall, the film is enjoyable because it is a well told tale that unfolds at a good pace. It is a careful balance of presenting Carrie's journey of self-discovery-her quiet endurance of the selfish machinations of her emotionally unstable, zealot mother; her discovery of her frightening gifts, the eventual comeuppance of her shallow, self-obsessed peers and her own tragic demise. The pacing is just right in that there was enough time for a pitiful Carrie to get a taste of what she most deeply desired: to be loved and accepted as a normal teenage girl - before everything was yanked out from under her. Even the suddenness of the turn of events served to highlight the emotions that the audience feels. Vicariously, everyone just wants Carrie to be happy but even that is to be denied her at the end. When the bucket drops, the audience is every bit as shocked and humiliated as Carrie is. Even with the careful balance though, the plot itself is quite simple; a fairly standard recipe for many a soap opera.

The characters in the film are also pretty stock: the mean girls, the queen bee, the hard-nosed gym teacher, the hag, etc. but that's hardly surprising considering that this is a horror film. Well-rounded characters usually become second priority to the gore factor or a body count but that's not what's surprising either. What is surprising is the almost total lack of a male presence in the film. There were males of course but they were either incompetent, like the school principal who couldn't remember Carrie's name (he was constantly calling her Cassie) or an outright tool, like John Travolta's character. Honestly, would anyone in their right mind go through all that trouble to do something so awful just because his high-strung, high-maintenance strumpet girlfriend told him to do it?

Despite the stock characters and the predictable plotline, what really kept the audience from disengaging from the film was really good acting, notably Sissy Spacek's honest performance of the downtrodden, eponymous Carrie and the unhinged, fanatic mother played by Piper Laurie. Innocence is a human characteristic/emotion that is truly difficult to define and even more difficult to portray on screen or on stage but Sissy Spacek was able to make it shine through so clearly.

I was really struck by the expression of profound alarm and horror she had on her face as she experiences her first menstrual period while she showers in the girl's locker room. She had this wide-eyed-deer-looking-at-headlights-completely-lost look of horror that is so difficult to duplicate which then switches to a look of utter, complete dependence, with outstretched arms desperately looking for care and an answer to what's going on. Both looks are clearly the far ends of the bell curve of extreme emotion but both nonetheless are manifestations of how fully naive and innocent Carrie is. She is unaware of the changes happening to her body and when the change comes it horrifies her and she reaches outwards like a drowning person for anyone who will offer an iota of human kindness.

The film, while generally categorized as a horror movie, saddened rather than frightened me.

The film has a quirky, unsettling air about it despite the lack of cliched creepy surroundings. The story telling augments its power to disquiet the audience and gives it an impact that such a simple story would have otherwise lacked. Much of the credit, though, must be given to Spacek, who so convincingly depicts Carrie's pain and her deep longing for acceptance.

Carrie is not a gore-fest in the traditional sense. It is sadly though, in my honest opinion, prophetic utterance speaking of the mental agony and the profound sense of alienation that all social outcasts in high school halls all over the world go through. This silent outcry to belong resonates so loudly in a world badly scarred by the Colombine incident and the many other tragic shootings that would still occur after it.

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