I started to write a quick facebook post about Carrie, but so many thoughts and emotions started to bubble up through the cracks, that I wanted to sit down and write it all out. I know so much has been said about this movie, what more can be said. But just because it’s been said before, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said again, and besides, I haven’t blogged in so long, I really need to get back in the habit.
And who knows, maybe I’ll say something new that you haven’t heard before.
So here goes, my thoughts on the 1979 Brian De Palma Classic Carrie, based on the debut novel by Stephen King.
As I write this, one of the sweetest scenes in the entire movie is happening in front of me that leads to perhaps my favorite line in the movie. Tommy asks Carrie to dance, and she refuses. After a nice scene between Carrie and the Coach, Tommy finally gets her to relent and break out of her shell and get up and dance with him. A truly beautifully shot scene follows as the two of them dance toghter, talking the whole time. The camera spins around them, mimicking the thoughts and emotions swirling in Carries head.
Slowly he coaxes her forward, opening her up as he teaches her to dance. A sadness passes over Carrie as she asks the question, she’s been wanting to ask but dreads the answer to. In her heart, she still worries that her mother was right, and this was all a joke. “Why am I here?” She asks. Playfully he responds, and this time its her turn to coax him out of his shell. A playful exchange between the two of them, that ultimately leads the truth.
Tommy wasn’t 100% sure why he asked her either. Finally, though, he gives it some thought, and after a sigh he recalls an earlier scene in the film, in their high school English class, where we first establish that Tommy might not be the empty-headed jock you would expect him to be. He smiles and says one of my favorite lines in the movie, so simple and so sweet, and so honest.
“Because you liked my Poem”.
The ending of Carrie over shadows the movie that came before it. When you talk about Carrie, most people jump to the bucket of blood, the infamous shower scene, or the Prom itself. A few lines come to mind, Dirty Pillows, “They’re all going to laugh at you”. Maybe the infamous jump scare at the end. For me, all of that, while good, is the least interesting part of Carrie. I can almost check out when we finally get to the bucket of blood.
Carrie is a movie about a lot of things and covers a lot of issues. Not the least of them being Bullying and what it’s like to be a teenage girl in the corpse grinder that is high school. Carrie is at heart, a tragedy about the relationship between Carrie and her Mother.
More so though, deeper than that, Carrie is a tragedy about Mental Illness and the dangers of when that illness goes untreated. Carrie is Carrie, and the movie ends the way it does, because Carries mom is sick and was never took the time to heal.
The movie begins with a horrifically famous scene that takes place in the High School Girls Locker Room Shower. I’m sure you know the scene. It’s horrific and heartbreaking. I cry every single time I watch that scene. The raw realism and venom in that scene is sickening. Before the blood begins to flow, it’s filmed so soft and lovingly, and then it changes to punctuate Carries horror.
The fall out to that scene though, the first scene with her mother. It’s so telling and sets up so much. Carrie doesn’t tell her mother what happened. She keeps it to herself. Her mother only knows because Carries Teacher calls and tell her. Carrie didn’t tell her, because she didn’t feel safe. The one person in the world she should be able to trust above everyone else, she doesn’t tell because she doesn’t trust how her response.
She knows how the conversation with her mother is going to go.
When her mother hangs up the phone, she proves her right, she proves that Carrie shouldn’t trust her. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are so amazing playing off each other. Both of them are excellent actors and are only made better by playing off of each other.
Carrie is in tears, on her knees begging her mother, pleading with her mother, at that moment Sissy doesn’t feel like an actress. You can feel her loss, and her sadness, radiating off her as she begs her mother to tell her why she didn’t warn her. Why she didn’t prepare her. Why the one person in the world that should, no matter what, be on her side, didn’t help her.
Instead of helping her, Mrs White, played so deftly by Piper, looks down on her with such disgust and literally locks her away in a closet with her “Sin” so she can “learn her lesson”. The scene is, and this is a word I’ll probably use a lot here, is heartbreaking. Carrie’s begging her mother for help, and her mother is instead quoting bible verses at her and locking her away.
Instead of love, her mother spat on her.
From moment one, you know that Margaret White is not in her right mind. Piper plays her with a tragic sadness that stems from an illness deep inside her. When you first see her at the Snell residence, trying to proselytize to Sue’s mom, you know this isn’t a woman who is dealing with a full deck. She’s a woman who was hurt so bad, that it broke her. She uses religion like a weapon to cut everyone who ever hurt her. To cut everyone she feels is beneath her.
I’m not blaming Mrs. White. She’s as much of a Victim as Carrie is. Something happened that broke her. Something happened in her life, that turned her into who she became. At some point some unnamed darkness creeped into her soul and stayed there, poisoning her.
Margaret White is a deeply troubled person. She’s suffering from obvious mental illness that she never got treated. That she never sought help for. So, as people in that situation do, she turned it on the only person she could. She turned it on her daughter Carrie. Her sickness turned Carrie into who she was. She created a tinder box that was set alight by the cruelty of the kids around her.
My absolute favorite scene between Carrie and her mother is when Carrie tells her mom that Tommy asked her to the prom. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. White doesn’t take it well. They have an argument, and in an effort to dismiss Carrie, Mrs. White gets up to close the window. Carrie uses her powers and slams all the windows in the closed.
It’s such a simple scene, but it shows so much, and it’s all done through Sissy Spaceks acting. The camera cuts to Carrie who is leaning on the counter, peering at her mother in the kitchen. There is a sadness on her face. At this moment, she pities her mother. She sees something in her mother that Mrs. White was never able to see on her own, she recognizes her mother’s sickness and her inability to change. But Carrie also shows that she has a strength that her mother didn’t. Carrie shows that if it wasn’t for the bully’s at school, she does have the power to get past her trauma.
At this moment you know that if it was for Chris and her Friends, Carrie would probably be okay. She’s strong, she makes friends at the Prom, she still shows her mother love. It won’t be an easy trek, but she’s on her way to being healthy, and she’s hopeful that she might be able to help her mom as well.
Sadly, again, this is a tragedy and it was not meant to be. Instead Chris and her friends step up and we get the famous pig bloods scene and the aftermath that follows. The real tragedy of this, is that her mother was right. Her abuser, who told her that she couldn’t’ make it, who told her she was alone, was right.
“they’re all going to laugh at you”, and they did.
They all laughed her, and she turns to the only person she can. Her Mother. Her abuser and pays the price. Instead of responding with love, Margaret White does the only think she knows how to do. She picks up religion and uses it as weapon driving all her pain and anguish into Carries back.
But was she right? No matter what their motivation, Carrie is not a movie without good guys. People are on Carries side. The coach, Sue, Tommy, she even makes friends at the dance who respond to her with more kindness than she probably saw in her entire high school career.
I don’t’ know if I would call Sue and the coach good guys though. I think a case can be made. I don’t think either of them are bad per say, I just don’t know if they are good. Neither one of them are really motivated by altruism. The bullying of Carrie is obviously nothing new. This is something that has been going on for years. Both Sue and Miss Collins are not reacting because they are “Good Guys” they are helping out of Guilt. Miss Collins flat out tells the principal that she wanted to hit Carrie to. She’s taking her anger out from Carrie and herself on Chris and the other girls.
Sue is essentially doing the same thing. She’s reacting out of guilt. I think an argument could be made for Sue, that I started out as guilt, but her motivation became purer as the movie went on. Maybe the incident in the shower was eye opening and is really concerned about Carrie and her happiness. I don’t really know.
The true hero of the film, the “Greatest American Hero” of the film if you will, is actually William Katt as Tommy. Okay, so I absolutely love William Katt, so I may be biased, Greatest American Hero was a very important show for young me, but I truly think Tommy is a good guy. He’s reluctant at first when Sue asks him to take Carrie to Prom but ultimately, he goes with it, and why?
“Because you Liked my Poem.”
But, because this is a tragedy, and as happens in a tragedy, the good guy pays for being good a good guy and it all ends in tears.
Brian De Palma is an excellent director, Scarface, Untouchables, Phantom of the Paradise, but in my opinion, this is his masterpiece. Carrie is a brilliant film and wouldn’t’ be possible without Stephen King. I’m not going to do anything crazy and say this was his best book or anything but being his first book it’s such a raw and innocent story. He didn’t build a plot with Carrie instead he bled it onto the page, and I love every minute of it.