Almost forty years after Brian de Palma’s hit film, Kimberly Pierce has released a new adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. While the 2013 adaptation was met with mixed reviews, I believe neither movie should have been made in the first place.
King’s novel, in the style of other longstanding classics like Moby Dick, establishes itself as true fact from the very beginning. Carrie is less of a continuous narrative, and more of a case study with short bursts of storytelling interjected. Fictitious experts are called upon in the novel to provide scientific evidence and fictional eyewitness accounts are quoted. This fiction within a fiction is what made Carrie so powerful in 1974, and that kind of story simply cannot be translated into film.
In the film adaptations, the audience loses out on the complicated characters of Sue Snell and Carrie White. The book, though told from an apparent third party observer, offers unique insight into both girls’ heads that audiences can’t possibly gather from film. As a result of this lack of understanding of these two central female characters, the underlying female empowerment themes in the novel are lost. Snell is quoted from her fictional autobiography in the book, telling us of her genuine guilt about the infamous opening scene in the bathroom and how it fueled the actions that ultimately led to prom night. She uses the power she has over other girls and over her boyfriend to try to make prom night special for Carrie, something that is not well depicted in the film. Pierce’s Sue Snell feels less powerful and more masochistic and stubborn.
In the book, Carrie is depicted in a sympathetic light as a victim of domestic abuse who harnesses a power in herself that has lay dormant since childhood. And while Pierce would like us to see the school bullies as the catalyst for the resurgence of her powers, in the book, it is the advent of her late onset period in the opening bathroom scene that rekindles her telekinesis and prompts readers to follow her story onward from there. It is literally the beginning of her womanhood that allows her to have this incredible power over others which is an unmistakable metaphor for the power of the female gender.
I do admire Pierce’s attempts to make the newest film more modern, but most of these contemporary elements unfortunately fall flat. Her attempts at relevance with the addition of cyber bullying undermines the power of Carrie by turning her into a bullying victim trope. Without Carrie’s detailed headspace that we get from King’s book, Carrie is reduced to someone who carries out every bully victim’s revenge fantasy instead of a powerful girl who bravely harnesses her own internal power to sweepingly reclaim her life. In the book, the school bullying is a convenient trigger for the bloodbath that King is so in love with creating, while the real focus remains Carrie’s quest to take back her autonomy in a world where she was stripped of it by people who fear her.
I think Pierce understood this, thought only to an extent. She attempted to show some elements of female empowerment in her film that the book so strongly embodies, but she went about it all wrong. Pierce has said in interviews that her intent was to make Carrie a superhero origin story – but that’s not what King’s novel is about. Carrie’s powers are a metaphor for female empowerment – as is evident by the strong ties to menstruation, female puberty, and sexuality throughout the book. The moral of the story is not that women need telekinetic power to be powerful, as the superhero story in Pierce’s film suggests – its that the female gender, in itself, is a source of power.
Another filmmaker will inevitably try in a few decades to resurrect Carrie from her grave yet again, but I hope this new director finally illustrates the metaphorical empowerment in the text, instead of the horror or blockbuster superhero elements the current adaptations have provided so far.
Image: Sony Pictures
Megan Tripp is a senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major at Emerson College. When she's not writing, she drinks copious anounts of coffee, watches Netflix, and thinks about what she wants to write next. Contact Megan on Twitter.