Carrie has got to be one of the most tragic stories there is. Let me explain.
I remember this brainstorming exercise I learned when I was writing fiction: You take a character and you ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to this character?” Then you ask, “How could that become the best thing to happen to this character?” Then you ask, “How could that then become the worst thing to happen to this character?”
The resulting “story” will have a series of peaks (best things) and valleys (worst things). Tragedies take you up a peak and then at the end leave you in a valley. The climax in Carrie is like falling off a cliff.
Carrie is the story of a sheltered and isolated girl who is invited to the prom by one of the most popular boys in school. The movie opens with Carrie getting her very first period in the locker room shower at school. Because she’s never been taught the birds and the bees by her religulously nutty mother, she thinks she’s sick or dying and freaks out. The other girls ridicule her at her most frightened and vulnerable state. [The worst thing that could happen to her.]
Later, one of the girls tries to make amends by getting her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom. This is first dance she’s ever been to—likely her first time socializing with anyone who is not her mother. It’s her first time dressing up, her first time wearing make-up. It’s her first kiss. A night she will remember for the rest of her life. [The best thing that could happen to her.]
If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…
And then it all goes to hell. Humiliation leads to mass murder—of the villains, yes, but also her friends—and ultimately matricide and the loss of her own life. [The worst thing that could happen to her.]
On its own, the story is terribly tragic. But to watch it again in 2013, it feels even more so.
It’s hard to watch Carrie today without evoking current societal crises like the escalation of bullying and school shootings (which are related to each other, in my opinion). The horror of a movie from 37 years ago has become the horror of newspaper headlines today. And as Carrie illustrates so dramatically, everyone is a victim in the end.
I’ve seen Carrie half a dozen times. In the past, I remember appreciating this movie mainly for Brian DePalma’s visual style. Rewatching it today for the first time in maybe 10 years, I felt the horror in a way I never have before. These deaths are no accident committed by a scared girl who loses control of her powers (how I’d remembered the story). Carrie “locks” all the doors to the gym, and then murders as many people as she can.
I think this movie can be read as a metaphor for how our society too often deals with (or more accurately, doesn’t deal with) its problems. We ignore the incremental harm we are inflicting upon some situation until it explodes and hurts us all.
In addition to the powerful narrative, there’s a lot to like about this film stylistically. The one specific thing I want to comment on here is DePalma’s effective use of split focus throughout the movie, and then split screen at the end (a technique popularized decades later on the TV show, 24). Seeing the horror play out with essentially half as much cutting as would have been necessary without the split screen doubled its intensity. And again, it’s hard to avoid comparisons to recent events, with the multi-angle security camera footage of shootings that we’ve all seen on the news.
Carrie has some flaws, of course, but all easy to forgive in the greater context of such a good film. There are some cheesy effects (like the interior shot of the rolling car simulated by spinning the camera) and some missed opportunities (DePalma should have used a shower scene instead of a bath at the end when Carrie washed off the pig’s blood to parallel the shower scene with the menstrual blood at the beginning), but overall this film blew me away today. I even jumped at the scare at the end!
If you haven’t revisited this movie in a while, I suggest you check it out again. And let me know whether you agree or disagree with my take.