[18 October 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
At the prom, near the end of the new Carrie, Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) meets someone new, someone she hasn’t seen before. Erika (Mouna Traoré) has come to Ewan High School for the first time with her date, George (Demetrius Joyette), who is, in fact, one of Carrie’s classmates. The girls’ exchange is brief: Erika admires Carrie’s dress, then marvels that she’s made it herself. They walk together toward the camera, and then, Erika is gone, having served her purpose, which is to show what Carrie’s life might have been like had she lived among peers who hadn’t abused her for years.
Erika’s difference from those peers is extra visible in this Carrie: she’s black. She and George are the only two black students on view in Carrie’s small New Hampshire town. The other kids are white, including Carrie’s most aggressive tormenter, Chris (Portia Doubleday) and her sometime associate Sue (Gabriella Wilde), plus a couple of boyfriends, the black-leather-jacketed Billy (Alex Russell) and sweetly smiling Tommy (Ansel Elgort). That George is Tommy’s friend helps to mark Tommy’s good intentions: he’s the one who brings Carrie to the prom, hoping, along with Sue, to “give” her one dream of a night after four hellish years of high school.
Tommy’s misguided good intentions are underlined when he takes on a couple of the adults who contribute to Carrie’s nightmare, one out of ugly arrogance and the other, well-meaning ignorance. In English class, when their smirking teacher (Jefferson Brown) not so implicitly disparages Carrie’s choice of poem to read aloud, Tommy calls him an “asshole” and then commends Carrie, much to his classmates’ distress. Tommy goes on to criticize Carrie’s feebly supportive gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer), whose effort to punish the mean girls backfires sensationally, inspiring Chris’ obsessive revenge (“This isn’t over!”), involving a knife and a pig and blood splatter on Billy’s suddenly ecstatic face, not to mention his sinister sexual arousal.
That the gym teacher’s punishment is ordained by the generally oblivious Principal Morton (Barry Shabaka Henley)—the film’s token black adult—only amplifies the sense that the black individuals here inhabit another dimension, one set apart from all the white folks’ machinations. The principal and Erika might imagine an order to their community, even sensible reactions to minor events, but as the white children and adults try again and again to control outcomes according to their needs and desires, it’s clear that no matter how inevitable the apocalyptic end seems, it is a function of illogic and hysteria rather than anything resembling sense.
The fact that Chris’ cruelly distracted dad is played by the unbilled, ever disquieting Hart Bochner underscores this pervasive illogic. As if to pile on, the only other parent you see is Carrie’s famously monstrous mom, Margaret (Julianne Moore). Indeed, she’s the first figure on screen, giving birth to her daughter alone, bloody and in excruciating pain, convinced that her baby is a curse, a sign of the sin she committed by “liking” sex with the unseen, utterly vilified father. As she holds a large gleaming knife over her infant, about to destroy the sign, gooey little Carrie opens her eyes and re-seals her own terrible fate. Mom loves her, and so proceeds to save her by destroying her, slowly.
This fate, as Carrie comes to see it, is mom’s fault. Not only does Margaret regularly lock her in a closet and force her to pray on her knees, she also neglects to warn her about menstruation and so set in motion a horrible series of events when Carrie begins to bleed in the shower at school; when Chris and the other girls duly torment her, tossing tampons at her and chanting “Plug it up” while Chris takes a cell phone video that must end up on YouTube.
This is a turning point for Carrie, who goes home and duly blames her mother for her humiliation and then, on finding she can move objects with her mind, googles “telekinesis”. The first moment leads to more blood and torture (Carrie in the closet with a literally bleeding crucifix, mom cutting herself, mom insisting, again and again, that her girl is sin incarnate). The second is goofier, a cheesy rendering of her revelation that makes a broader point, that the girl who can perceive and seek out a world beyond the one in front of her is a girl empowered.
That she uses her power to destroy the world in front of her is the Stephen King version of such discovery. That Kimberly Peirce’s film offers glimpses of another possibility, that Erika sees Carrie as a pretty girl in an impressively homemade prom dress, illuminates the bullying Carrie endures each day, from her mother, her classmates, and at least one teacher. That’s not to say the bullying needs illumination, as it’s elaborate and persistent and brutal throughout the film, whether Carrie’s screaming in the closet with walls pressing in or screaming on the shower floor, a scene replayed as video, as entertainment. But it is to say that, for fleet seconds, the film imagines for Carrie another option, one she can’t see but one you might.