Thoughts on “Carrie”

I have three more Stephen King movies watched to talk about, but I want to skip over them for now and turn to “Carrie”, because that pack has the other two movies — the sequel and the remake — and I want to write about this one before I start to watch the others so that the later ones don’t impact my view of this one.  Anyway, “Carrie” is the well-known story of a young girl who is bullied at school who develops her telekinetic powers and ends up going on a rampage at her prom when one last prank on her triggers her overwhelming rage.

For me, the interesting thing about this movie is that I had kinda seen it once already, as way back in the day it was out on Laserdisk and the convenience store nearby had them for rent so we picked it up and “Star Trek:  The Motion Picture” to watch.  However, either we did it wrong or else the person who rented it previously loaded the disk back in the case wrong and so we actually started with the last half instead of the first half, which kinda spoiled the ending a bit since we didn’t know what it was that was spilled on her — I think we thought it was paint — and so her reaction seemed a bit extreme.  This time, I watched it from the start.

This is one of the Stephen King adaptations that is the best received, and the others that seem to be well-received are the miniseries, not the motion pictures.  This one spawned a sequel and a remake, which the other King adaptations didn’t really get.  So I was looking forward to this one to see, presumably, an adaptation that got it all right.  However, it didn’t really work for me, and so I’m first going to say why that was and then comment on why I think it was well-received anyway.

The problem I had with this movie was that it focused too much on the antagonists, setting up why they were going after her and what they were planning to do.  It also set up a subplot where two other characters are set up to be antagonists but ultimately are trying to help her, which then has a tragic subtext when the boyfriend — who the girlfriend told to ask Carrie to the prom — is knocked out and likely dies in the fire of the gym and the girlfriend is one of the few to survive the outburst, on top of the fact that the girlfriend was trying to stop the other two from dousing her with pig’s blood and would have done so if the teacher that was on Carrie’s side hadn’t thought that the girlfriend was trying to do something bad to Carrie and hauled her away and kicked her out (which is the only reason she survived).  But the key to movies like this is to focus on the young, bullied person so as to make us understand them and really sympathize with them so that the outburst seems tragic, and this is especially important given the ending here where Carrie dies from her own abilities or due to her own grief, and especially since the reason she goes off is that she thinks that her classmates are laughing at her when only one of them was and even one of the ones involved in whole mess seems shocked and appalled by what happened.  To get the full sense of tragedy, we need to see the gap between her perceptions and the reality but also to understand why there is that gap.  Most later movies following that model do focus on the protagonist, which means it really reminded me of “It’s a Wonderful Life“, as one of the first or at least the first movie of this sort to gain mainstream popularity but where later movies got and focused on what was important more than it did.

I also didn’t care for how the movie often dragged scenes out for no real reason, other than maybe fanservice — the long scene with the girls exercising as their punishment for bullying Carrie, for example — long past the point where the scene had done what it needed to do.  We didn’t need that entire long scene to get why the girls might want to get back at Carrie, and in fact the scene could have been cut entirely and summed up with a short conversation and we wouldn’t have missed a thing.  The only place this works is at the end right before and when Carrie loses it, and even there it seemed to go on a bit long and so dragged a bit.  An hour and a half movie should never feel like it is dragging, and this movie did.

Okay, so given this, why is this movie so well-regarded?  Am I just being a curmudgeon here and being overly critical?  Well, I think there are some reasons why this movie is well-regarded even as I didn’t care for it that much.  First, the story is actually quite good and was probably fairly unique for the time.  As I noted, later movies tended to do it better, but at the time the story was original and interesting enough to draw interest.  Second, the end scenes are actually really effective, as the first scene at the gym — the most famous scene — builds the suspense well and shows us the direct consequences of her uncontrolled rage, while her mother attacking her builds in an excellent emotional component and leads to her final breakdown and death, and the end sequence with the girlfriend even has an excellent jump scare that shows how devastating this is for that girl who legitimately wanted to help and ended up contributing to the tragedy.  A really good end sequence can make up for a lot of less than stellar stuff in the middle of a movie.

Still, ultimately, I didn’t like it all that much even though it’s not terrible, so I could watch it again at some point but can’t see myself rewatching it any time soon.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on “Carrie””

  1. Tom Says:

    But the key to movies like this is to focus on the young, bullied person so as to make us understand them and really sympathize with them so that the outburst seems tragic

    Yeah, it’s been a long time since I read the book, but I think a lot of that has to do with Stephen King’s view of Carrie. He has stated that he never did like her and sees her as a female version of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (the Columbine killers). I recall that he even said he never entirely trusted Sue Snell’s motives for helping Carrie at the prom. That might explain the mixed tone of the story.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I will talk about this when I get to it, but the 2002 version fits this interpretation a lot better than the 1976 version does. “The Rage”, which I’ll talk about next week, completely ignores that interpretation and is far more in line with how the 1976 version treats those characters.

  2. Thoughts on “Carrie(2002)” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] actually think I would have enjoyed this movie a bit more if I hadn’t watched it so close to watching the 1976 version, because both of them are trying to adapt the same work and seem to be trying to follow it fairly […]

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