Carrie haunts audiences with portrayal of realistic bullying

Do you remember bullying? Whether experienced during high school, middle school or at a younger age, bullying seems ever-present in the American social life, a way in which children (and adolescents) assert their power over the vulnerable. The eponymous protagonist of the newly released remake of Carrie (Chloe Moretz) is introduced as just such a fearful recipient of perpetual bullying.

Cowering in the shower, hidden from the sight of the girls in gym class, Carrie is rinsing herself off when she realizes she is covered in blood. Terrified, she screams for the other girls’ help.

“You have your period, plug it up,” Chris taunts her. Ashamed and confused, Carrie begs for aid but the other girls shower pads and tampons on her writhing, bloody body. Eventually the gym teacher rescues her from her tormentors, but she also slaps Carrie to stop her hysterics. Abuse, it seems, runs rampant in Carrie’s life.

Beyond the bullying she endures at school, Carrie’s biblically-motivated, psychotic Mama (Julianne Moore) relentlessly disciplines her. Just beyond the stark white door of her innocuous blue home, Carrie is frequently beaten and locked in a closet to repent her “sins.”

The image of Carrie—screaming and pounding on the closet door while Mama sings hymns in the next room—reiterates the disturbing idea that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.

Carrie, it seems, will have to come to her own rescue. After discovering her telekinetic ability, she studies the phenomenon and learns to control her power.

Her talent will come in handy at the end of the film, when Carrie is publicly humiliated at prom and her date dies. Anger and frustration presumably built up over years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of her mother and classmates induce Carrie to commit mass homicide. Literally exploding with rage, Carrie burns and slaughters the prom-goers, the terminal result of cruelty inflicted by her surroundings.

Although Carrie was first released as a novel by Steven King, its film adaptation has long stood as the more famous version. The original version of Carrie was released in 1976 to the shock and horror of audiences around the country. The film, which stared Sissy Spacek, proved to be a breakout hit, earning $33.8 million at the box offices. The role garnered Spacek an Academy Award nomination, along with Piper Laurie who played her mother. The violence and turmoil of the first version, which so scared a previous generation survives into this remake.

Unsurprisingly, I left Carrie disheartened. My friend loved it.

“That was so good!”

“Was it?” I asked, despondent.

The film was so upsetting I had difficulty describing the experience.

Carrie, a “supernatural” film, is ultimately frightening not because of Carrie’s magical powers but because the trauma she experiences is very much a part of this world.

A tortured individual, Carrie toes the line between school and home, frightened of both and unable to have a pleasant time. Even at prom, the supposed “greatest night” of her young life, she floats precariously as though intuiting the upcoming massacre.

Most disturbing about the film is that Carrie’s consequent freak out when she murders half the senior class, is both predictable and, morbidly, understandable.

In the film We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), a deranged and inherently violent high school student commits a school shooting and then kills his family. It is nearly impossible to identify with the student. He is uncommunicative, loves torturing his sister and animals, and is quite obviously a sociopath. He stands as the archetype of the “disturbed individual” represented in media, the child we “just don’t understand.”

Undoubtedly, most mainstream moviegoers would prefer to imagine that sociopaths commit heinous crimes like school shootings. However, watching Carrie and the abuse that she suffers throughout the film invokes an intense feeling that her murderous actions are in some way justified.

We all know or have known just such a vulnerable, bullied student.

Reflecting on high school, I remembered the girl whose sex tape emerged on MySpace, and she was consequently harassed for months. A boy in my year had a mental breakdown, left for three months, and upon his return to school was followed by whispers until he graduated. Another student in my grade had the “audacity” to show up at a private party and was therefore “jumped” by a group of six guys who beat him until he needed to go to the hospital. He was forced to drive himself since everyone else was too frightened to approach him.

When people feel comfortable teasing, taunting, bullying, whispering, laughing, fucking with people who are the most vulnerable, is it truly surprising that school shootings occur? Everyone has a breaking point.

The film frequently dramatizes the high school environment, depicting an entire hallway as creepy enough to bring a good Catholic girl to tears. As a child of Sunday School and an Irish Catholic mother, I can attest that the iterations of bloody Jesus are familiar. To reference a truly frightening closet, check out the Chokey in Matilda.

The two leads in the film are phenomenal. Moretz as the frail, nervy and off-putting Carrie who inevitably goes insane is perfection. Moore is even better, a self-mutilating, terrifying zealot.

The other actors are less remarkable, all appearing about 28 years old. Furthermore, Carrie’s date, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), although doggedly attractive, lacks the charisma that the title of “hottest guy in school” necessitates.

I should have known from the beginning that I would leave the film feeling dashed to pieces. In the opening scene, the camera tracks the stairs to the bedroom, following a set of bloody footprints which end at Mama’s shaking, bloody body.

She imagines she has cancer and is screaming for God’s help. She is giving birth, but has no idea, a scene paralleled when Carrie later does not know why she is bleeding. This scene depicting a violently unhappy mother delivering her baby was enough to destroy any delusions that there is anything fun or funny about childbirth.

Thanks, Carrie.

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