With the upcoming remake of Carrie hitting cinema screens in a couple of weeks, it seems like a good time for The Truth Inside The Lie to turn its attentions toward the novel and the first movie (and to the "sequel" and the first remake, as well).
Thing is, I just don't have time to do it. So instead, I'm going to do something a little on the lazy side, and a little on the fun side, and a lot on the "nobody is actually going to want to read this, but the hell with it, post it anyways" side.
In the early years of the century, back when I was trying to figure out What I Want(ed) To Do With My Life, a pet project continually popped into my head: I wanted to write a definitive book about the work of Stephen King. It was hubris for me to believe that I had the capability to do so, but that's okay; I eventually disabused myself not only of that particular notion, but also of the notion that that was even something I ought to be aiming for. Eventually, I decided that maybe a more achievable -- and an altogether more appealing -- goal might be for me to simply work toward creating some sort of a definitive statement on the subject of how I perceive the books of Mr. King. It seems like only a slight difference, but it's a crucial one, and the difference is vast. The book I had in mind initially would have been the sort of semi-dry critical tome that gets published by a university press and has all the hallmarks of academia; and also has pretension toward universality.
Critical works of that sort tend to talk TO you, not with you; I was still close enough to college to feel that that was a goal worth aiming for, and so that's the sort of thing that was in my mind.
I had a lot of ideas along those lines; the Stephen King one was merely one. But I'm great at managing to not actually follow through on any of my best ideas, and so the first few years of the century saw me in prime "I'll work on that next year" mode. Circa 2002, though, I decided that the time had come to at least put a few tentative steps forward. So I grabbed a copy of Carrie (feeling that it was best to start at the beginning), reread it, and then re-reread it, highlighting passages that seemed interesting and taking notes on the various things that interested me.
I followed that with similar viewings of the three movies (the 1976 original, The Rage: Carrie 2, and the recently-aired 2002 television remake), which I considered in turn.
So what I'm going to present here is the set of notes I typed up on all of this once I was finished. There's a pretty good bit of it, especially on the novel, and I'm going to just put it all up, warts and all. Revising it would sort of defeat the purpose, and anyways, like I said, I don't really have the time for it.
Looking at it, though, reminds me of how much I enjoyed that initial foray. I'd done plenty of critical writing before, virtually all of it for one class assignment or another; when I began, I wasn't sure I'd have anything to say about Carrie, so when it turned out that not only did I have things to say, but that I had a LOT of things to say, I got a real rush out of it. I had a hell of a lot of fun sitting there with a yellow highlighter and a red pen, making little observations that I later turned into bigger ones, which I in turn intended to edit into an essay of maybe ten pages in length (more, if you count the movies).
The latter part of that never happened. I took three runs at it, and one of them actually ended up being about ten pages. There is good stuff in it, but it's also, to be blunt, not what I wanted it to be.
And so I gave up. I just gave up totally on the whole thing.
I always regretted that. I kept that regret in mind, too; this was active regret, not the kind you bury and forget. Whereas I didn't keep the critical-analysis end of things going, I did keep the chronological reread of King's work going, though. It was slower than I might have liked, but it was a 2-3 books per year thing, at least. By the time I got to Misery, I was in the mood to revisit my idea for writing some sort of large-scale critical work on King.
That's what led to the creation of this blog, which in turn explains why Misery was the first book I tackled as a blogger. I didn't do so as in-depth as I'd done with Carrie years earlier; I was a bit too rusty to do so, and it's also such a time-consuming process that I decided to try and meet myself in the middle, and be expansive, but in a restricted sense.
The tension between those two modes is, in some ways, what this blog is all about. It's a question. A series of them, really; questions I'm posing to myself on a constant basis. What do I want to do? What can I do? What should I do? How long can I spend on this? If I spend less, am I cheating myself? If I spend more, am I being self-indulgent? I'm good at posing them, and I'm decent at answering them; I'm lousy at sticking to the answers once the answers have been given. But this blog is also about trying to teach myself to be disciplined enough to solve those always-present problems.
And in looking back on the notes I took over a decade ago, I am amused to discover that the subtext reveals something: I was already, even then, a lot less interested in the idea of writing from a standpoint of critical universality than I was in simply expressing what interested me.
It's the right approach. I guess it just took a while for me to actually figure out that it was right.
With that messy, self-important, and -- let's face facts -- largely incoherent preamble out of the way, let's just dive into the notes. The notes were taken in the 1999 trade paperback from Pocket Books, the cover of which looks like this:
All page-number references in the notes will refer to this edition. For any of you following along at home, I apologize in advance for the fact that the page numbers may not match your edition.
- Teenage conflict
- Religious matters, especially fanaticism
- The nature of evil
- Blood is plentiful, to the extent that Part One’s subtitle is “Blood Sport.” This (somewhat heavy-handedly) refers to the shower-room incident, and foreshadows the prom-night massacre that is its ultimate result. More subtly, it references the blood of the crucified Christ and the fullness with which Carrie’s mother makes it a part of her life.
- In some ways this can be seen as a novel about persecution. Carrie is persecuted on at least two fronts: by her peers and by her mother. In both cases, this is because she is different (unlike her peers in manner and appearance, and unlike a good Christian to her mother because of her innate abilities), but also and more deeply because she is the same (her peers see unattractive bits of themselves in her, and her mother sees Carrie’s father). A potential third front of persecution comes from the school administration, which is unable to do any good for Carrie, and may even have done her harm. A fourth potential persecutor for Carrie, be it posthumously, is the media.
- The news-reportage framework is important to consider. King (I believe) has revealed that these bits were added as padding to make the novel lengthier. Nevertheless, this element is now a part of the novel, and deserves fair and equal consideration. I believe it to be an essential element. After all, the novel begins with a piece of reportage! (Consider how the structure of Carrie resembles the structure of such later works as The Green Mile and From A Buick 8. This framework also has a sort of descendant in Dreamcatcher.)
- Setting: Chamberlain, Maine (It is a real town)
- P. 3: The opening sentence of the narrative proper is a nice bit of fakery: we assume that “it” refers to the prom-night massacre, or perhaps to the stone-rain referenced in the reportage. And it does apply to those events, though it is referring to the shower-room incident.
- P. 4: The quotation of the desk-scrawled message is not the sort of thing one typically sees quoted in this manner. It indicates that the lowbrow must – at least in the case of Carrie White – be considered, and serves as a warning to us to look more closely. (This also has a sort of resonance with “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” any punny mention of this novel’s namesake being presumably unintentional.)
- The shower scene on p. 4-5 is very cinematic, and displays King’s penchant for descriptive prose. I think this scene deserves extended analysis in the final version of this chapter.
- To modern sensibilities, Miss Desjardin's treatment of Carrie during the shower-room sequence may seem abusive. In some ways, she may be seen as almost as much of an antagonist as the girls. I think it likely, however, that at the time of the novel's publication her actions would not have seemed terribly out of line.
- The “excerpt” on p. 5-6 essentially exists only for that last line. This particular citation is very clunky, sounding again like narration in a b-movie.
- In the shower scene, Carrie is described with many animalistic words. This foreshadows the ultimate use of pigs’ blood, but also serves to mark Carrie in our minds as something different, some not quite human, which is a fair description of her in some ways.
- There is a good paragraph on p. 7-8 which sums up Carrie’s history of being abused by her peers. Interestingly, this paragraph is told from the POV of the girls, almost as if they were a hive mind.
- P. 10 features the first Kingian underthought (I assume it to be the first, at least), an interesting device that he will use elsewhere during his career. It seems to typify an unconscious or reflexive thought, or perhaps a more accurate depiction of thought.
- On p. 12-7, Morton, the assistant principal, is portrayed as an utter nincompoop. This is sort of a pointless scene. Morton is not an important character at any other point in the novel. One possible ramification of this scene is that it is intended to show that the school administration is almost as unconcerned with Carrie as are her peers, if nowhere near as malicious. However, I'm not sure that this idea is borne out by either Desjardin or Grayle, both of whom show an appropriate amount of concern for Carrie. A possible explanation is that none of the faculty has cared about Carrie prior to this incident; if so, there may not have been sufficient exploration of the idea.
- On p. 17-8, Carrie has some bloody thoughts about her tormentors. These are not posed as underthoughts, either; they are conscious thoughts. This shows that Carrie is already dangerous. (In the DePalma film, she is painted as meek and mild, whereas here, she is merely not acting on her impulses, which in the movie she doesn’t seem even to have. The final effect of this is that it makes her a weaker character in the film, and also a less substantially evil one.)
- P. 19: "The sound of Tommy's wails was sweet, jangling music in her ears." This is almost foreshadowing of Tommy's ultimate demise, but does not quite work, since ultimately Carrie bears no ill will toward Tommy Ross. King probably should have changed this little kid's name to something else, just to avoid this sort of thing. Not a big deal, though.
- Is it believable that Margaret would allow Carrie to attend school?
- The religious themes of this novel are compelling. Consider p. 18, where we learn that the first instance of Carrie suffering ridicule from her peers came when she knelt to pray at school. Psychologically, this links faith and abuse, a link that grows stronger when one considers how harsh Margaret is. It is also not entirely a stretch to view Carrie as an instrument of an angry God, through which he dispenses bloody punishment to the wicked.
- The reportage seems to indicate that telekinesis is more or less accepted as fact in this universe. How does that fit in with the rest of King’s work, if at all?
- Good info about Ralph White on p. 22, though it is second-hand.
- If we believe Estelle’s story on p. 23, Carrie was a very pretty little girl. We may assume that it is her mother’s lifestyle that has caused her to turn ugly. Later, of course, people will be surprised by how attractive Carrie is in her prom dress. Here, then, beauty is posited as a reflection of the inner self, and as a variable.
- P. 25: Margaret White is portrayed by Estelle as a lunatic. Is this supported by the rest of the text?
- Is the Blue Ribbon Laundry where Margaret works (30) the same one that features in "The Mangler"?
- P. 31: "The object did not seem to be murder but something even more awful." I assume that this means she has been dreaming about sex. Sex with Jesus? Presumably.
- The scene on p. 29-33 is a good one. We get some great info on what Carrie’s inner life is like. Also, good description of the house.
- One way to read this novel is as a metaphor for the tragedy on being an ugly or unpopular adolescent.
- In King’s fiction, the house is often depicted as a place of horror. In the next two novels, we get the Marsten House and the Overlook Hotel. Black House will come later, as will the haunted house in The Waste Lands and Rose Red. There are various journeys into houses in which, while the house is not presented as evil, it is presented as a place of potential danger (I’m thinking here of the serial killer’s house in The Dead Zone, and of Annie Wilkes’s place in Misery.) I think this qualifies as a serious subtheme of King’s literature. Does Danse Macabre have anything to say about this?
- The sex scene on p. 38-9 seems important to me as an example of what Margaret may not know about sex. A few pages earlier, Carrie remembers Margaret warning her about "the evil that goes on in parking lots and roadhouses" (33). However, there is nothing evil about the sex scene, so Margaret's warning rings especially hollow. In some ways, Sue Snell is this novel’s main character, and as such, this scene deserves attention.
- P. 40: P.P. Bliss was, in fact, a real gospel singer. See printouts for information about him. It is no throwaway that Margaret has taken such a liking to Bliss; he was, according to this sequence, a reformed sinner, which is how Margaret must see herself. However, is this actually what Bliss's life was like? My printouts make no mention, so this may be either an invention of King's, or an indication that Margaret is misinformed.
- P. 43-4: "Show her that if she had remained sinless the Curse of Blood never would have come on her. She may have committed the Sin of Lustful Thoughts. She may have been listening to rock 'n roll music on the radio. She may have been tempted by the Antichrist." Margaret is pretty much right on the dot here, which shows that she is a perceptive woman in some ways.
- Info on Margaret’s background can be found on p. 46-8.
- P. 51: Andrea Kolintz appears to have been an invention of King’s, as a Google search turned up only four pages referencing Carrie.
- P. 51-6: In this scene with Mr. Hargensen, Principal Grayle comes off as quite a badass. This is in blatant opposition to how his assistant, Morton, comes off in his scene with Carrie and Miss Desjardin earlier in the novel. What does this discrepancy between the two have to say about the novel’s stance on public education?
- P. 56: Carrie's seventh grade English teacher is named Edwin King. Hmm…
- P. 56: The bit of verse Carrie wrote has a few resonances with the repetition of "Alone" on p. 30-1.
- See p. 60 for a good example of Sue’s character. Apparently, she is terrified of becoming a conformist, a fear that seems to have been brought to a head by the shower-room incident. Sue’s self-image, then, is linked to Carrie in some ways. How does this develop and play out ultimately?
- On p. 61-2, we see Carrie actively practicing her abilities. This is an act of defiance toward her mother, and could be seen as steps toward devilry; certainly Margaret would see it that way. Think about the conflict between Carrie and her mother, and about ways in which the actions of one confirm the fears of the other.
- At the time of its publication, this novel was set some five years in the future. (In fact, the reportage sets it even further in the future, no earlier than 1988, going by p. 193.) What effect does this have on the novel?
- On p. 62, we find out that Sue apparently survives whatever calamity is to come. This immediately follows Carrie’s thinking that “the rock would not hide them; the dead tree gave no shelter.” Sue and Carrie are very much linked in this novel.
- P. 65: "…the male mind expects very little in the way of altruism from its fellows." There are interesting levels of gender here. A male author (King) is writing an excerpt from a female's autobiography, making a claim about the male psychology.
- P. 66: Carrie’s first day back at school isn’t from her POV, but from Tommy’s. What effect does this authorial choice have?
- Consider the role of the formal narrative in opposition to the reportage. Whereas the reportage is always somewhat out of context, and often contains second- or third-hand information, the narrative proper is always correct, always believable, always true. This type of third-person narrative is often referred to as omniscient, or even as a God’s-eye perspective, and given the religious themes of this novel, the choice of POV is doubly important and resonant. Consider the relation between narrative and reportage in terms of the generated friction between truth and half-truth or lie; perhaps even between godliness and sinfulness.
- P. 69 is crucial, and the more I think about it, the more it seems that the friction between narrative and reportage is no padding, but rather the point. P. 68's mention of JFK's assassination may be important. The fact is that no one can ever know the whole truth of any situation, except for God. That is, in some ways, a very bleak thought, and it serves to make fiction – where we can know everything – more appealing than life.
- Both Sue's survival and Tommy's death are first revealed to us through reportage. Coincidence? Imagine the narrative as a person, and it begins to seem ever so slightly like queasiness. Are there other such incidences? How do we found out about Carrie's and Margaret's fates?
- P. 71: Ignore DePalma's film. Here, Carrie is on the verge of seeming villainous. She is not afraid; this is because she knows she has a potentially destructive power. Carrie has our sympathy, but we are afraid of her at the same time. It is somewhat remarkable that we still view Carrie as more or less a protagonist, not as an antagonist.. Consideration of this topic is essential to understanding the novel.
- The paragraph running from the bottom of p. 71 to the top of p. 73 is a tour de force. Also important to the Carrie/Margaret relationship.
- On p. 73-7, we witness something of a shift in power between Carrie and Margaret, and it may be appropriate to mark this as the mid-point of the novel.
- P. 77: "They" made a movie about it, huh? Clearly, there were no notions of there being a movie of King's novel when it was written, but it is still amusing to think of DePalma's as that fictional film.
- P. 77-8: Grayle is portrayed again as a perceptive, likeable man. He is (with the possible exceptions of the shadowy figures of David Congress and Ralph White) this novel's only important mature male character, a fact which may bear consideration.
- Consider parallels between Sue Snell/Tommy Ross and Chris Hargensen/Billy Nolan, especially in terms of Snell's passage on p. 83.
- P. 84: Chris's reaction to finding out that Tommy really is taking Carrie to the prom is so severe that it makes her literally tremble. The extreme emotion evidenced here indicates that Chris takes the high school popularity game seriously indeed.
- The bestial symbols reach their summit on p. 89.
- Why break Parts One & Two where they are broken? Consider.
- P. 93-5: Good scene between Carrie and Margaret. This is a complex relationship, and gives the novel much of its bite.
- This is as much a science fiction piece as it is a horror piece. Carrie's TK is given a scientific explanation. This sets the novel apart from some of King's other works, but much of his writing can be classified as science fiction, and he may in fact have written as much sf as he has horror.
- On p. 97, we find out that Carrie is worried about her post-graduation future. This links her with Sue.
- P. 96-9 do a good job of setting up Carrie's rampage by showing how much the prom night means to her.
- P. 100-4 shows the background of the Chris/Billy relationship. Is this, strictly speaking, necessary? Maybe not, but then again… This is precisely the sort of thing we could never learn through reportage, and I can't quite see that as a coincidence.
- Sue's passage on p. 104-5 points to us that Carrie is to be read as tragedy. The emotional content of this novel is troubled and complex, and maybe that's why it remains vital. Sue has some insights to offer on the idea of sorrow, stating that, like love, it is an emotion not to be taken lightly, and one that is rarer than is generally thought. The idea of sorrow reappears on p. 145, when Miss Desjardin begins to tell Carrie she is sorry after the blood dousing; Carrie does not allow her to finish the word "sorrow," cutting her off by throwing her into a wall. Obviously, Carrie's instinct is to not put much stock in someone else's sorrow for her. Also, consider this: "Nothing can change her back now from something made out of newsprint into a person." This sentence certainly gives the reportage new weight, though it is interesting – and, maybe, inevitable – that we are given this sentiment through an excerpted bit of media.
- P. 107: "He… had less than two hours to live." My memory tells me that King does this cat-out-of-the-bag trick fairly often. It isn't cheap to use this trick; it serves, here, to focus the reader on what King really wants to convey, which is dread and tragedy. It's a bit lessened in this particular instance because we already know something terrible is going to happen, but it serves as a bit of a nudge, a reminder: "hey, don't get comfortable, this are going to get nasty pretty soon."
- P. 107: "[Driving] gave him a feeling of power that nothing could rival, not even fucking." This is describing Billy, of course, and puts me in mind of the theme of driving as a symbol for power – specifically, masculine power – elsewhere in King. It is all over Christine, of course, but also shows up in "Maximum Overdrive" and "Trucks," Desperation and Black House (via motorcycles), and "Stationary Bike" (in a sense). Vehicles also feature prominently in Roadwork and "Dolan's Cadillac," and "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" features a female version of the myth of driving.
- P. 107-8: Good character piece for Billy, who really steps forward in Part 2.
- P. 112-3: This except from My Name Is Susan Snell is a touching little portrait of Carrie. Sue clearly remembers Carrie's sweet side. I'm reminded of a bit from p. 67, Carrie's final reply to Tommy's asking her to the prom: "[S]he said, almost too quietly to hear: "I'd love to. Love to." These bits in which Carrie is made to seem a sweet, shy, innocent little girl do a lot to make us sympathetic toward her, and therefore to tilt the piece as a whole toward tragedy and away from being a monster story.
- P. 113: "…the boatman leaning with eternal indolence against his tiller while the sunset blazed around him…" It is impossible for me not to think of Charon here, especially given the images of sunset (representing death, the death of day in favor of night) and blazing (foreshadowing the fire that is to come). The boatman reappears ominously on p. 122: "The huge Venetian boatman behind him looked dreamily over Vic's shoulder." This is just creepy, possibly due to the word "dreamily," and this reinforces the thought of the boatman as a representative of Charon. Another thing that particular association does is bring religion into mind. Granted, it is a heathen religion, a mythology spoken truly, but it still brings up the idea of a deity being involved in these proceedings. So do the rapid-fire usages of the word "goddam" on p. 123, where we also get a use of the phrase "To the devil with false modesty."
- Info about Carrie's great-grandmother on p. 116.
- P. 117: Good description of Margaret.
- P. 117: "The only way to kill sin…": This sentence makes me think of what Sue writes on p. 104-5. Sue's heart bleeds for Carrie, i.e., is repentant. This seems to be especially important.
- P. 124-5: "Tommy… had a sudden feeling… as if something alien was moving [in his mind], calling Carrie’s name over and over again." Carrie appears to be something more than simply telekinetic. She appears also to have some form of telepathy, or at least the ability to broadcast her thoughts in some fashion. It happens first when Tommy asks Carrie to the prom: "He felt a dizziness as if his mind was no longer controlling his body – the miserable, out-of-control feeling he associated with drinking too much and then coming to the vomiting point" (67). Again on p. 127: "…Tommy again felt (but only for a second) that weird vertigo in his mind… that seemed to blank out all thought but the name and image of this strange girl he was with." We get some of this from Norma Watson's perspective on p. 134: "My God, was all I could think. My God, my God, my God. And then this other thought crept in, and it was as if it wasn't my own at all. I was thinking about Carrie. And about God. It was all twisted up together, and it was awful." The question is, are the persistent thoughts of "My God" being broadcast from Carrie, or are they merely Norma's own thoughts, which then become mixed with those Carrie is broadcasting? Either way, it places God at the prom, in a sense. then, Norma and Stella seem to realize simultaneously that "Carrie's back" (134). On p. 141, we discover that Tomas Quillan testifies that he knows Carrie's name upon seeing her, despite having never seen her before. This, together with some of the stuff above, indicates that Carrie is broadcasting a sort of self-identity message, which is a sort of empowerment. On p. 142, Quillan testifies that he knew what Carrie was thinking. So, clearly Carrie can telepathically broadcast. Can she also receive? On p. 143, we find out that when the buckets of blood fall onto her and Tommy, "There was a grunt from beside her, and in the part of her mind that had come so recently awake, she sense brief pain." This is empathy, and indicates that Carrie's talents are not simple, and that there may be even more, if they are allowed to develop. In a way, this furthers the sense of tragedy. Cora Simard, too, seems to have been privileged to some of Carrie's thoughts, on p. 160.
- P. 134: "…her face all smeared, like an Indian with war paint on." Interesting. On one level, a throwaway image. But, then again… Indians, for the great portion of American history, have been considered murderous savages. They could have been seen as evil, in this sense. But, in many cases, they were not the aggressors, so – as many people now think of it – who was really evil, the Indians or the invaders of their lands? Similarly, it is difficult – perhaps impossible – to answer the question of whether or not Carrie ought to be described as evil.
- P. 125: "People did not speak to [Chris] in such a manner. Her father was a lawyer." There is also a degree of income-level prejudice going on in this novel. Refer to the scene with Mr. Hargensen for some evidence of this. Also, Chris is sexually involved with Billy, who is definitely from the other side of the tracks, and she is doing so as much out of an attempt to use – and control – him as anything else.
- I like the brief scene on p. 125-6. It isn't overdone, and it quite sad.
- P. 128: "Tommy… and Carrie… and the beam above them." This is a remarkable passage. Also, could this be a years-early foreshadowing of "All things serving the beam"? Unlikely, but tempting. There may be other references: on p. 21, doorchimes play a bit of "Hey Jude," which features prominently in The Gunslinger.
- P. 129: "With pride we wear the red and whiiyyyyte…" The school colors of Thomas Ewen High are red and white, eh? Certainly two important colors in this novel. Who was Thomas Ewen? Was he a real person?
- After being doused in blood, Carrie runs away, then turns on the sprinklers. This is an act (calm, compared to the next one) of cleansing, but also is reminiscent of the shower scene.
- Pay close attention to the Carrie's-POV scene on p. 143-50.
- P. 145: "Things began to speed up." What does this indicate? Does it possibly indicate that Carrie is exerting a limited amount of control over time?
- P. 145: "(tommy's dead full price paid full price for bringing a plague into the place of light)". It does not seem that Carrie feels that Tommy was involved in the prank, suggesting that perhaps she can sense the truth, in some way. Either way, it indicates – though God is not specifically mentioned – that Tommy has been the recipient of a judgment for daring to buck the system by trying to make Carrie a part of it.
- P. 146: More than anything else, it is the thought of a life spent in her mother's house that send Carrie back after she has briefly left the prom. Two insistent underthoughts (though perhaps these two should be called overthoughts) punctuate and spur the decision: "(!!NO!!)" and "(!!THE POWER!!)".
- What is the cumulative function/effect of the way the climax is constructed, especially in terms of the distanced POVs of the interviews?
- P. 158: "She prayed and there was no answer. No one was there – or if there was, He/It was cowering from her. God had turned His face away, and why not? This horror was as much His doing as hers." This is fixedly from Carrie's POV, so must be taken that way. It indicates that Carrie believes that God was present in her vengeance, and also that He is now denying whatever else might happen. "And so she left the church, left it to go home and find her momma and make destruction complete." Having, in a sense, destroyed one of her creators, she is now going to destroy another. This business with the church puts me in mind of Father Callahan being shut out of the Church after being tainted by Barlow in 'salem's Lot and Wolves of the Calla. "Carrie turned back and looked fixedly at the church she had just left. The heavy door suddenly swung shut, as if in a hurricane wind." This sinks it. Carrie is now one of the damned. Or is she? Back on p. 149, it is revealed that she held shut the doors of the gymnasium "without thought or plan." So, why could it not be that she is subconsciously doing the same thing with the doors of the church? P. 160 tells us some of this story from Cora Simard's perspective. She testifies thusly: "…I saw the door open and I thought: Someone has gone in to ask God's help. But a second later I knew that wasn't true." This indicates that Carries both believes she is asking for God's help and that she knows better, the latter perhaps on a subconscious level, but strong enough nevertheless that she could telepathically broadcast it to someone else.
- P. 162: It would be folly to try and make Carrie an A-bomb metaphor. But, here, the threat of world-ending power rears its head, and it isn't accidental. That being the case, does it change the way we read the novel? If Carrie is a world-killer, shouldn't we be glad that she dies? Or should we look at the world-ending power as being the cruelty and malice that prompted Carrie's rampage? This deserves consideration.
- The final confrontation between Carrie and Margaret (p. 163-7) deserves the closest scrutiny.
- P. 175: Is Carrie sending out a sort of distress signal? If so, is it generalized or specific to Sue?
- The White Commission proceedings have undeniable resonances with the Watergate proceedings (check the timeline on that), though it is not by any means a one-for-one match. P. 178-80 were what made me think of this.
- Carrie's death scene (p. 180-4) is, obviously, important. It is very telling that it takes place from Sue's POV.
- The epilogue makes it clear that one theme of Carrie is the death of the small town. I'm not sure how connected to the rest of the novel this theme is, but it's clearly a concern of King's, as it crops up much more forcefully in 'salem's Lot, and will also feature prominently in later works such as It, The Tommyknockers, The Gunslinger, The Stand, "The Mist," Needful Things, Desperation and The Regulators, "Storm of the Century," and Wolves of the Calla in one way or another. The destruction or threatening of community is a major subtheme of King's work.
- Another sub-theme of Carrie (and this is particularly evident from the reportage) is the cautionary tale of not dropping our guard to further such occurrences, particularly on a political level.
- The epilogue (if not the novel) exists entirely so as to make that final letter grab you by the guts. It works.
- Carrie's last name is of symbolic importance. First, and perhaps most lamely, it serves to allow us to say, "There is trouble in the White house/House." That would have had some resonance at the time of the novel's publication, for sure. But also consider a few of the definitions of the word "white": (1) of the color of pure snow; reflecting nearly all the rays of sunlight of a similar light, (3) dominated by or including only Caucasoids, as in "a white school", (4) pallid or pale, as from fear or other emotions, (7) lacking color, transparent, (8) politically ultraconservative, (12) honest, decent, (13) auspicious, fortunate (14) morally pure, innocent, (15) without malice, harmless, (18) opposite to black, (22) fluid surrounding the yolk of an egg, (30) white-colored chess pieces. These are paraphrased from the 1969 edition of the Random House dictionary, and obviously not all of them are wholly applicable to Carrie White. Or are they? I find curious associations cropping up with almost all of these definitions. And also there is King's notion of The White, which comes into play in his larger mythology of the Dark Tower. Where would Carrie fall in the battle raging for that edifice? I think the answer is obvious, and may yet be supplied by King.
- Major points of concern: (1) blood as a theme, (2) Carrie's treatment by and of her peers, (3) religious fanaticism, (4) the nature of good and evil, (5) narrative structure, (6) use of animalistic imagery and symbolism, (7) stylistic function of underthoughts, (8) is it a feminist or masculinist novel (gender issues as a whole), (9) seclusion as a theme, (10) tragedy, (11) sex as a theme, (12) conformity as a theme (has large resonance for Carrie, Sue, and Chris), (13) death of the small town (America?), and (14) the name White.
- In some ways, isn't this all appealing to a teenage sensibility?
- Carrie is an important novel in Stephen King's canon for the obvious reasons: its singular place as his first published novel, and as the source material for a hit film that made his name a prominent one in the entertainment industry. These two facts have teamed up to obscure the actual content of the novel. In many ways, it is Brian DePalma's Carrie White who is remembered, not Stephen King's. This needs correcting.
- (1) Blood: Blood is readily available in the works of Stephen King to those who go looking for it. In Carrie, however, it is metaphorically present to a greater extent than in any other book or story he has written. The pages practically smell of copper; not even the vampires of 'salem's Lot approach it. I attribute this to the psychological effect of the opening sequence: the menstrual cycle is famously cringe-inducing among males, as a stereotype, and among females it carries, one presumes, much significance. I'm not sure I have any business speaking of its effect on the female psyche, but in males it tends to cause extreme uneasiness, perhaps because it represents something that will forever remain essentially a mystery to us. Let's examine how this plays out in the novel. It is broken into two major sections (Part Three is really just an epilogue, though of considerable importance), Part One of which is titled "Blood Sport." This subtitle indicates that Part One is concerned entirely with this blood sport, and, indeed, it opens and closes with incidents significantly involving blood: Carrie's horrific first menstrual cycle at one end, Billy's harvesting of the pigs' blood at the other. These two scenes are linked practically from the beginning, as it is said of Carrie that "Her eyes rolled with wet whiteness, like the eyes of a hog in the slaughtering pen" (8). And when Billy kills the pigs, he is taking action as a result of what happens in the opening shower-room scene. Also, he is in a way killing Carrie, for he is furthering the events that lead to her death. There is at least one sickly beautiful image in the shower-room scene: the bloody handprint left on Miss Desjardin's white shorts. (It is worth mentioning to note that Tommy wears a white dinner jacket to the prom. These are two instances of something white being corrupted, and surely that has resonance with the White who is corrupted.) This comes to its fruition in Part Two, when the pig blood drenches Carrie, an image that remains one of the more disturbing I have read. Blood plays a part elsewhere in the novel, of course: the blood-soaked bed Carrie was delivered in (12); the blood-drenched hands of the plaster crucifix in the living room (31); the issue of telekinesis as a genetic factor and how it is compared to hemophilia (79-80); the cause of and solution to sin, according to Margaret (116-7); Sue's late period (121) and its ultimate arrival (184); the blood from the broken ballot pencil (123); the description of how fire makes the world appear (154); the blood leaving Margaret's heart as Carrie kills her (166-7); the blood from Chris's split lip (172); and the pool of blood Carrie is in when Sue finds her (182). Also, in the epilogue, the persistent funerals are referred to as a scab that is ripped off "so that the wound could bleed afresh" (190). And, of course, there is the blood of Christ, which, given the religious content of the novel, hangs over everything. Of all this, I am most struck by the passage on 116-7: "Blood was always at the root of it, and only blood could expiate it." "The only way to kill sin, true black sin, was to drown it in the blood of… a repentant heart." White, black, red; three colors, all linked.
- (2) There is a strong theme of adolescence here, of course. That's sort of a hallmark of King's work: you find it at the forefront of "The Body" and It and Wizard and Glass, and in the background of many of his other works. And, of course, Rage makes an especially strong comparison with Carrie. Here, we focus in on the idea that high school is a terrible place, both for those who do not fit in (who may be in for some bad cruelty), and for those who do (who can find its clutches hard to shake). In Carrie, conformity is the real issue: Sue wants to avoid it, Carrie both desires it (at school) and fears it (at home), and Chris wants to punish those who do not follow it. For King, then, at least in this novel, the concern is with making high school a metaphor for the pressure on young adults to fit in. This is a situation primed and ready to erupt into horror.
- (3) One of the most prominent themes in King's work is one revolving around faith. Sometimes, this is a mystic sort of faith, as in the Dark Tower works; at other times, as in The Green Mile, it is more closely Christian. When we begin to get denominational, as in "The Mist" and Needful Things, things start to get a little scary. This may not always be the case, but it certainly is true of Carrie. Margaret White is a terrifying figure, but it must be acknowledged that she is neither cartoonish nor one-dimensional. At least some of what she says is true, some of what she does right. She claims that if Carrie had lived free of sin, the curse of womanhood would not have been visited upon her, and while this is a patently ridiculous claim in terms of biology, it's less far off the mark if Original Sin is taken into consideration. Margaret is nuts, yes; but it's a persuasive kind of nuts at times.
- (4) The struggle between good and evil is another theme that is important to King's work, never more so than in The Stand. Carrie is rife with this conflict, though, and it is within Carrie herself that the war is waged. She is mostly sympathetic, and when she finally dies we feel sorry for her; yet she does some horrendous things. In some ways, she becomes a revenging, Old Testament-style angel, mowing down guilty and innocent alike. (Of course, given Original Sin, there aren't really any innocents, are there?) But is she acting on behalf of God or the devil? I'm not sure the question is ever answered. P. 76-7 indicate that Carrie herself does not even know, at least as regards her telekinesis. Earlier in the novel, however, we get the following passage from Carrie's POV: "And didn't Momma say there would be a Day of Judgment… and an angel with a sword? If only it would be today and Jesus coming not with a lamb and a shepherd's crook, but with a boulder in each hand to crush the laughers and the snickerers, to root out the evil and destroy it screaming – a terrible Jesus of blood and righteousness. And if only she could be His sword and His arm" (18). This last sentence is set off as its own paragraph, and therefore given especial significance. Bear in mind that these thoughts of Carrie's come very soon after a terrible ordeal, so Carrie's emotions are running higher than they might normally be. Still, from a religious and moral standpoint, this is a complex thought to unravel. Is it sinful to wish for God to send bloody retribution upon the wicked? Is it sinful to wish to be allowed to carry out some parts of that retribution? This is an important question to answer, for it has much to do with whether or not Carrie is to be considered evil or innocent. For surely the prom night massacre can be in seen in some ways as a granting of the wish Carrie is professing here. There is no particular evidence as to whether or not God is part of the retribution, of course, and so one is forced to answer the question of whether or not Carrie's talents are God-given or not. For me, I feel as though her talents are God-given, but I'm not sure which way the evidence leans. Perhaps the most important bit comes on p. 116, when we discover that Carrie's talents were manifest even as an infant. She is told to have "lain in her crib, laughing and gurgling, watching a bottle that was dangling in thin air over her head." This is reminiscent of the idea that Carrie was a very pretty child, to me, and makes me think that maybe it is the way in which Carrie has grown up that has made her talents dangerous. There is no mention of Carrie's Gram, for instance, massacring people, although it is remembered at some point that she disarmed lawmen who came for her son. It was, presumably, a peaceful disarming, though. In some ways, this is a cautionary tale, in which the caution is to raise children with love and openness, rather than hellfire and damnation.
- (5) What to say about the novel's structure? On the surface, it is merely a three-part structure: Part One deals with the buildup to the prom, Part Two with prom night, with Part Three serving as an epilogue. Within Parts One and Two, however, is an epistolary framework consisting of quotations from songs, excerpts from books, and transcriptions from courtroom proceedings. These trade punches with the narrative proper, creating a sort of back-and-forth effect that is mostly successful. Some of the excerpts come off sounding like narration from an Ed Wood movie, but most of them either provide us with some sort of valuable outside information or serve to make the actual narrative somehow more real. King has claimed that much of this was added so as to pad the original draft to novel length. However, it is not mere padding, and should not be treated as such.
- (6) There is a decent amount of animalistic imagery, the summit of which is Billy's "Pig blood for a pig" line on p. 89. Animals can be seen as unclean, unthinking, unfeeling, inferior; this is how Chris and Billy view Carrie. That's why it is disturbing: it represents a complete stripping away of Carrie's humanity. Other animalistic images abound: Carrie makes "a strangely froggy sound" (5); she is "a frog among swans" (4); "she looked the part of the sacrificial goat" (4); "she stood like a patient ox" (6) and "looked around bovinely" (6); she gobbles (7); menstruation "makes women want to snarl" (16-7); Margaret "bayed at the sky" (25); there are "nests of blackheads" on Carrie's face (34); she is "the low bird in the pecking order" (69); Sue is "happy as a clam" (78); Carrie's Gram "panted like a dog" (116). Chris, at some point in their past, called Carrie and "asked her if she knew that pig poop was spelled C-A-R-R-I-E" (8).
"Carrie" (1976, Brian DePalma director, Lawrence D. Cohen screenplay)
- The pre-credits volleyball sequence is a poor choice. Sure, it shows Carrie being picked on, but by showing her utter ineptitude, it also makes us dislike her just a bit, which would be okay if she weren't utterly sympathetic the rest of the time. This scene serves to show that the other girls have a reason to dislike her, and I'm not sure that was the filmmakers' intention. Shouldn't we be shown Carrie being picked on while praying, or something like that?
- The shower scene is good, a nice mix of sex and gore. I don't like that Carrie notices the blood and goes charging out like a dumb bull seeing red, waving her bloody hands about. Again, it sort of makes us hate her, and lessens the cruelty of the act ever so slightly.
- Miss Desjardin has been renamed Miss Collins, presumably so there is no confusion in the audience as to what her name is. This is not a bad change. It's a good example of things working differently on the screen than they do on the page.
- Is Morton now the principal?
- I hate the Psycho rip-offs in the score. That's just cheap.
- Margaret now sells tracts for a living, whereas she worked in a laundry in the novel. In the novel, she can be seen as a cleanser (what do you do in a laundry, after all?), whereas here she is a missionary. She has gone from an essentially private person to an aggressive one. At least the acting reflects it.
- I hate Tommy's poetry scene, though it serves its purpose: to link Carrie and Tommy (that one shot of them is great). But Tommy seems a bit of a scamp now, which is too bad. That's okay, though, in some ways; it offers the possibility that a scamp can turn out okay in the end. Also okay is the notion that the teacher, too, picks on Carrie, though the performance is obscenely bad. That guy was better off playing a nutball in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Contemporary audiences would likely have remembered him from that movie, and therefore had some associations in which the teacher comes off as a crazy person.
- Boy, do I hate the detention scene. Collins should have brutalized them. Ooh, push-ups! As is, Chris's rebellion seems less called-for, and she therefore comes off as less dangerous. Mainly, though, the score su-ucks.
- The Jesus in the prayer closet is scary. Almost as scary as Tommy's hair.
- Telekinesis is deftly defined: Carrie finds it in the library. This makes sense, and it good book-to-movie translation.
- Right after Sue asks Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, we cut to Chris and Billy cruising to the tune of "Heat Wave." This sucks. It's a stupid tease, and shows that character is being tossed out the window. Speaking of Chris and Billy, what is this scene supposed to indicate? Is cruising evil? Does the oldie on the radio indicate an outmoded way of thinking? I like Travolta here, and that's part of the problem. I should be afraid of him, but with his big goofy grin and his handsome face, I'm just thinking that he's cool. I'm identifying with Chris, in other words, and that is a miscue. On a side note, DePalma had obviously seen "American Graffiti." After the Chris/Billy scene, we return to Tommy, who hours later is answering Sue finally. These choices don't work for me; Tommy's answer is a reluctantly smiling "Okay, I'll do it." Then, back –again! – to Chris and Billy; we see Chris playing him for a chump. Belatedly, the edits make sense of a kind: both Sue and Chris are using the men they are with.
- Tommy looks like Sammy Hagar. I’d like to think that Tommy somehow lived and became the lead singer of Van Halen, but was so scarred by his prom experiences that he sucked ass as a singer and basically just made everyone miss David Lee Roth. Is that valid criticism? Beats me, but it’s one thing the movie makes me think about.
- It is a terrible change to make Carrie agree to go to the prom in order to avoid upsetting her resting mother. Boo, Lawrence D. Cohen. Boo. But I see what he's doing; he's keeping Carrie as meek and mild as possible. To me, however, this destroys the tension they could have had by showing Carrie as a dangerous girl who is not to be trifled with. It makes Carrie's ultimate actions shocking, but not disturbing.
- I don't like that Chris attends the hog-killing. She does so to keep her focused in as the big bad of the film, but it was a nice all-male counterpoint (except for the sows) to the all-female shower-room scene in the novel. Also, Billy is not at all scary here. His actions are scary, but he remains goofy Travolta.
- Bates High School?!? DePalma, you suck goat ass. We don't need you to remind of about Hitchcock, dude. Hitchcock will be just fine without you ripping him off.
- The tuxedo-shop scene is weird. I guess they wanted some humor somewhere. And maybe it sort of works, if you have no idea what is coming. But, knowing that there is a massacre on the way, this just falls flat.
- We are robbed of seeing Tommy's initial reaction to Carrie's new look. Criminal.
- Once we get to the prom, DePalma takes over. Some of this is okay: Carrie's dance with Tommy is good. I don't care for the added suspense of Sue seeing the rope, though it makes sense, and keeps Sue actively a part of the movie. The utterly silent moments following the dousing are great; the kaleidoscopic laughter, for me, is not, and I hate the looped lines of her mother insisting, "They're all going to laugh at you!" This is intended to be what is in Carrie's mind, but it just grates me. The murders are okay, but lean more toward showy than disturbing. I love the editing when Carrie kills Chris and Billy, but why does their car explode?
- The final scene with Carrie and Margaret is excellent… until Piper Laurie comes down the stairs wielding that knife, which is an amateurish POV shot. Carrie knifing moms up is okay – it keeps the blood motif going – but I miss the heart-stopping scene, which is more elemental.
- I hate the tag. It's cheap, tacky crap. The idea is twofold: to show that Carrie is still alive in Sue's fears, and to provide one last jolt on the way out the door. I've got no real problem with the latter, I just think it doesn't work, though popular reaction proved me wrong. But Sue being afraid of Carrie still is sort of silly; after all, how does Sue even really know that it was Carrie who was responsible? We know, but we're privileged to information Sue doesn't necessarily have.
- Final judgment: The acting is mostly good: Sissy Spacek is excellent, and Amy Irving and William Katt are sympathetic. Piper Laurie's performance was lauded, but I don't like it all that much; she's fine when she's restrained, but when she blows up, she's cartoonish and not at all scary. The technical aspect is expert, if perhaps overly showy at times, but this cannot make up for the utter lack of character development. The novel is genuinely unsettling; the movie is not. It's sort of a cinema landmark, in a small way, but I'm not a fan. Call it a **1/2.
"The Rage: Carrie 2" (1999, Katt Shea director, Rafael Moreau writer)
- This film conveys the horror of high school life fairly adeptly.
- Walter is run over by a truck carrying pigs.
- The flashbacks are lousy.
- Jesse has some of the same conformity issues Sue has in the novel.
- This is a sequel to the DePalma movie; it has little to do with the novel, though a few of its themes remain. As a sequel to the film, it does the best it can despite being wholly unnecessary and more than a little belated. But it's not a bad movie, not by any means, and since I don't have to compare it to King's novel, I prefer it to the DePalma movie. My only major criticism is that Rachel just doesn't seem murderous until she starts killing people (though that's a problem with DePalma's version, as well). Emily Bergl and Jeremy London are both very good; Amy Irving seems merely out of place. I really like the coda here; it's pretty shocking, and works on repeat viewings. The thing I hate so much about the coda of DePalma's film is that it only works once. Here, I feel some genuine remorse for Jesse, and so the coda remains valid. Of all the "unauthorized sequels" to King's works, this is by far the best, and better than a good many of the main adaptations. Not great, but a solid b-movie. Again, a **1/2.
"Carrie" (2002, David Carson director, Bryan Fuller teleplay)
- We begin with a very brief sequence depicting two events from the novel that weren't in DePalma's movie – Carrie's birth and the rain of stones – and then cut to the framework of the police investigation, which is new. This jarred me initially, but on repeat viewings works well to mark this movie as something old and something new quite well.
- Angela Bettis as Carrie is, frankly, an improvement on Sissy Spacek: she is a Carrie who wants to fit in, but is utterly unable.
- Kandyse McClure's Sue Snell is okay. She is more conflicted than Amy Irving, and maybe more believable. Again, on first viewing, I was jarred by her attitude in the framework scenes, but on repeat viewings it makes perfect sense, as she is someone who definitely has something to hide.
- This version uses stuff from the novel and from the first movie. For example, the movie's volleyball scene is improved into a softball game.
- The stone-rain sequence is depicted, including the bit with Estelle. She's a bit of a bitch, but understandably. All the onlookers annoy me, for some reason.
- I vastly prefer Patricia Clarkson's Margaret White to Piper Laurie's. She is plainer and more attractive. She is – on the surface – kinder. It's a real shock when she slaps Carrie, yet at the same time you can see why Carrie would both lover her and need to escape her, a vital part of Carrie's characterization which comes through here much better than it does in the 1976 version.
- At first, the framework seems like an attempt to replicate/replace the novel's structure. It's mildly successful on those terms.
- Carrie reads Teen Chic magazine while in her closet. Hah!
- Rena Sofer plays a good Miss Desjardin.
- Too much hand-held camera.
- Carrie uses the internet to find out about telekinesis, a good updating of the library scene from 1976.
- What's up with the scene in which Carrie zones out in class? I think it's illustrating that Carrie can blank out; it's setting up a moral out for the prom-night massacre. I've got no real problem with that, especially considering the fact that this may have been intended to continue.
- Glad to see Mr. Hargensen. That's a good scene.
- Tobias Mehler as Tommy is acceptable, but I prefer William Katt. Wow; did I actually just type that? And mean it?!? Apparently so.
- Jesse Cadotte's Billy is an improvement on Travolta's, but still sucks compared to the scary guy in the novel.
- We see Carrie practicing. Good.
- The scene in which Tommy asks Carrie to the prom is good.
- Norma doesn't seem at all shaken in the framework. Is that plausible?
- I like the scene in which Chris acts friendly toward Carrie. This is not in the novel, and does a good job of turning Chris into a truly nasty person.
- We even get a bit from "The Rage" in the lipstick sequence.
- Is Billy's song to the pigs a reference to Kubrick's "The Shining"?
- I love the scene in which Carrie pushes her mother out of the room. The fearful way she says "Watch your fingers!" as the door closes is a great addition, wonderfully acted by Bettis.
- I also love how nervous Carrie is while waiting for Tommy. It shows that she is already somewhat on the edge. Laura Karpman's score is good.
- I like Bettis's reaction to winning the election.
- The imagined dance scene… I think it works, but it may not have been necessary. Good blue lighting; a nice color contrast to the red that is about to erupt.
- The drenching is horrible, way better than DePalma's, if not as realistic. I like Sofer's shock; I love Carrie's eyes opening. Bettis is fantastic here.
- As in the 1976 film, I don't like how alien Carrie becomes. Then again, I'm hung up on the novel. Here, it has at least been set up adequately, and it works well for where the movie is headed.
- I like the invisible force field Carrie creates around herself. It wouldn't have made sense in the novel, but since Carrie does not leave the gym and has no heart problems, it is a logical addition.
- I prefer this massacre to DePalma's. Bettis is scarier, the score is better, and there's no distracting split-screen. All we've lost is the gore.
- The dispatching of Chris and Billy is awesome.
- I liked Carrie taking a bath in the 1976 film; I like it here, too.
- The heart-stopping scene has been well-rendered.
- What to say about the radically different ending? I prefer the novel, but Fuller has changed things so completely – without having to make significant changes to what has gone before – that none of this bothers me at all. None of it is random; none of it is there just for the sake of a change. There has been speculation that NBC may have hoped to make a series of this story; I'd gladly have watched it, as the message seems to have been that Carrie's story was now going to become one of atonement and redemption. It's a fundamental change to King's story, but a calculated and well-thought-out one. It's best to think of this movie as something new, but as layered with many loving touches of "Carrie" lore. As such, it's really rather good. Call it a ***.
Bryant 2013 here again. I am staving off the temptation to go in and add even more commentary, alternately praising some of the good points I made and chastising some of the poor ones. But: not gonna do it.
Anyways, I hope you got something out of all that. I still love the novel, and while I've certainly got my issues with each of the movies, there is also a lot of fun to be had with them. Even, yes, with The Rage, a movie I continue to like quite a lot even if some of it is indefensible.
I look forward to the new movie; I'd love for it to be awesome, and while there's no chance it's going to supplant the DePalma version in the mass consciousness, maybe it can at least make a book lover like me happy.
We'll find out in a few weeks!