You’ve seen the teaser trailer for Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Stephen King’s Carrie. But can it possibly live up to the first film? How do you make a modern Carrie? Will someone create a “Plug It Up Carrie” Facebook hate page?
We sat down with Pierce, who previously directed Boys Don’t Cry, and talked about updating the 1970s book for the internet bully generation, while maintaining the original message of the story. Plus, how will Pierce be tackling the infamous shower scene?
How does the recent social awareness of bullying impact making the movie Carrie now?
Kimberly Peirce: For me it’s all about character. I read the novel and completely fell in love with just her. She’s dynamic, she’s interesting. You fall in love with her, you want to protect her. So certainly the idea of bullying is part of that story. But for me the entryway was her. Everyday of her life is kind of the same, everybody gives her a hard time. And in this particular story it gets even worse. You look at the bullying, and it’s like “those girls are ruthless.” I think girl bullying is different than boy bullying, which is really interesting. But then you find out that this person has these special powers. And you think this might actually make her life tolerable to her. So she’s working on that, and then the complication is she starts to fall in love. She gets the opportunity to have the magical night. But throughout this story she keeps saying, “Are you going to trick me, are you going to do it to me again?” She has an awareness of this bullying. And you as the audience are thinking, “God I really want you to have everything you want, but I really don’t think this is going to work out.”
It sounds like this Carrie is a bit more sure of herself than in Brian De Palma’s movie? Is she more socially aware in your movie ?
Kimberly Peirce: I took everything from the book. I don’t mind comparisons between the two films once it comes out, I love his movie, but I went right to the book. And in the book she’s very aware. She’s hyper sensitive, she learns how to manage her social mistiness and she doesn’t want to get hurt again. So she’s constantly saying, “Why are you doing this?” The journey of the movie is the suspension of disbelief. She thinks she’s going to get hurt again, but eventually gives in.
In the book On Writing Stephen King said that he was inspired to write Carrie (especially the shower scene) after seeing tampons in the girl’s shower room while he was working as a janitor in a school. It always struck me as a man being horrified by women. What is your interpretation of that and do you thread it through your retelling of Carrie?
Kimberly Peirce: It’s interesting I think when he brought up the idea of seeing tampons in a shower and being disgusted by it, that is a wonderful starting point for a horror film. And for a bizarre film. How many movies would actually show a tampon? How many movies would show a female menstruating? So that’s already an awkward grey zone. King’s paranoia and King’s fear is what makes this movie great. So let’s just say, we accept that. Also look at when Brian was making his movie in the 70s it was Women’s Lib. Female power was scary, I don’t think men, I don’t think people knew where it was going.
Now what does it mean to come in and say, OK menstrual blood, the tampon, the period, that might be a bit scary. It’s probably as scary as it ever was, right? There’s actually a moment in our movie that I’m really excited about. It’s the locker room scene when those girls throw the tampons at her. In the book she’s saying “I’m bleeding to death, I’m dying.” She really believes that. And those girls they see somebody with blood on them, and they think she’s hurt. But then they realize she’s having a period. And that’s when they turn on her. That’s why they laugh. The one girl holds up her hands and says, “Blah you got your period on me!” And that’s why they can discount her — “You’re not bleeding to death, you’re getting your period.” There was something so wonderful about the idea, even as a woman, if another woman got her period blood on me. Ah. And that’s not to say that I think periods are gross. I don’t want to be misogynist. But period blood is awkward. I think it was really fun to say lets embrace the awkwardness, and the horror, and the weirdness of this thing that maybe back then meant something to those guys. But still it’s an awkward, strange thing that women go through and we brought it through the movie.
It sounds like the bullying women in your version might be a bit more aggressive than what we’ve seen before.
Kimberly Peirce: By going back to the book, I really saw that there was a three act structure. This was a superhero origins story. Here’s a girl discovering her powers, and pursuing it. But you also had very complex characters in the other two girls, Chris and Sue. They torment Carrie in the shower, “plug it up.” Those two girls go on completely opposite journeys. Sue says she feels guilty for what she’s done and then needs to do something to fix it. And that ultimately leads her to surrendering her own prom and donating her boyfriend. Thus making her an outsider looking in, creating the Cinderella story. But the other girl Chris, rather than bowing down, actually feels that she didn’t do anything wrong. The more Carrie tries to justify herself, the more other people try to justify Carrie the madder and madder she gets. And the worse her life gets. She gets kicked out of school she gets in trouble with her dad, she starts to lose her friend group. I don’t know if the girls are more aggressive, I would say I just pursued their needs. You have three girls that are totally fleshed out and they all come into this inevitable conflict that exposes them all.
How much is social media feeding into this story, because that’s a huge part of kids’ lives today.
Kimberly Peirce: You can’t tell a modern story without showing social media. You can’t tell the story of a high school without social media. Why, we all have a need to communicate, kids more than anybody. The thing was though, how do you tell the story in contemporary times without feeling like “hey there’s the phone.” You don’t want to feel like you’re signifying, but you want to be real. I feel really proud that we were able to write in communicating on cell phones. It makes things dangerous. A video is made, and that video is really dangerous. It’s also news. Because that’s what the girls would do. We tried to focus on what could happen, and how could it intensify the story.
Let’s talk about the adult women in this movie, Carrie’s mother Margaret White who was almost a 70s “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” type [Jonathan Edwards] and the gym teacher whose old school values complicate matters further. They could be seen today as dated characters, how do you update these women while remaining true to the story?
Kimberly Peirce: You take away the top veneer. You get underneath to what’s really happening. You say the gym teacher has old school values. You have to dig down to the core of these two women. Margaret White, at her core, she will do anything to protect her daughter. That might make her a monster, that might make her crazy, but at her core that’s like every mother. Now layer in her history. And this is all from the King book, here is a woman who is religious, ended up marrying a guy and they were part of a religion, things happened. They got more and more into their own world and she ended up creating her own religion. Would that be old fashioned? Sure, but it also could also be contemporary. She really believes that the modern world will sexualize and pervert her daughter. There’s probably a lot of people out there that you could find that believe that. You have to find the strands within which it ends up being modern. Julianne [Moore] was fiercely protective of that character. She said, “I’m not going to do it these certain ways. I’m not going to make her fanatical from the outside, I want to make her a believable woman.” Extreme, because that’s the fun of the character, but real. She was the tuning fork saying “that’s real, that’s not.” We created a history for her, and we kept intensifying her. We added something more, she self mutilates. She didn’t want to always take it out on her daughter, so sometimes she takes it out on herself.
A lot of people asked this when Chloe Moretz was announced as Carrie (which kind of frustrated me because she’s an actress so she can play anything) but some folks felt Chloe was too strong or beautiful to play a misfit, Carrie.
Kimberly Peirce: That was our challenge, whoever we hired they had to make that transformation, and if they couldn’t we couldn’t hire them. We had that obligation to the fans and to the story. We’ve seen actors and actresses transform. That was what we had to do, we transformed her. I feel strongly that when you see her she’s hunched over, her hair is frizzy, she’s got bags under her eyes, she’s meek, she’s broken, I believe you think she’s a misfit. But also with Chloe I told her when I met her that, “You’re a brilliant child actor. I love you for your confidence,” she has this handshake! “But this is a broken woman, she’s here you’re here.” So the challenge was setting off a teenage rebellion. I told her she could no longer be the obedient daughter. You have to rebel against your mother, stand up to your father, and she laughed. Obviously she didn’t move out but we set off a teenage rebellion. There was a moment when she’s fighting with her mother and I believe on that day, I said to her “you don’t even look like yourself today.” It was like her neck grew. She was a kid becoming a young woman determined to fight back. Not only a physical transformation. I knew going in we could not let anybody down. And I hope we did it.