When Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce remade Carrie in 2013, everyone dismissed her version of the film as an unnecessary do-over. But Peirce had some ideas for how to make her version stand apart—including an awesomely weird ending, which freaked out studio executives who couldn’t even say the word “vagina.”
By all accounts, the studio cut some 40 minutes out of Peirce’s version of Carrie, including a lot of material where she was closer to Stephen King’s original 1974 novel. This heavy-handed editing resulted in a film that follows Brian de Palma’s 1976 film version beat for beat, which led to critics (and fans) deeming the new film a pointless, inferior rehash. There’s actually a petition circulating for the studio to release a Director’s Cut of Peirce’s film that restores all 40 minutes of deleted material, most of which weren’t on the already-released Blu-ray.
Here’s a fan-made trailer for the never-released Director’s Cut of Carrie:
(According to one source, the scenes that were removed include “more prom violence,” a “White Commission” of scenes of people talking about the prom (which also happens in King’s book), more destruction in the town as Carrie leaves the prom, and a lot more character development earlier on.)
But in any case, Peirce’s first-hand account of what happened when she pitched the studio execs a much weirder ending is both hilarious and sad, depending on your point of view. That ending involves Sue, the cheerleader, giving birth to a full-grown Carrie—and here’s a version of it from the DVD, although here it turns out to be (somewhat confusingly) just a dream:
Peirce’s story of her arguments over this scene definitely highlights what happens when an iconoclast female director is handed the reins of a big Hollywood franchise film, and the studio doesn’t quite know what they’re getting. (And you can easily imagine these sorts of stories are why Patty Jenkins left Thor: The Dark World, and why Ava du Vernay decided to pass on directing Black Panther.)
Talking to the AFI Directing Workshop for Women’s 2014 Showcase, Peirce told about how she struggled to come up with a new ending for Carrie that could be as revolutionary as the ending to Brian De Palma’s version, a jump-scare with Carrie’s hand coming out of the grave. And she struggled to come up with a new final scare that would be startling in 2015, until a writer friend sent her a clip from Lars von Trier’s Kingdom, in which a woman gives birth... to an adult man.
“Suddenly, a woman was giving birth, and out came a full-grown man’s face. Scary, funny, weird—I jumped. I was like, “Whoa. That’s scary.”
So I immediately sent this scene to the executives, and they agreed, it was scary. It was funny. And I suggested, “Look. We could have a full-grown Carrie, or Carrie’s hand, being birthed—you know, something along those lines.”
They liked the idea, but they were concerned. They wouldn’t, or couldn’t, at first articulate what it was. Finally, one of them ventured, “So... you really want to show a vagina?”
I said, “Well, not necessarily. I want to give people a scare.”
“But how will you do that, without, you know... shooting the vagina?”
I said, “Look. There’s lots of birth scenes in movies that don’t show a vagina, if that’s not what they’re about. The Fly, Aliens, Game of Thrones...” But still, there was a very big concern about the vagina.
So I had to shoot an ending that didn’t work—that wasn’t a jump scare—and the audience said [it didn’t work] in a test screening. And then, with the release looming, of course they came to me in a panic, and they said, “Well, what about that ending you wrote?”
I was like, “Well, here. Okay, here’s that ending.” They loved it. They greenlit it. But as we were moving towards production, again, they were very focused on, how I would shoot it. On what we would see.
Now I was getting confused. I had shot a lot of nude scenes. I had shot a dildo-packing scene, teen girls showering, gay sex, straight sex, oral sex, anal sex, stripping, rape... I didn’t even realize all that until this afternoon. But in all of that, I had never had a vagina issue. I had never suddenly felt compelled on set to take the camera and run it up to a vagina and film it. And I have lesbian tendencies. And even if I had, this could have been remedied. Just don’t show the fuckin’ scene.
Then I began to see where the problem lies. When one guy started forming a sentence that should have included the word “vagina,” he would just stop. “So when you have to shoot the hand coming out of the, uh, the, uh,...” and then there was just silence. And giggles. And finally it came out: “the Vajayjay.” (The Vajajay? Really?) “The cooter, the hole,” other euphemisms.
Now a number of these men were married with kids. And presumably their wives had vaginas, and their kids came out of those vaginas. It was fascinating to me that they were uncomfortable with birth scenes and vaginas. It felt like the 1950s, and I also thought that The Vagina Monologues had solved this.
But your job [as director] is to allay everybody’s fears. So I got my storyboard artist, and every day we storyboarded. I put down every shot, every angle, I got a three-quarter body prosthetic. No real vaginas were harmed or exposed on my set. I did three days of camera tests, from every angle. Side, low, looking up at her face, high, looking down at what was being birthed. And yes, I did shoot straight at the vagina, and realized—as everybody realized—that it didn’t work.
Finally, I was having a production meeting, and the guy who hadn’t been able to say the word “vagina” said it. A few times. Proudly. “So, you’ll shoot towards the, uh, vagina? But not at the vagina?” And then, excitedly: “Can you believe we’re all at a work meeting, saying the word ‘vagina’?”
The ending tested well, and for a while it looked like we were going to use it in the release. But in the end, they decided it was going to be too polarizing. So they put it on the DVD.
So why have I bothered to tell you this story, and what does it have to do with women in film? With your future?
One, is it any wonder we struggle to get jobs in an industry where, some—not all— men have a hard time saying the word “vagina,” dealing with birthing, with things coming out out [of], or going into, vaginas. Nearly every woman I have talked to has come up against this sort of thing and has a crazy anecdote... because this is not one man’s vagina problem, any more than it’s one woman’s problem getting hired. It’s a system giving us obstacles that we have to overcome....
Look, my studio gave me the resources—and they were immense—to write, shoot, edit, screen and put on the screen and out there in test audiences a scene that they basically thought was about a vagina. It wasn’t. But that’s what they were afraid of, and they still let me do it. And now it exists on a DVD. And I think that’s a win.
Peirce’s whole talk is well worth watching, and you can see it here:
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @charliejane