I recently re watched the original Carrie from 1976, which was directed by Brian DePalma, a director that I have tremendous respect for. I have tremendous respect for this movie too, but here’s why I find the 2013 version to be a deeper, more satisfying film. It’s a woman’s movie about women’s issues, directed by a woman. The 2013 version is directed by Kimberly Peirce and addresses and emphasizes themes and issues that were overlooked by all the men who were involved in the making of the original film.
Both movies cover the same territory. It’s the same plot, same lines of dialogue and all the same characters, but there are some subtle (and not so subtle), but very important differences.
For example, the remake has a lot less of the “male gaze” in it. The original movie, from its opening scene of nubile, naked, teenage girls, frolicking in slow motion, to DePalma’s closeup of Carrie’s “dirty pillows” on the night of the Prom, to Margaret White’s orgasmic death scene, none of these things are approached, by Peirce from the puerile perspective of the original. The scene of Carrie getting her first period is suitably horrifying in the original, (mostly because Spacek really sells it), but this is also never addressed again, for the rest of the film.
The remake begins with blood and blood is one of the major characters throughout the rest of it.
There are three major points of difference from the original to the remake. The first is the depiction of Margaret White. She’s a deeper and much more fascinating character in the remake, given the implication that there was some horrific, sexual trauma, in her past.
The opening scene in the showers, is replaced by Carrie’s bloody home birth and we get to watch Margaret be shocked that there’s a baby, and then waffling about whether or not she should kill her. This leads to the first question about Margaret’s traumatic past and what could have happened to her that she could engage in the activity that produced Carrie, but not know that “baby” could be a result. It makes you wonder if Carrie is a product of rape, or if Margaret’s sexual trauma extends from some much earlier event, in her life?
The original Margaret, played to unforgettable effect by Piper Laurie, is a straightforward depiction of religious mania, which only compounds the problem of Stephen King’s depictions of religious people as just “crazy”. In the original, we don’t know why Margaret is the way she is. We can only guess and few clues are given to us. It’s just assumed that Margaret’s always been that way.
In the remake, she’s given much more depth and motivation, because the implication is that she retreats from relatively normal behavior, into mania and self harm, whenever she cannot approach sex or any sexually related topic, directly. The rest of the time she’s a loving mother, who consoles her daughter, shows emotional connection and is physically affection to her. In the original, Carrie and her mother rarely spoke without fighting and almost never touched.
The current Margaret infantilizes her daughter but not in an obviously controlling manner. It’s no different from the affection any parent would show their child but coupled with her religious mania and physical abuse, it becomes problematic.
One of the most interesting differences between these two films is Margaret’s conversation with Sue Snell’s mother, in the laundry where Margaret works. If her self harm, in that scene, is brought about by the presence of Mrs. Snell or the subject of their discussion, it’s not made clear. It is given that Mrs. Snell has known Margaret for years. They went to school together and Margaret is a town fixture, so there is the possibility that she could have played a role in Margaret’s trauma. This is not the impression given in the first film. Mrs. Snell simply finds her a nuisance and tries to get her to go away.
The second most obvious change is the depiction of Carrie, by Chloe Grace Moretz, an actress I have a tremendous liking for. She’s much less mousy than Spacek’s version. Chloe’s version appears hunched over and closed in on herself as if to protect herself from a blow that never comes. She’s also a lot brighter, I think. Spacek’s version seems kind of dull, shy, awkward and resigned to her fate. The only time we see her show any humor or sass is during the Prom.
Where Spacek’s character seemed thoroughly housebroken, the current version has a lot more fire in her. She catches on to having special abilities a lot sooner and also the implications of having those abilities. She’s a lot more defiant and argumentative with her mother and is willing to sling bible verses right back at her. This Carrie knows the good book as well as Margaret does, and is willing to use scripture to further her arguments. Spacek’s version, in keeping with a lot of films from the 70’s, mostly just screams a lot.
At one point, we see Chloe’s version, pleading with her mother to talk to her, implying that her mother has spoken to her before about important subjects. She seems to know or understand that her mother has experienced something horrific and that its sexually related, but doesn’t know what it is. She seems mostly saddened and exasperated by her mother’s inability to approach these topics, without resorting to religious gibberish.
She’s openly affectionate to her mother. She holds her mothers hands or gently smiles, her eyes shining with love, when her mother calls her “baby girl”. There is love there, on both their parts, which makes it all the more awful when Carrie kills her. When Sue walks in on her, holding her mother’s lifeless body, Carrie’s first statement is that she wants her Mommy and that she’s scared. This scene is heart wrenching to watch. It’s lacking the outrageous sexual spectacle of Margaret’s death in the original. That scene removes any deeper emotional resonance, distancing the viewer from its real impact.
This film was directed by a woman, so all of the emotional high points center around relationships, rather than actions we are unable to grasp at motives for. For example: Why does Tommy ask Carrie to the Prom? This is something never addressed in the original. In 2013 movie, it’s implied that, he’s a sweet dullard and that’s its Sue, who is in charge of that relationship. He does it because she says so and he loves her.
The same for Chris Hargensen’s relationship with Billy. Only where Tommy’s dullness is mostly implied by the things he says, we’re given to know, in no uncertain terms, that Billy is nothing more than a dumb thug, who follows Chris’ bidding without question. Any motivation for their behavior is answered by their depictions in the film and that’s all you need to understand about these boys.
In fact, all of the men are just second stringers. They are backdrops for this female drama. They occasionally have something to say but the real emphasis is all on the women. From the gym teacher, Ms Desjardin, to Carrie, her mother, and Chris, Sue and her mother, the emphasis is on them, their relationships to each other, and what they think and feel about all this, while keeping all of the plot and dialogue of the first movie largely intact, which is very deft filmmaking on Ms. Peirce’ s part.
Another major deviation, is the relationship between Sue and Chris. After Sue refuses to support Chris in her bid to get back into the prom, Chris goes on a long diatribe against Sue, in front of all their friends. Some motivation is given to Chris for why she hates Carrie. In the remake, it’s one of those inexplicable childhood things. They’ve all known each other since elementary school and picking on Carrie is just what everyone does. It seems to be a school wide thing. No motivation for Chris’ hatred is given in the original film. She just hates her and thinks Carrie eats shit.
The third major difference is the ending. Carries use of her abilities is very deliberate in the remake, whereas they seemed more of a reflex in the first. Spacek’s character seemed to be in a kind of fugue state, where she seemed not very aware of what she was doing and wasn’t deliberately killing people. In the books she only wanted to hurt them and that motivation is kept intact in the original movie. The burning of the gym, is an accident, made by a girl whose control over her powers, is slipping.
In the remake, Carrie deliberately kills some people and saves others. Like Ms. Desjardin, who she lifts to safety, away from some electrical wires and water, on the floor of the gym. Other students she purposely crushes between some bleachers and flings into doors and windows. This Carrie is in full control of her powers, noted by Chloe’s hand gestures and body language, which would look pretty cheesy, if the result weren’t so horrific. This version of Carrie knows exactly what she’s doing. Death is not a bug. It’s a feature of her intentions.
And no more so, than when she kills Chris Hargensen. In the original film, it looks like she does it as an afterthought, when Billy and Chris attempt to run her over, in his car. Billy is removed from the equation rather quickly, while Carrie gives her full attention to Chris. It is a spectacularly gruesome death. Carrie expresses her full hatred and utter contempt for her childhood tormentor, not just what she does to her, but in her body language, as well. She WANTS Chris to hurt.
Some of the differences are more subtle and have much more to do with the movie taking place in a world of cell phones and social media. Carrie’s humiliation, in the showers, is filmed and then played back during the Prom scene, which is a lot less sweet and treacly than the original. Margaret drives a beat up station wagon and is shown working outside the home. There are no jump scares in this movie and very little humor and I was expecting both. That Peirce chose not to do any of these things, is much appreciated.
DePalma approached this as a Horror movie. Peirce approached it as a psychological drama with some elements of Horror and the difference is noticeable.
Almost nothing is played for laughs and the acting is a little less histrionic. Peirce has a point to make and cannot be bothered with pointless frivolity. This is a director with an agenda, who has thought long and hard about what she wants to show us and why. Her vision of this is very different from DePalma’s and no moment is wasted.
This is not to say that the original film is a bad movie, but it is very much a product of the men who created it, with its reliance on spectacle, rather than drama, and hysteria rather than genuine emotions. This is the difference in approach to the same material by two very different film makers. Kimberly Peirce’s movie, is not just a retread. It is a solid, capable film, in its own right.