Blog Directory CineVerse: A female force of nature

A female force of nature

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Carrie," Brian De Palma's haunting ode to teenage angst and woman's inhumanity to her fellow woman, still has the power to shock and stir 40 years after its theatrical release. A major reason, of course, is the quality of its original source material – the novel written by Stephen King. But cinematically, De Palma is deserving of the kudos, particularly due to his interesting filmmaking choices and concerted focus on establishing Carrie White as a sympathetic but tragic figure. Here's what we learned about this film and why it remains resonant today:

It’s one of the first feature films that tackles the topic of menstruation and the challenges of female adolescence/growing into womanhood. This movie also shows nude female bodies in an honest, innocent, natural, and non-titillating way.
The film’s tone is predominantly bleak and depressing and disturbing; the filmmakers emotionally manipulate viewers into a false sense of security and comfort only to pull the rug out from under us and depict a world of unrelenting cruelty, injustice and unfairness for Carrie White, a sympathetic teenager who is undeserving of the torment she endures.
Brian De Palma utilizes creative shots, camera movement and editing – including the use of a deep focus/split-diopter lens so that objects in the foreground, middle ground and background are in complete focus; split screens that show action and reaction shots simultaneously; mobile camera work, including a memorable unbroken take involving a camera that spins increasingly faster around Tommy and Carrie as they dance, creating the illusion of dreamy fantasy and being swept off your feet; silly sped-up footage shown during the tuxedo shopping scene; and extended slow-motion sequences that ratchet up the suspense, especially when we see Sue and the teacher realize something is terribly wrong at the prom; and kaleidoscopic lens shots depicting a cacophony of countless laughing and jeering spectators to Carrie’s humiliation.
It’s the first adaptation of a novel by Stephen King – a writer whose stories have been among the most widely adapted and in-demand by Hollywood.
Arguably, this is a film with a strong feminist message: consider that there are no strong male characters portrayed in this movie – Travolta is a clownish oaf, Carrie’s prom date turns from a jerk to an empathetic love interest to a hapless victim dispatched by a falling bucket, and Carrie’s father is out of the picture entirely.
The twist shock ending was unexpected and mortifying to moviegoers back in 1976, and became a hallmark of horror films to come like Friday the 13th and De Palma films like Dressed to Kill, although this conceit of a hand rising suddenly from the surface was borrowed from Deliverance.

It’s rendered in excruciatingly protracted slow-motion, which increases tension, foreboding and anticipation.
The score alternates between tender romanticism and shrill and suspenseful starkness.
We have sympathy and admiration for Carrie – the fact that she’s been transformed into a beautiful woman and is being recognized by her peers.
The knot tightens when we see Sue notice the rope and bucket, followed by the teacher noticing something wrong, which increases our nervousness.
A series of quickening cuts ensue, combined with selective sound effects.
Finally, after the blood pours down, we see prom attendees laughing and screaming silently, which creates an unnerving feeling of disorientation, as if we – like Carrie – have been shell-shocked and deafened by a bomb that has gone off.

The devastating consequences of bullying – which is something that is quite topical today.
Revenge and wish fulfillment: Carrie speaks to teenagers and outcasts everywhere who yearn to deliver comeuppances to the cruel denizens of the “in-crowd.”
The mysterious and feared power of female sexuality and the myth that women and their bodies – like Eve in the garden of Eden – can unleash a destructive power upon the earth. Stephen King commented that the book is concerned with “what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.”
Greek mythology and ancient beliefs. Dmetri Kakmi, writer for Senses of Cinema, wrote: “The film’s overarching concern… shows a mythic view of woman as Force of Nature, a Furie whose destructive capacity is unleashed by primitive rites of passage brought on by the flow of menstrual blood.”
o Kakmi further posited: “In Greek and Roman mythology the Furies were goddesses who avenged crimes, and particularly offenses against the family. In one version of the myth, the three sisters were engendered by the drops of blood that fell upon the ground after Kronos, the primal father, was castrated. In Stephen King’s book, it is stated that Carrie’s father is the bearer of the telekinesis gene, which he has bequeathed upon his daughter. Seen from young Carrie’s point of view, the absent father is like a distant God who descends to plant his seed in a mortal before ascending the heights of Olympus, never to be seen again. Although she lives in an earthly matriarchy, Carrie is very much under the spell of a patriarchal force which keeps her in thrall.”
o Consider, as well, that several shots of Carrie soaked in blood on the prom stage were borrowed from visuals and staging de Palma used in his film Dionysus in ‘69, which is an adaptation of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides.
Tragic fate, doom, foreboding and unavoidable destiny: Ponder how the fanatical mother serves as a kind of Oracle who predicts what’s going to happen with her ravings. She says, “First comes the blood, then comes the sin.” Sure enough, Carrie has her first period and later sows destruction upon the town with her telekinetic powers. Margaret also prognosticates that the prom evening will end in everyone laughing at her, which it certainly does.
The dangers of religious fanaticism, overzealous parenting, single-parented homes, and willful ignorance of biology (Carrie’s mother never tells her the truth about birds, bees, boys, or tampons)

Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher
Psycho, the score for which is emulated significantly in Carrie; there are also little winks and nods to the Hitchcock classic, including the name of Carrie’s school: Bates High School.
Deliverance and its haunting ending featuring a phantom hand
Raise the Red Lantern, another film featuring a claustrophobic and oppressive world for females who battle one another
Dressed to Kill, another De Palma picture that includes a shock ending
Ruby (1977) and Jennifer (1978) – two films involving daughters who exact a terrible revenge on their tormentors
Other horror films from the 1970s depicting evil children, including The Exorcist, The Changeling, and The Omen

Blow Out
Dressed to Kill
Body Double
The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Mission: Impossible

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