– a review by James Harleman
“We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.
How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealousy burn like fire?” – Psalm 79:4-5
Reviewer Ben McEachen already shared some great thoughts in his review of the 2013 version of Carrie, and I agree wholeheartedly with his metanarrative musings. However, I differ on his appreciation of the film itself: I personally liked the new film, and think it’s accessible for a newer generation who may be put off by the dated look of the original, not to mention the B-list acting of everyone around Spacek and Laurie. I didn’t get to view the 1976 Carrie until the early 90s, and – even though the story concept was great, and Carrie’s prom date was The Greatest American Hero, I found the film cheesy and the over-use of slow motion eye-rollingly unwatchable. This is a case where I think updated effects and the talented Grace-Moretz make this a cautionary tale worth watching.
Also, in an era where we can debate which version of Hamlet we like best – that stage version we saw, or Mel Gibson’s, or Kenneth Branaugh’s, or David Tennant’s – I sometimes chafe at complaints about “remakes”. Carrie ain’t Shakespeare, but did we really need another “remake” of Much Ado About Nothing? Millions of Whedon fans say yes. What’s interesting is that the themes of bullying in Carrie seem almost more relevant today, and tension around religious authority and abuse surely hasn’t lessened, so the story works in virtually any time period.
“Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath.” – Proverbs 29:8
Nestled within the longstanding tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales, Carrie‘s simplicity works to tell an effective narrative that provokes conversation, and it’s a shame that many parents probably won’t let their kids see this until they’re out of high school, or else the kids will sneak out to see it and an opportunity for adult/teen discussion will be lost. After all, do we watch a film like Carrie as a vicarious form of wish fulfillment, or do we truly believe that scoffers will get their comeuppance? Even the “cool kids” feel picked on sometime, by someone, and so Carrie fills a very basic vengeance-void we feel powerless to address that transcends high school into our adult households, workplaces, relationships and religious institutions. Our souls cry out against those who mock, scorn, and hurt us either from ignorance or maliciousness.
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?” – Proverbs 1:22
Question: do you feel beset on all sides, knocked down or hemmed in by an abusive parent, spouse, authority figure, etc? The fact that Carrie’s power is like a force of nature, extending from her pain and yet manifest in an external and wild form in the objects around her, is a hunger we’ve all felt at some point in our pain, wishing the world itself would rise up and would assail the object of our persecution. In the case of Carrie, every avenue of escape is ultimately another form of pain, however. School is no escape from home, and home is no relief from school. She has no retreat, no refuge, and everywhere is a painful battlefront. There is no sanctuary.
The best Carrie’s mother can offer as a defense against the bitter landscape is a harsh form of self-control, a reliance that co-opts some language of God but ultimately worships isolation, self-flagellation, and willful self-determination. Many of us were sold this bill of goods under the guise of goodly Christendom, and yet it isn’t that different than Carrie’s nightmarish solution. Carrie uses her mind, and the creation around her, to protect her from her enemies and exact revenge. Although Margaret turns her pain inward, using a sewing needle to stab at her own leg, it’s no better cure than Carrie using electrical cables on her peers. We needle others, or we needle ourselves.
How much can a person take, bounced between a culture even the film portrays as wicked, vapid, unsatisfying and unsafe… and a legalistic platitude-driven religious culture that demands perfection or punishment? In many ways, Carrie captures the current state of Americana, and it’s no wonder children like Carrie (or very real teenagers in our schools, using weapons that aren’t born of psychic powers) are exploding in a vengeful outpouring. No one is pointing them to the good news Jesus Christ brought 2,000 years ago that cuts right down the center between these two, equally destructive polarities.
“There will be a judgment, Carrie.” – Margaret White
I think this statement is one of the simplest and profound in the film. After all, Carrie’s mom is very wrong about so many things, and yet in this she is dead on… in the context of the film’s narrative AND the meganarrative in which you and I share a part. Carrie brings judgment to the wicked children, to the wicked system, to her abusive mother… it all climaxes in a crescendo of catharsis for all our own little rages and felt offenses. Take that, world! And because Carrie’s power is some kind of strange, unique, miraculous endowment it almost feels sanctioned from above. All the mundane, depraved people get what’s coming to them, and yet on one hand it’s so horrible that we can’t have a triumphant Carrie… she has to go down with the sinking ship and only spares someone because maybe, just maybe, they’ll birth a generation who’ll do better. It’s just the tiniest shred of hope amidst vengeance and horror.
There will be a judgment: Carrie?
This story serves as a microcosm for that feeling wherein we all want a judgment to come. The biblical narrative suggests this aches inside us, groaning not in vain but in wait for a very real release that is promised and miraculous. The problem with this, of course, is we all think of ourselves as Carrie instead of the mocking, scoffing peers, or the heavy-handed religious folks, or inept principals guilty of omission. The reality is that most of us have probably had as many or more moments in our lives where we’ve been the dealers of the injustice instead of merely the recipients. We probably suffer from a decent portion of both, and this is where the cautionary tale of Carrie comes up short.
“Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!’” – Psalm 79:1-3
We desperately want a judgment… for everyone we want judgment for… but not for us, or for all the people who want us to be judged for how we’ve treated them. The good news of the story of God, the story you and I are living in, is that there will be a judgment… not like Carrie’s mom surmises, and not like Carrie dispenses, but a judgment by one who is worthy, true, and – thank God – gracious.
In the film, Carrie becomes the judge… and even the story recognizes that this fallible girl can’t go on carrying that weight after vengeance is dealt. It’s just not a real solution. We do need a miraculous purveyor of justice and vengeance to intercede for us… but also one that holds grace and mercy in equal portion, because we’re deserving of that vengeance as much as we need that deliverance.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10
Questions for Discussion:
- How do we feel mocked or bullied by those around us?
- Do we feel equally abused by Christians around us, rather than finding refuge?
- Where do we feel like the church – or Christians – have given us poor answers?
- Can we confess where we pour out scorn like Carrie’s peers and contribute fuel for that fire?
- What does it look like to seek a life of holiness (being “set apart”) without living like Margaret?
- Can we leave vengeance and miraculous deliverance in the hands of someone greater?
- While we patiently endure, can we be instruments of mercy to those around us?