Carrie – Stephen King

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Having been adapted to film three times since the original novel was first written in 1974, Stephen King’s Carrie was an excellent choice for this blog’s inaugural post. Whether it’s the 1976, 2002, or 2013 version of the film, chances are that you are at least familiar with this classic story of the unpopular high school student who snaps at her prom when she is the brunt of a cruel and bloody joke. While none of the three versions of the film follow the story of the novel precisely (what movie based on a book truly does anyways?), it is my opinion that the most recent 2013 film best succeeds in capturing the spirit of the story as well as the individual characters. While the 1976 film is arguably the most cinematically artistic portrayal of Carrie, the 2013 film is undoubtedly the most complete adaptation of the novel that also benefits from the inclusion of several of the iconic moments that the 1976 film first established. 

 

First edition cover

First edition cover

Beyond simply being the best of the three film adaptations, 2013’s Carrie stands on its own as a beautiful adaptation of a novel – especially considering the novel’s story structure is one that is not easily translated to film in a coherent manner. Stephen King’s novel is told from the viewpoint of the story’s main characters as well as through excerpts from various academic articles and hearing transcripts from a committee that is convened to investigate the prom tragedy. In fact, a lot of the novel’s suspense is developed through the gradual release of information about the horrifying events to come in these articles and transcripts. While readers are not told what exactly happens at the prom, they know before Carrie actually arrives at her prom that what will happen will result in “two hundred deaths and the destruction of an entire town” and further that it will be one of the two most stunning events of the twentieth century along with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The 2002 version of Carrie is the only adaptation that attempts to maintain this story structure by inserting scenes throughout the film of the police investigating the few surviving characters after prom night. While it is noble for 2002’s Carrie to attempt to follow the novel so closely in this manner, as a medium, films have so many more tools at their disposal for the development of suspense, and this structure only made the film disjointed and rather boring in my opinion. Indeed, the 1976 and 2013 films are far more suspenseful through their use of music and cinematography alone.

                While the 1976’s Carrie does a better job than the 2002 version at developing suspense, a great deal of the horror of the novel is still absent from this first film. For one, the violent nature of Carrie’s mother is minimized in this version (and even more so in the 2002 version) while it is always present in the 2013 film. The 1976 film’s mother character may be a crazed religious fanatic, but the mother in the novel also often slaps, kicks, and hits Carrie. The 2013 mother character alone comes close to portraying the same violent nature through the near murder of her newborn baby, frequent self-mutilations, and the scene when she throws a Bible at Carrie. Beyond the horror of the mother character, those who have only seen the 1976 film may be surprised to learn that a great deal of the novel’s horror and destruction occurs after the prom scene. We see hints of this in the 2013 film when the gas station explodes and we see a bit more in the 2002 film with a few shots of the entire town on fire, but none of the three versions includes the full path of Carrie’s destruction throughout her hometown. In fact, the majority of the novel’s casualties are not high school students but rather random members of the town who are caught up in the destruction.

Finally, it is the portrayal of Carrie herself that most sets the three films apart. Very early on in the novel, readers are introduced to Carrie’s hidden dark side when after the infamous shower scene she thinks to herself, “Crash in her head with a rock, with a boulder. Crash in all their heads. Good. Good.” Certainly, not one of the three film versions of Carrie shows her to be anything other than quiet and awkward in the beginning. For this reason, a lot of the audience’s dislike throughout all three films gravitates towards the characters who savagely tease Carrie and plan the prank at the prom. I felt nothing but pity for the Carries in the films (admittedly even after she massacres a room full of mostly innocent high school students), but I felt almost immediate dislike and disgust towards the Carrie of the novel despite her victim status. Truly, the Carrie of the novel is a far darker character than the movies would have you know, even if it is still clearly as a result of her horribly strict mother and years of bullying. Still, the 2013 Carrie comes closest to the novel Carrie’s dark side. While 1976 and 2002 Carrie seem to be in a trance as the prom horror occurs, 2013 Carrie is clearly in control as she waves her arms around like a bloody conductor, choosing carefully who lives and who dies. Further, her murder of Chris Hargensen is exceedingly brutal – she slams her car into a gas station, causing Chris’ face to become lodged in the windshield, before blowing her and the gas station up.

Book Vs. Film Facts

  • Unlike the 1976 version, 2013’s Carrie used the same name for the High School (Ewen High School) and for the coach (Ms. Desjardin).
  • The color of Carrie’s dress is mistakenly stated as red by the mother character in all three films when it is clearly pink, but the real color of Carrie’s dress is never given in the novel (her mother still states that she knew it would be red).
  • The prom king and queen election is not rigged in the novel. Rather Carrie and Tommy win because Chris has secretly helped campaign for them prior to the prom.
  • There are only 12 survivors among the prom attendees in the novel while there are many more than 12 walking around after the prom in the 2013 film.
  • Unlike in the 2013 film, Sue is not pregnant at the end of the story despite her worries that she may be.
  • Carrie dies in the end of the story of all versions with the exception of the 2002 film where she survives and is hidden with Sue’s help.

Rating (match to book) – 7

For various reasons, it is almost always impossible for a film to maintain all the elements of the novel upon which it is based. Rather, it is most important that the film attempts to keep spirit of the novel intact. The 2013 film Carrie achieves this goal the best of the three film versions. Rating this version as a stand-alone from the other two, this film does a good job at keeping the original novel’s characters intact as well as the majority of the novel’s events. The films writers adapted the story to take place in the new millennium with the inclusion of cell phones and YouTube, but in my opinion this helped to make the story a better one by extending the humiliation of Carrie in several scenes and tightening up the scene where Chris’ lawyer father visited the principal. Beyond this change, the creators of this film obviously wanted to include elements that were unique to the original film version also –perhaps this was to satisfy the fans of the 1976 version – so there were several conscientious deviations from the novel. I gave this film adaptation a higher overall rating than its match to book rating because the changes did seem to serve a purpose and did help to make for a better overall film.

Which was Better?

Tie

I’ve Seen the Movie – Should I Read the Book?

Maybe. If you have seen Carrie (2013), then you have already enjoyed the majority of the plot points that are found in the novel. If you choose to read the book, you will have a far greater appreciation for the thoughts and motives behind the main characters. Certainly, the Carrie of the novel is a far more complex character than the film would suggest. You will also get to see in far greater depth what happens to Carrie and the town she lives in after the events at the prom. This is probably the biggest reason to read the novel since a surprising amount does happen at this point. Also, the ending in the book is different than any of the film endings, and personally, I prefer the book’s ending to the others. Overall, I do think this novel is worth reading if you enjoyed the movie, but since it does not vary that drastically, if you did not like the move, you probably will not like the book.

I’ve Read the Book – Should I See the Movie?

Maybe. I think that 2013’s Carrie does a good job overall at connecting to the original novel. This new film finds clever ways to work in some smaller details from the novel that are left out of the other two versions of the film. I also think that fans of the book will appreciate the role that modern technology plays throughout the story line. Rather than being hurt by the switch in setting from the 1970s to the 2000s, I think that this film benefits from the switch, as Carrie’s humiliation is so much more extensive. I do not think that fans of the novel will be disappointed by the film – at least not this version of the film. I certainly do not recommend watching the 2002 version, as it strays so dramatically from the novel and not in a way that improves on the novel in any way.