Carrie’s telekinetic abilities in this film are the supernatural manifestation brought on by a lifetime of suffering. Years of torment, the smothered ambition and intellect, of a person who so desperately wants to be accepted but life’s dice roll simply won’t allow it. Many, many people around the world can identify with Carrie’s struggle; I know I could. But the difference in Carrie’s struggle was her preternatural ability to strike back at her abusers, and it makes for a one hell of a satisfying conclusion to a well told story.
The film begins with an overhead shot of a volleyball match. The camera slowly makes its way over to a lone girl who looks uncomfortable, almost exposed in her athletic outfit. The ball comes her way and she botches the spike, much to the ire of her teammates. The subsequent titlecard sequence is beautiful photography of a steamy locker room. We bear witness to numerous women in various states of undress all fooling around implying camaraderie. But slowly the camera makes its way to the back of the room where we see a lone figure taking a shower. The music implies a certain childlike innocence not found in teenagers while also invoking a deep sympathy. Its a brilliant opening that perfectly establishes Carrie’s feelings of separateness from the rest of her classmates.
It’s here that Carrie (Sissy Spacek) experiences her first period, which she is unaware is a natural function of the female body. Her reaction is to run for help, but it only serves to increase her awkward eccentricity to the rest of her class, who react as you might expect. A teacher attempts to punish the girls who mocked Carrie which leads to the ban from prom of one of the more popular girls (Nancy Allen). Of course this petulant little cunt blames Carrie for her punishment and seeks revenge in the most horrible way she knows how. This leads to the final scene of grisly carnage where Carrie takes her ultimate vengeance.
The truly sad part is that Carrie isn’t an unattractive girl. She’s not overweight or ugly by any means, even sporting a decent figure with voluptuous curves. And when she goes to prom it’s revealed, almost surprisingly, that she’s actually gorgeous. A beauty that other women would die for. Yet her ostracization isn’t based so much upon physical appearance so much as it is a function of her social ineptitude; a quality born into her and exasperated by an overbearing religious fanatic of a mother (Piper Laurie).
The most terrifying sequences to me are the ones between Carrie and her mother. Ironically, their house, which is adorned with countless religious idols, is bathed in a hellish orange glow. Its a truly tragic thing when a girl who is so despised and ridiculed at school cannot run home for any comfort. Instead she receives lectures on maintaining sexual purity from a mother who projects her own perceived sinfulness upon Carrie, never allowing her to form full fledged relationships. She locks Carrie into a closet where her only company is a demonic eyed statuette of Jesus, presumably symbolizing the agony that religion, or her mother’s twisted puritanical version of religion, has brought her life.
Even more tragic are the ill fated attempts to bring Carrie back into normal society. One of her classmates (Amy Irving) takes pity on her and bids her boyfriend into asking Carrie to prom. Seeing Carrie at prom finally feeling happy and at peace with the world brings fleeting moments of joy to our souls. We can see that underneath all the callused layers of protection she’s built for herself is a girl that’s real and emotional.
We yearn for her happiness and sympathize with her despair because who wouldn’t? I particularly enjoyed De Palma’s direction during her first dance with Tommy Moss (William Katt). He has the camera spinning around them, slowly picking up speed as she asks him question after question about why he took her of all people to prom. It culminates in him tenderly telling her that they’re here, together, and he likes it. And it seems like he’s being genuine. Like her innocence and modesty have made him regret those years of ignoring her and he wished he’d seen her for what she was sooner. The camera eventually is spinning so fast around them we get the distinct, queasy feeling that this romance is too good to be true; that the night is beginning to spin out of control into its inevitable and grave conclusion.
The acting from Sissy Spacek is absolutely sensational and she was surely well deserved of her Oscar nomination for the role. She plays the girl so that you can understand why teenagers would treat her the way they do while also maintaining a fine level of sympathy. You can see the deep pain inside her every time the camera looks down her eyes. And when she turns catatonic and begins using her telepathy to butcher her harassers it is sincerely haunting. You can really feel her mind shift over into that instinctive mode where her only intention is to use every ounce of ability to inflict pain. It’s really disturbing.
Horror movies aspire to be as good as this one. This was De Palma’s breakout movie, and in my opinion one of his finer works. He allows his characters to make the horror, rather than vice versa. If only all his scripts were as good as this one.