Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 in Shit: Carrie

Carrie was the sort of movie that saw me catching myself, repeatedly, laughing at my own apophenia. It is the sort of film that begs to be read in what I generally refer to using the shorthand of the Coen Brothers as exemplars, that particular American "cycles of violence" genre that Let the Right One In did better than anything else I am aware of, but which each Coen Brothers film pushes. As a genre, the identifying tropes usually run as so: disparate social subjects grouped with tenuous connection to each other; a tendency to be exclusively interested in the present (diegetically speaking) above all else; relatively complex, but still primarily causal, character relations, primarily viewed through the spread of violence from one group (often institutional, like a police force or an elementary school) that resolves in an individual whose goal is to demystify these complex chains by pinning them to an individual subject (which is why the Coens do so love cops); relatedly, a broad visual arc beginning with a sort of landscape-oriented cinematography and transitioning slowly (although often with a certain ecstatic instant marking the total transition, as in the Fargo woodchipper scene) to portraiture.

If Carrie is this sort of movie, it is one that lacks a Frances McDormand or a Tommy Lee Jones. It's a cycles of violence movie with neither center nor sublation, an impossible knot with no sword at hand. Or maybe it's more a Solomon, in keeping with the new introductory scene (compared to de Palma's version, at least; I haven't read King's); all sides are equally valid, everyone is deeply fucked with and even more deeply fucked up, so the infant has to meet the scissors, face first.

When I say that Carrie is a really enjoyable movie I don't mean that it doesn't engage in some deeply fucked up shit; only that it moves well to the beat it establishes, and knows things like when Julianne Moore can do Piper Laurie and when she's better off doing her own thing, or that the new kid shouldn't even try to do a Travolta, or how to bring personal communications technology in without relying too heavily on the sorts of thematics that would make it useless. And it is utterly confident that you won't give the slightest fuck about its fantastical aspects, to the point where a screamed infodump is a weirdly pleasant little bizarre alienating effect. It is, unfortunately, less confident in where Spacek ends and Moretz begins; she does a good job (and, given that she played Abby in Let Me In, seems destined to be the leading lady of every "not quite a 'cycles of violence'" film, which are, anyway, much better than those which they aren't) and the increased attention to her powers (and also to how much she enjoys them) feels right for this actress, but otherwise it's a bit second-order.

I'm also not saying that the remake soft sells any of the original film's misanthropy; a Carrie film in which anyone is even remotely sympathetic would, I suspect, be a deeply shitty Carrie film. It is a story in which really shitty things happen to people, and their reactions are uniformly a mixture of obscured power dynamics and self-aggrandizement, dialed up just one or two notches too high. It's all "be careful for what you wish" fulfillment, and Peirce's rectifying of de Palma's lack of ability to show just how cruelly pleasant being able to enter into that dynamic is for Carrie is maybe the single most important revision that this version offers. I seem to recall that some reviewers were less than pleased with the way Carrie orchestrates (one of them even compared it to a superhero movie, as I recall, which is exciting) the deaths at prom rather than their being indiscriminate outbursts of rage, to which I say, ha. As though the way that de Palma’s camera overwhelmed that scene had nothing to do with the perception and was only style for style’s sake? Why even learn to pull movies apart if you refuse to put them back together, I mean honestly. As though de Palma’s hyper-stylistic representation of the prom was anything but a very well choreographed, superhero-like sadism to begin with. And while I admit that I prefer that sadism done with unnecessary split screens and quickening circle tracking shots, I can’t say I was at all disappointed that Peirce finally gave that sadism to Carrie to enjoy, after she’d been denied it for so long.

I do mean, on some level, that it is a much less striking film than de Palma's, and not just because there's no awkward splitscreen that somehow manages to be totally out of place and perfectly resonant; the whole thing is paced to the story (at least insofar as the story is the simmering destruction of each character with a speaking role) instead of the mood or the themes, and so its brisk, well-lit falling and rising move in a cinematic idiom that is much more similar to the thriller or the blockbuster than the pseudo-arthouse horror. Pleasant doesn't (necessarily) mean (aesthetically) toothless, but, yeah, there's some closeness there.

Which is to say that this is a movie whose misanthropy is presented in a slick, not-too-stylized fashion, which I suspect is a great crime to many but seemed to me perfectly coherent and productive of a reimagining of the core story which, while continuing to deny the obvious moralizing core metaphor (menstruation is scary), manages to provoke certain questions of violence and desire and their entanglement in calcified institutions. Or, rather, to embed them in the movement of a representation that orients itself, both in terms of marketing and clearly in terms of construction, as the iteration of an earlier representation, which itself had little concern for the ways that violence moves through communities but offered that possibility, and which this movie brought slightly more to the surface.

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