Three Imaginary Girls

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Kimberly Peirce, Chloë Moretz, and Julianne Moore on the set of Carrie

As a horror fan, I was worried that the recent "re-imagining" of Carrie on screen would either be a regurgitation of DePalma's film, or completely disappointing like the 2002 television movie. But with Kimberly Peirce in the Director's seat, this vision of Carrie turned out to be pretty damn entertaining. Peirce, who also wrote and directed both Boys Don't Cry and Stop-Loss, stays true to the heart of Stephen King's story while infusing it with her own voice. I sat down with Kimberly last week and talked with her about storytelling and the powerful symbolism of Carietta White. 

{FYI: there are a few spoilers below in the questions and answers} 

TIG: Was re-telling the story of Carrie White something you've always wanted to do? 

Kimberly Peirce: I probably always wanted to do it, and I didn't know it. I was approached, and I was amazed at the opportunity. I had read Carrie as a kid, and I loved it! And I am always looking for great American fiction that was entertaining. I love The Godfather, I love Jaws — I mean, I love this kind of classic pulp fiction. Nowadays, I'm desperate for good stories. If you can just give me a good story, I'm in heaven … and you run dry on that. 

So, they [MGM] came to me and they said, 'how would you like to re-imagine Carrie?' And at first, I was like, "Oh, let me think about that." because I love the Brian DePalma original; I think it's fantastic. I'm not necessarily for or against remakes — I love the original Scarface from '33, and I love the new one. I love Imitation of Life; the two different versions. I don't have a prejudice about it. My feeling is: take great source material, do something great with it, make it as many times as you want as long as you do something good. 

When they came to me … I just had to look more deeply into the material and when I did, I was actually astounded at how much more I loved it than what I remembered. I think it's timely, timeless, and more relevant today that it was then. 

What you fall in love with is Carrie White. You love this misfit, this outcast, who wants love and acceptance — something we all want — who's up against huge obstacles to getting it. The mean girls at school don't want to give it to her, when she gets home, her mom gives her love … but, her mom has a love/hate relationship with her so it's not quite the acceptance and love that she wants. So she's a human being left with a deprivation. 

But then she discovers these powers. So maybe she's a misfit that can be rejected socially, but now she's got these powers that can make her feel okay. Then she's going to find out that other people have them. She's sitting pretty for a few moments … and then the most handsome boy in the school asks her to prom. 

Now, Sue [Snell] should come and apologize; she should not be orchestrating her boyfriend inviting Carrie to the prom. That's what rich people do — that's charity. And charity doesn't really solve the problem. And then Carrie says "yes", and she's on her way to having the most Cinderella night, and we're all rooting for her. We all linger on her success. We all want her to succeed, because we all want that night. 

But what I find amazing is that we KNOW it's not going to end well. We know that Chris [Hargensen] is angry. We know that she's escalated her attacks, and we know she's going to do something. We're all on the edge of our seats, watching and waiting. Why do we enjoy it when they ruin it? 

TIG: Well, I think we enjoy it because we feel that Chris gets what she deserves! That outcast is getting her revenge. It's almost like a morality tale: don't be shitty to people or this might happen to you. 

Kimberly: Right! We do enjoy when the blood falls, but we LOVE — we savor the revenge tale. Because I think we all want to believe in a world that has some sense of right and wrong. And that if you are Chris Hargensen and you mess with me, I'm gonna get you back. I'm gonna get everybody who did me wrong. And audiences love it! They love with a revenge story. And that's what I love about fiction. We also love the vicarious experience of going to the theater and being able to do what we can't really do in real life. 

TIG: I re-read the book right after I saw your film, and noticed something I hadn't before: that Sue is almost as big a part of the story as Carrie is, and I felt like that came through in your film too. In particular, that final scene between Carrie and Sue at the end. Do you feel like that scene was more about Sue's redemption that Carrie's? 

Kimberly: Carrie is my protagonist; I live and die by Carrie. She is the engine that fuels the movie. Carrie and her mother is the main relationship. I rewrote the scene at the climax to make it even stronger when they have their big fight. So let's say that [the mother/daughter relationship] is my spine. But I'm very engaged with, if you look at Boys Don't Cry, and you looks at Stop-Loss, I love drama. 

So I love a main character and these ancillary characters — protagonists and antagonists — that help fuel the energy forward. One of the biggest questions about Sue, even if you look at Stephen King's writing, he says, "I didn't really understand Sue's motivation for donating her boyfriend." To me, it was important to go deeply into that girl's psyche so that we might understand who she was, why she chose to do that, and that she realized she made a mistake doing it. 

Sue has to keep making the wrong choices. I thought it was imperative that Sue goes to the prom and she sees what she's wrought, and that's why I wrote that silent scene where she and the teacher [Ms. Desjardin] look at each other outside the school. They see what they've done, and they're helpless, in a way … in the face of what they've set in motion. Now the only thing Sue can do is to try to do something right for Carrie. That's Sue's story. It should not eclipse Carrie's story. 

I love a human monster. I think Terminator is fantastic — when he knows he needs to self-destruct in Terminator 2 — I believe that Carrie is a human monster. When she comes home, she turns into a little girl, saying, "Mama mama mama." What she wants to do is return to her mother's fold, and the solace that was. And it turns into a fight to the death. So when Sue comes, Carrie has the chance to destroy yet another person… and we give her the opportunity to decide. And she decides like every great human monster: I'm gonna save you with the very last bit of energy I have. I felt that was important to make Carrie a stronger character. 

TIG: One of the things I really love about DePalma's version is Piper Laurie's very maniacal portrayal of Margaret White. But I also loved that Julianne's portrayal was the total opposite of that, but still very scary. Was that something the two of you worked together on to develop? 

Kimberly: Julianne had a very strong and sophisticated vision of Margaret from the beginning. Of course we worked on it together; I rewrote for and with her to really get the best of King's book out and craft the character. But what was important for me, is that she's brilliant. She's one of today's leading actresses, she's charismatic, she's warm, and you love her. All of that was imperative for a woman who is a shut-in, feels like she sinned when she had sex, feels that her daughter could be evil, and has taken extreme measures to "protect" her daughter. That's a really strong character. Julianne Moore was constantly defining that woman. 

And when I put her together with Chloe in the "White House" set, something much bigger than what I had intended began to take shape. Then my role as a director is just more observing and fine-tuning, because something is alive … and you want to just let it live. And I love a mother/daughter story! Terms of Endearment is one of my all-time favorite movies. And we need more mother/daughter stories. Mothers and daughters and intense. 

TIG: I really loved the little modern touches you put in there, too. 

Kimberly: Right. High school is so difficult for so many people. You don't have any privacy in the bathroom, you have to go school every day with these kids you can't get away with. And I think modernizing it and including social media was really important to me. That's what would happen now. 

What I love is that not only was she [Chris] filming what they were doing to Carrie, but then she turned the camera on herself, and then she even uploaded it online. And having the teacher turn the tables — what if this goes viral? What if it's on The Today Show? It could ruin that kid's life. And then the escalation of the Prom: it's not only that people could be viewing that video privately, it's being shown in public and the humiliation has mass exposure.  

TIG: So true. The last question I have to ask is about music. What are you listening to now, or what did you listen to while making the film that inspired you? 

Kimberly: I love British and American Rock. The Stones, Bowie, Leonard Skynyrd, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin; I real love the classic stuff. The songs are so well structured, yet utterly modern. I say that even though we have current soundtrack for Carrie; we have Vampire Weekend, Cults, etc. I love our soundtrack. The song playing at the prom is fantastic!

{note: that song is "Dust to Dust" by The Civil Wars. You can preview the soundtrack for Carrie on Entertainment Weekly, and Amie's film review will be posted soon}