2:23am

Fri October 18, 2013
Movies

'Carrie' Had The Power, But Mom Had The Scary Going On

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 11:23 am

Just in time for Halloween comes a new movie version of Stephen King's horror novel Carrie. While the teenaged Carrie White is clearly at the center of the story, I think her mother is the more fascinating character.

Carrie — about a shy misfit whose coming of age collides with her mother's fearful religious fundamentalism and her schoolmates' pack-animal cruelty, with combustible results — scared the bejesus out of me when I was a teenager. Carrie turned out to be dangerous, sure. But it was her mother, Margaret White, who made my heart stop.

"Eve was weak. Say it!" she screeches over and over, until Carrie — who's come home shattered after being surprised by her first period in the school shower — finally does say it. She drags the terrified girl into a closet that's been turned into a nightmarish chapel, complete with candles, Bibles and a bloody crucifix.

To understand Margaret White, you need only dissect the scene in which Carrie is getting ready to go to her high school prom against her mother's wishes. She's dressed in a low-cut gown, and her mother's reaction is one of utter disgust.

"I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will."

For Margaret White, breasts are 'dirty pillows' on the bodily path to what she says is the "first sin": sex.

"Such a great line," says Kimberly Peirce, who directed this month's Carrie update. Peirce says Margaret White is terrified of everything.

"Terrified of sex and terrified of sin, and yet she took great pleasure in having sex at some point," Peirce says. So Carrie — as the byproduct of that sin — is condemned to eternal punishment. "You pray, little girl. Pray for forgiveness."

Margaret White may have been the reason I never got confirmed.

A 'Lyrical Black Comedy,' At Least To The Lady In It

In the 1976 movie, actor Piper Laurie played Margaret White. When she first read the script for Carrie, she thought it was a send-up.

"I laughed so much during the whole making of this movie — I can't tell you — at how preposterous I was," says Laurie. With her black cape and ghostly white face framed by that flaming red hair, Piper Laurie's Margaret is operatic.

"Our movie," she says, referring to the 1976 film directed by Brian De Palma, "always seemed like a lyrical black comedy."

Stephen King has said that Carrie and Margaret White were inspired by people he encountered as a teenager in Durham, Maine. King wrote that he did some handyman work for a woman who lived alone with her daughter, who had epilepsy. A large crucifix hung on the wall in their living room. Another inspiration for Margaret White was an "intensely religious" woman King said he met at a laundromat. King writes that he always "wondered what her children were like."

In the novel, Stephen King describes Margaret White as wearing her hair "pulled back in a bun." But Julianne Moore — who plays her in the new movie — wears her hair long and loose, as Piper Laurie did in the original. Peirce says Moore believes the fictional Margaret White would never commit the sin of vanity.

"Julianne called me very early on and said 'I just want to let you know, I'm gonna go gray,'" says Peirce. "She thought that's what Margaret would do. She didn't want it to be over-sexual. She didn't want it to be showy for the world. ... Because Julianne didn't think she would spend any time on her hair."

'Everything She Says Is Right'

Even though Margaret is a wild, over-the-top invention, Kimberly Peirce still thinks there's a grain of truth in her.

"I think all parents and all children — they're not going to fight to the death with knives, but I do think that there is the child being unrecognizable to the parent at times," Peirce says. "[You understand] the parent desperately wanting to protect the child and love the child, and that struggle for the child to individuate and grow up. And I think that's what Carrie and Margaret struggle with."

The fictional Margaret White is undeniably cruel to her daughter. And yet Peirce says she's always struck by the fact that Margaret is ... more or less on target.

"Everything she says is right. She's like 'They're gonna laugh at you.' She's right. She's like 'You shouldn't go to prom. You have super powers.' She's right."

Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When author Stephen King was on the program, he said he wants to grab you by the lapels and transfix you so you don't want to cook dinner or do anything else but read. In time for Halloween, there's a new movie version of King's novel "Carrie," about a shy misfit teenager. NPR's Elizabeth Blair says she could never take her attention off Carrie's mom.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Carrie scared the bejesus out of me when I was a teenager, but it was her mother, Margaret White, who made my heart stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARRIE")

PIPER LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Eve was weak. Say it.

SISSY SPACEK: (As Carrie) No, mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Eve was weak.

SPACEK: (As Carrie) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret) Eve was weak.

SPACEK: (As Carrie) No.

BLAIR: It still gives me shivers. To understand Margaret White, let's dissect this one scene. Carrie is getting ready to go to the prom. She's dressed in a low-cut gown. Her mother's reaction? Utter disgust.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CARRIE")

JULIANNE MOORE: (As Margaret White) I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.

BLAIR: What about dirty pillows?

KIMBERLY PEIRCE: Oh, it's such a great line, isn't it?

BLAIR: Kimberly Peirce is the director of the new movie version of "Carrie."

PEIRCE: They're all gonna see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.

BLAIR: For Margaret White, breasts are on the bodily path to what she says is the first sin.

PEIRCE: She's terrified of sex and terrified of sin, and yet she took great pleasure in having sex at some point.

BLAIR: And since her daughter is the result, Carrie is condemned to eternal punishment.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "CARRIE")

MOORE: (As Margaret White) You pray, little girl. Pray for forgiveness.

BLAIR: This is why I never got confirmed. In the 1976 movie, actor Piper Laurie played Margaret White. When she first read the script for "Carrie," she thought it was a send-up.

LAURIE: I laughed so much during the whole making of this movie, I can't tell you, at how preposterous I was.

BLAIR: Yeah, well, it still scares me watching that lamb-like Carrie plead with her mother to let her go to the prom.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CARRIE")

SPACEK: (As Carrie) He's a nice boy, momma. You'd like him. You'd really like him, momma.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Boys. The boy, the boys, yes, the boys.

BLAIR: Piper Laurie says today she sees that original film as a lyrical black comedy. In the novel "Carrie," Stephen King describes Margaret White as wearing her hair pulled back in a bun. But Julianne Moore, who plays her in the new movie, wears her hair long, as Piper Laurie did in the original. Kimberly Peirce.

PEIRCE: Julianne called me up very early on and she said, I just want to let you know, I'm gonna go gray. She thought that that was what Margaret would do. She didn't want it to be over-sexual. She didn't want it to be showy for the world, but that that what she would do with her hair because Julianne didn't think she would spend any time on her hair.

BLAIR: No vanity.

PEIRCE: No vanity.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CARRIE")

MOORE: (As Margaret White) Repent. It's not too late.

CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: (As Carrie) (Unintelligible). I'll be home early.

MOORE: (As Margaret White) I'm gonna have to tell that boy the truth. Your father took me and you were born in sin.

MORETZ: (As Carrie) You'll say nothing.

MOORE: (As Margaret White) And from that sin...

BLAIR: Carrie's mother is a wild, over-the-top fictional invention, but director Kimberly Peirce still thinks there's a grain of truth to her.

PEIRCE: I think all parents and all children, they're not going to fight to the death with knives, but I do think that there is the child being unrecognizable to the parent at times. I think the parent desperately wanting to protect the child and love the child, and that struggle for the child to individuate and grow up. And I think that's what, you know, Carrie and Margaret struggle with.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "CARRIE")

LAURIE: (Margaret White) He's gonna laugh at you. They're all gonna laugh at you.

SPACEK: (As Carrie) They're not gonna laugh at me.

PEIRCE: And Margaret's right. That's the other thing, as I go through the movie over and over. Everything she says is right. She's like they're gonna laugh at you. She's right. She's like you shouldn't go to prom. You have super powers. She's right.

BLAIR: Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well. Obviously Stephen King's "Mommie Dearest" with Bible and butcher knife isn't right about everything. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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