Kimberly Peirce is aware there’s a lot at stake on her new re-imagining of Stephen King’s classic Carrie (in theaters today). In the nearly 15 years since Boys Don’t Cry — the searing 1999 drama about murdered transgender male Brandon Teena — launched her directing career and won Hilary Swank an Academy Award for the year’s best actress, the out 46-year-old filmmaker had made only one other film, the 2008 Iraq war drama Stop-Loss.
Perhaps weighing just as much as living up to perceived industry expectations is the knowledge that both the 1974 novel Carrie is considered sacred by countless queer people who relate to the bullied telekinetic titular character. Probably just as many consider Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation, which scored Oscar nods for stars Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, to be unsurpassable. The gifted Peirce offers her own take on the material and makes it into a timely 21st century tale that incorporates social media as a bullying device, and features rich characterizations by Chloe Grace Moretz as the heroine and, especially, Julianne Moore as her religious fanatic mother. Peirce chatted with Queerty about why the story still resonates with gay audiences.
Probably more than any horror film, the original Carrie holds a particularly special place for LGBT audiences. How do you account for this?
I think the story of Carrie is so relevant to queer people because it’s so emblematic of the queer experience. If you’re queer and you live in a heteronormative society, you are the outcast. You are the misfit, even as our communities find a way to give us self worth or a sense of pride. Why do we have pride marches? We have them because society took away our sense of pride. We want to go out into the street and say, “we’re here, we’re queer, accept us.” So I just think part of the idea of being queer, although it’s changing because we’re becoming part of the mainstream, was we didn’t have enough societal pride and we were in search of it. I think a lot of queer people have felt they were the misfit. Whether you’re a gay man or lesbian, or wherever you fall under the umbrella, they went through stuff like this. I think that’s why people relate to it.
Absolutely. I think that they come from the same DNA, interestingly. They seem so different. You have a really strong central protagonist whose need is to get love and acceptance. They’re not getting that it from basic society. Brandon transforms himself into the male he believes he should be and dates women he wants to. Carrie is like, I’ve got superpowers I think I’m going to use them. I think I’m going to go to prom with the boy I like and with the powers I have. It was the same with Brandon, thinking I’ll go down to Lincoln living as a man instead of falls city and see what happens. They both build to this explosive and tragic inevitability.
And I think the difference is that Brandon Teena was cut down and died. He lived large and experienced the fullness of his identity, but he paid the price of death for it. The thing about Carrie is she takes the power into her own hands. I think that’s why people feel a sense of empowerment because she has powers and when you mess with her she messes back.
Right. And I’d say Carrie is the ultimate fantasy revenge tale for LGBT people.
I think it’s a fantasy for anybody who wants a sense of justice. What I’m very protective of is I made it very clear that Carrie went after the very people who did her wrong. It’s a very classic justice and revenge story. Once her powers come out she looks for Chris, she looks for Billy, she looks for their accomplices. One by one she goes after them and has a big showdown outside the school. I think the sense of the revenge fantasy is really important – and fun and entertaining.
Watch the trailer below.
A version of this interview also appears in Frontiers magazine.