Women in Stephen King Film Adaptations #1

I’ve written a piece on here before entitled ‘Stephen King and Feminism’ (you can even read it if you want…just scroll down, it’s here somewhere…) where I discussed some of the arguments regarding whether King represented women fairly in his works. My overwhelming conclusion was that King wasn’t a raving misogynist and that he had a tendency to treat both male and female characters with a sense of fairness; i.e. both men and women are capable of committing good and evil acts, to put it simplistically…

So to continue on a theme, Women in Horror Recognition Month, I thought it would be fun to make another list; this time, my favourite women in Stephen King film adaptations. Sometimes these adaptations in general can be a little hit-and-miss (King himself said that Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ was like a beautiful car without an engine, for example), but they have given us some of our most enduring pop culture icons.

Here is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts on this topic.

Carrie White (played by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 original by Brian de Palma):

'They're all going to laugh at you...'

‘They’re all going to laugh at you…’

Carrie White is tormented at school by her peers and cruelly dominated at home by a fanatically religious mother. Suffice to say, she leads a very miserable and lonely life.

The film itself starts with Carrie starting her period in the shower in the girls locker room. Carrie’s peers are simutaneously horrified, appalled and…excited by this incident and respond by chucking tampons at her. Such is the cruelty of teenage girls.

Carrie is ‘different’ from the other girls at school and for this she pays a heavy price. She has no friends and is mocked, bullied and taunted on a daily basis.

King said in ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft‘, that the inspiration for Carrie came from a couple of girls at his own high school; one of whom (and her brother) wore the same outfit everyday for the entire school year until the hems and sleeves of their clothes became tattered and torn and inevitably, the kids grew out of them. Their parents were known locally for successfully entering a lot of competitions and sweepstakes but neglected the care of their children, inappropriately attiring them in unsuitable clothes that consequently  were the reason why their high school lives were a complete and utter misery. Can you imagine the embarrassment and shame that they felt at sticking out so conspicuously, knowing that everyone one else knew their parents’ indifference?

Struggling with school and her oppressive home life, Carrie discovers to her horror that she is able to control things with her mind when she is particularly distressed.

Meanwhile, one of the girls who were in the locker room, Sue Snell, feels very guilty about what happened and swears to make amends to Carrie by any means necessary. She asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom so that Carrie can leave high school with at least one good experience to look back on. Sue believes that this one altruistic act can make up for the years of torment Carrie has endured throughout her high school life.

All in all, it doesn’t go to plan. Some of Sue’s friends plot a stunt at the prom that will show Carrie once and for all where her place in the pecking order is.

Carrie, despite her mother’s screams of protest, scrubs up very nicely and goes to the prom with good-hearted Tommy. She initially feels nervous but with Tommy’s reassurances eventually feels that she finally fits in with the crowd that has been unkind to her for most of her young life.

But then this happens.

Tired of years of torment, Carrie finally loses it and with her terrible power, lays wastes to the prom and to most of the people in it.

I think the on-screen representation of Carrie is excellent, mirroring the book’s themes of just how miserable it is to be a teenage girl. Loneliness, bullying, the desire to fit in, needs and desires (such as knowing all about the ‘birds and the bees’, menstruation etc) and guilt.

I think guilt is the most prominent theme for me. Carrie desperately wants a normal life, but she feels guilty about what this will do to her mother, whom she loves, despite the abuse she has endured throughout her childhood.

Most kids spend their high school lives trying to avoid the types of confrontations Carrie faces on a daily basis. But being so removed from the experiences of most teenage girls as a result of her strict religious upbringing, she is a prime target for high school bullies; those invariably more popular, prettier and richer than she.


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