Reading the King: Carrie

This is a very exciting reading challenge! Grad school is taking up most of my time, and the next few months up until graduation will be hectic, I can tell you that much. Choosing to read Stephen King is a deliberate choice in self-care because the man has been one of my favourite authors for over a decade now, and doing this feels less like a chore and more about me attempting to schedule some me-time, as well as being just a fun little side-thing.

And so, we begin this long journey with Carrie, Stephen King’s first published novel, which came out in 1974, marking the beginning of his career. While I’ve personally not read the novel prior to this challenge, Carrie has such a ubiquitous presence that I was basically aware of most of the pivotal moments in the story, even if I didn’t know the details. Already knowing these in advance, though, did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel and the movies! While I don’t think that Carrie will break into my list of Top 5 Favourite King Stories, it was still a fun, quick read. I think I finished it over two days during my lunch breaks at the office.

(For the record, here is my current Top 5, in no particular order: Pet Sematary, The Jaunt, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and 11/22/63. This might change the deeper I get into his work, although I do have a particularly strong fondness for Jaunt.)

Let’s begin! This post will talk about the 1974 novel, and the 1976 and 2013 movie adaptations. I made a deliberate choice to skip the 2002 movie due to time constraints – but also, the trailer was not very interesting.

Carrie, 1974

Ahh, the quintessential Stephen King classic. King presents the story through a variety of means: letters, Sue Snell’s book, newspaper headlines, and other methods, placing the tragedy firmly at the centre of the narrative. As per his style, he has crafted riveting characters who are characterized by deep inner conflicts of various forms, in this book mostly centred around sex and authority (I’m collapsing religion into authority in this context). Carrie also already features that Stephen King hallmark of writing: the stream of consciousness.

I think that my favourite character in the novel is Margaret White, which I did not expect. Margaret White read like an eerie exposition into how one of my deeply religious Pentecostal aunts would have become if they were a character in King’s universe. So much of her, even her speech, was hauntingly familiar and had parallels I could observe in my Pentecostal upbringing: the deep shaming of anything remotely sexual, deep religiosity, the distrust of Carrie.

The build-up to the prom scene, especially when Carrie was getting ready for prom, was also reminiscent of some of my feelings as a former religious girl, especially this line: “Wearing it gave her a weird, dreamy feeling that was half shame and half defiant excitement.” That intense dichotomy of half-shame/half-defiance was definitive of me from 16 to 20. I was actually forced to think back and confront some of my own (already-wrestled and buried) demons while I was reading it, emotions which I had not anticipated dealing with again, but hey. Stephen King gives me ~feels~.

All in all, I think Carrie is an okay book. Not the one I would recommend to a person just coming to Stephen King, but definitely recommendation should his writing become a favourite.

Carrie, 1976

Watching this movie was something that I was very much looking forward to! A few years ago, Mikaius had bought me a whole slew of Stephen King movies as part of my Christmas present, and since we both got so busy we hadn’t really had time to watch any of them. We did watch Misery and The Shining, but we’re both wimps and we finished neither. I mean, have you seen Kathy Bates in Misery? Terrifying, my friend.

I finished reading the novel mid-week, and was supposed to hang out with Mikaius at his place the weekend after that since he has the DVD for Carrie and we were supposed to watch it together but I couldn’t wait. I rented the movie on Google Play and saw it alone. Oh lordy, what a fantastic ride this De Palma movie was.

Overall, I feel like the De Palma version is an honest adaptation – the changes that were implemented made sense, and I don’t think that it changed the spirit of the book or altered Carrie in such a way as to render her unrecognizable. I think that this movie will be one of my favourite horror movies, it’s just so fantastically done. The entire time I was watching it I felt so uneasy – like I was being allowed a peek into this girl’s life that I shouldn’t have, but I could not for the life of me look away. The juxtaposition of the almost erotic shower sequence transitioning into the period freakout and being backended by the “plug it up” scene had me on edge from start to finish. I also did not expect that ending with Sue Snell, and I will be honest, I shrieked and just about dropped my mug that was still half-full of Kawartha ice cream.

I now really understand why Sissy Spacek is widely considered iconic in this role. The way she portrayed Carrie was beautifully nuanced: timid at times, trembling and terrified at others, but still with a defiant agency against her mother and her circumstances. While I get why her dress is not red in this movie – “It’s pink, momma!” – it would have been interesting to see Carrie in a red dress crushing an entire prom hall as a subversion of the Lady in Red trope.

The other standout in this film really was Piper Laurie as Margaret White. She gave me all of the heebie-jeebies possible: her intonation, her costumes, even the way she moved her hands when she was stroking her daughter’s hair was terrifying! For me, her interactions with Carrie were some of the best parts of the movie – the way that her fundamentalism seeped into every single part of her life and changed her behavious was too real.

Runner up: I was pleasantly surprised by Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, who I had just seen a couple of weeks ago in Robocop (our local movie theatre screens a lot of old movies)! I think that her portrayal of the spoiled high school senior was aptly disturbing, and she was absolutely fantastic in this role.

Carrie, 2013

The 2013 remake by Kimberly Peirce was charming, but I think that the right word to describe it is adequate. It wasn’t disappointing, but neither did it cross the line to being a really good movie. In this one, we see an update in the time when Carrie was set: we hear the kids talking about 2010s-relevant pop culture references; Carrie’s freakout while covered in blood, pads, and tampons is uploaded to the internet by Chris Hargensen; and Sue Snell receives a text message that sends her frantically driving to the prom. While Chlöe Grace Moretz’s Carrie is sweet and shy, I feel as if she lacks the bite beneath the surface that was evident in Sissy Spacek’s portrayal. She wasn’t horrible, but she wasn’t as good.

To be quite honest, the only times that I was riveted was when Julianne Moore as Margaret White was on-screen, and even her portrayal came nowhere close to how deeply unsettling Piper Laurie was in the 1976 version of the film.

Final words:

Of the two adaptations to Carrie that I saw, the 1976 one is absolutely the winner.

Ghouls and Tools : The Man from Earth Review

Taking place in the modern day – it was released in 2007, but with no technological references, it fits as well today as it did then – the entire movie takes place in a cabin. More specifically, it takes place around a fireplace, rarely sidestepping into the other rooms or outside. Seven people gather to see off John Oldman, a Professor who appears to be in his mid-30s: a biologist (Harry), an art history professor (Edith), an anthropologist (Dan), a historian (Sandy), and an archaeologist (Art) with his student (Linda). Eventually an eighth character arrives, a psychiatrist (Will).

Sitting around the main room, with the fireplace as the focus, the story unfolds. Slowly, John reveals to his coworkers the nature of his going-away. He is a “caveman”, a Cro-Magnon, immortal but not invincible, and he must live a nomadic lifestyle as people become suspicious after approximately a decade of his unchanging visage.

Set in a singular area, with a relatively consistent light source, the movie evokes the campfire storyteller wonderfully. Along with this lighting comes an excellent use of music: although it can at times be overbearing, it’s never unwelcome. The audio is as on point as the visuals.

Through the narrative, John Oldman does a wonderful job weaving reality, historical fictions and historical theories into the story of his life. Though some gems are harder to swallow than others, and much of his history is full of coincidence, it is a fascinating story. Many of the issues that can be brought up with John’s story are addressed through “consultation” amongst his peers. For example, John’s memories are selective, which he points out, as any person’s memory would be. He was also not instantly aware that he is some magical caveman, but rather came to understand his condition over the course of 14 centuries. He learned his own history by keeping up with the species; as the Harry suggests, he can only know as much as the species does, he’s just a normal person living long. John says at one point that when he started he “didn’t know up from sideways”, and for the first few thousand years, nothing could be known. Agricultural civilizations with written and consistently kept libraries/knowledge bases were not accessible. Also addressed in the narrative is that though he learns, he cannot keep up, as any person couldn’t. His knowledge is relative to the time he learned it, and though he has many degrees, they are over hundreds of years and mostly outdated. The suggestion that he’d remember where he came form is also addressed, in asking the student to remember from her own childhood, what her childhood home would look like now, built up and changed, directions learned by landmarks no longer relevant, places found by following family and not personal knowledge and so forth, he makes the point that home is lost over time.

Most importantly throughout all of this, the banter is fluid. There are no awkward moments of stagnant dialogue. There is a sense of a naturally explorative conversation, an almost Socratic Dialogue of back and forth, hemming and hawing to bring forth deeper knowledge, with attempts to understand, believe, and dismiss John’s case.

The movie is not without flaws, however. In one case the character is weak, in others and most commonly, the coincidental nature of John’s life and some of the historical oddities that don’t line up with our current understandings. Edith, “the” Christian character is an aggravating straw man of a religiously intolerant person that shouts blasphemy everywhere because she doesn’t have the capacity to entertain a thought without believing it. She reacts to everything John says as if by hearing it she is damned to Hell, and everything he says is to be taken at face value. However Harry is a counterweight of sorts, representing a religious indifference (citing the varied views of his own household, and being more than happy to indulge John’s story). They both fall into a cliché, the Christian an overbearing zealot, and the Jewish character as more or less indifferent to their faith.

As for the historical holes, the first is at the beginning of the movie. John is supposed to have known Van Gogh, and the movie starts off with the Edith remarking on an unknown painting in John’s possession. This constitutes an heirloom of sorts, a prize, but in the scenes soon to come John makes a point of how he wouldn’t have keepsakes as an immortal that prove his story, as items would all be “tools”, no more valuable or lasting than a pen. He says he keeps no artifacts, but he clearly keeps sentimental items.

It must also be said that Art is a complete dick, and needlessly outraged at John for nothing. Dan, Sandy, Linda and Harry react appropriately; they treat it as a fascinating story, but Art and Edith act like crazy people.

Coincidentally, John also happens to have known Columbus, or at least had the chance to sail with him. He remarks on being certain the world was flat, but that the world was round was an old idea, predating Christianity by hundreds of years as recognized in ancient Greek philosophy and mathematics. Though it can be said that he is far older than any theory so he would hold a personal disbelief/uncertainty of the Earth’s body, it still seems uncharacteristic of him to be stuck in the past. Moreover, he later, coincidence again, reveals he met the Buddha and was Jesus. He is rightfully disgusted by what Christianity is and its implementation. However, his disgust at Christianity is almost surprising considering he didn’t make any mention of how awful Columbus was in every respect, a man that used his Christianity to validate the horrors he perpetuated.

Unfortunately, the notion of a white Jesus plays into a long-standing history of stepping on other cultures and forcing the notion of white-is-right; Jesus is depicted as whatever the local flavour is, in most cases. As with any notion of a historical Jesus hailing from Judea and being Jewish himself, he would have been a much different looking man. It is one thing to pose Jesus as white for the local consumption; it is another to propose he was actually white when any real Jesus would have been a person of colour.

On the flip side of the blind Christian, Dan is at times TOO into the story, to the point that he refers to time as immeasurable, when we use measurements of time every day, from seconds to years, these are measurements of time as metres are of distance. He says clocks are measured against other clocks, but that is how all measurement is done, rulers against rulers, scales against scales. His delivery of his character is fantastic, but it almost feels like he’s going to create a cult afterwards, and that this conversation has been a theological revelation for him.

Though his lack of scarring is explained as part of his regenerative process, bearing no scars from his crucifixion, his survival of many plagues and so forth, it fails to encapsulate entropy. John has lived for 14 centuries, yet has seemingly avoided war, personal violence, simply being hit by a car in the last hundred years, or falling down a flight of stairs. All manner of simple, day-to-day death, accidental and violent, has simply passed over him. It isn’t addressed if he is actually invincible on top of being immortal.

There is also an odd, hierarchical and patriarchal bent to his nomadic society. It is unfair to say they are all the same, but often, and even into modern times, nomadic societies will be more egalitarian due to necessity and scarcity of resources. It is common for hunter-gather societies to be horizontal, not vertical in structure.

Context:

A bit of context to this movie, the story was written by Jerome Bixby. Bixby also wrote a very, very similar story for Star Trek: The Original Series. The episode “Requiem for Methuselah” is about a mysterious figure encountered on a planet by the Enterprise, that just so happens to be immortal, and throughout his life was a number of “great men”

In the same year of the movie’s release, a completely different movie was released sharing a particular element. TMNT (2007) was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, in which the antagonist was an Aztec warrior turned immortal, who also happened to be numerous historical conquerors and figures. It’s worth mentioning just because it’s funny that these two movies, both containing an immortal that was historical figures, should come out in the same year. Also, TMNT (2007) is a fun movie, go watch it.

Verdict:

Finally, I entirely recommend The Man from Earth. It’s a silly movie, considering it’s weird shoe-horning of historical elements, but if you let yourself get absorbed into the story like Dan does, then it’s a thrilling ride and a wonderful story to hear around the camp fire. The full movie is actually up on Youtube, posted by the owning company Starz Media/Anchor Bay.

Quick links for the curious:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_from_Earth

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/

(Header image taken from ManFromEarth.)

To Agree or Disagree: Neighbors Movie Review

neighborsheader

Dani: When Mikaius and I saw Neighbours Neighbors last week, I was fully expecting it to be along the lines of Horrible Bosses, or Bridesmaids. Something he and I could watch for maybe an hour and a half, laugh our heads off, then come home and forget about. Something that was wonderfully relaxing. Something stupidly funny. As it turns out, it wasn’t quite Horrible Bosses, or Bridesmaids, or even Ted. It was an underwhelming movie full of secondhand embarrassment cringe moments, fangirl-ing over Zac Efron’s abs, and a rather thorough discussion of Dave Franco’s acting abilities, who we jokingly called Franco Lite.

Mikaius: Okay, okay. We’re on different pages with this one. Horrible Bosses was not for me, I didn’t like anyone in the cast. Bridesmaids was alright, but it didn’t impress me. Never saw Ted. I liked the cast in this one. Efron was pretty and convincing, he sold the “good dude that’s wrapped up in childish bullshit” thing, while both Rogen and Byrne were on the ball as off-the-ball and awful people/parents. For me, the embarrassment was the point of the movie: as much as I wanted to get up and leave because no-no-no-no-no, I wanted to see it pan out.

Dani: Neighbors is mostly focused on Seth Rogen’s character, Mac, his wife Kelly, and their baby, Stella. When the house beside them is bought by a fraternity, a war of pranks ensues, which the parents justify as efforts to keep their baby asleep at proper hours. Now I’ve had a bit of a crush on Rose Byrne since I first saw her in Insidious, so I knew that if I hated Neighbours, I’d still enjoy looking at her face. Turns out, I spent a lot of time with my body physically averted from the screen whenever she and Rogen were on, because holy crap, I have never been in a movie as cringe-inducing as this one.

Mikaius: I think what I love about it is all that awful doesn’t even really come from the frat. The awfulness comes from our protagonists, from the parents. They are just the worst kind of despicable hanger-ons that can’t let go. I enjoyed hating them, and that is the failure of the movie for me. The parents absolutely never get what they deserve, and the more worthy characters just kinda get on with their lives, some of them in shambles.

Dani: The film was not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. There are golden moments, particularly between Teddy (Efron) and Pete (Franco Lite), but they are exactly that, moments. Efron and Franco work great together as actors, and you get some pretty heavy times between them (“Be in this moment with me!”). Other than that, though the movie was something I would put on the TV and then just walk away from. It didn’t hold my attention much – and it wasn’t bad acting, so much as a weak storyline. Byrne and Rogen make amazing cringe-worthy characters believable, but at the core of it, they’re just two grown-ups who got away with doing awful things.

Mikaius: Teddy and Pete could hold the movie on their own, for me. Bros of a higher caliber, those two. The worst part of the movie was also what kept it kicking. The parents’ absolute inability to just call it quits, and recognize when they have opportunities for amendments as opposed to aggression. Their awful characters are the real “fratboys” of the movie. Honestly, I’m more disappointed in the lack of Teddy and Mac action than anything.

Final rating: Mikaius and I definitely disagree on this one.

Mikaius: 3.5/5, would definitely watch again.

Dani: 2/5, would watch again but only if I can have it on the background while I’m cleaning up or baking.