Somehow this photo makes far more sense, when referencing the new Kimberly Peirce adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal sci-fi horror novel Carrie (first brought to the screen by Brian De Palma in 1976 with Sissy Spacek creating an incomparable version of young Carrie White, but here played by Chloë Grace Moretz as an avenging angel in waiting from the start) than the more traditionally iconic shot of the pig blood-drenched protagonist in her formally white prom dress. We all recognize that image, full of pain and embarrassment and rage, the dawning anger and anguish that will consume anyone caught in Carrie’s path. The tagline – You will know her name – reads and rings true. We know her name and her story.
But what overtook me while pondering the explosive finale of Peirce’s new re-telling was a sense of how familiar this all was, how like another story of a woman lost, consumed by powers within her that she could barely contain. It wasn’t merely in the supernova in the school gym, the shocking use of telekinesis to lock the doors and manipulate any and all objects in sight with such ease, such offhand fury that tickled my fancy. No, the real moment of clarity came earlier in this story.
Soon after Carrie has her first period in the shower and faces the bullying scorn of her peers, she begins to realize that this adolescent flash has ushered in other changes in her body and psyche. And instead of trying to flip a switch to shut off the emerging power, Carrie conducts research and starts to harness the abilities. In that instance in her bedroom, while her mother is downstairs in the kitchen, when Carrie summons her power and levitates her bed and several objects around her, Moretz, known for her crackling portrayals of empowered young women (the one-two punch of the Kick-Ass movies, Let Me In) channels none other than Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl, Phoenix) from the X-Men. This version of Jean Grey/Marvel Girl is certainly on her way to becoming another Phoenix, and a terribly dark one at that, but in this moment, before the darkness falls upon her, Moretz’s Carrie is just a girl on the cusp of becoming; it almost doesn’t matter what. She is happy and close to grasping at the freedom that comes with power and maturity.
The fascinating aspect of this interpretation though is that it seems Pierce, a somewhat reclusive directing presence, should immediately jump into contention for any and all of the comic book adaptations, especially the Marvel Comics stories, in the pipeline. With Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, Peirce made a name for herself as a director in touch with nuanced characters, complex people in conflicted interior spaces, little corners of the world most of us tend to ignore or avoid out of fear and/or loathing. These are elements right in line with Marvel’s mutant community and Jean Grey is a central figure in that universe.
Fanboys and more invested critics would argue that the Phoenix-to-Dark Phoenix saga was butchered in the original filmed X-Men trilogy, but Pierce makes a strong case for herself as the perfect choice to resurrect the character and her tragic tale. Once Carrie White heads down her own inevitable path, we watch as she locks hands with Jean Grey and streaks off to the heavens. The narrative rushes her (and us) towards that gym and the moment we’ve all been waiting for, and when it arrives, Pierce fashions a runway of action set-pieces worthy of the violent and colorful frames of any graphic novel.
Dark Phoenix, once the full-potential of the Phoenix force engulfs Jean Grey, leads her to seemingly dispatch any and all efforts to contain her with ease. Ultimately, to replenish her temporarily depleted surge, Dark Phoenix heads off into deep space to consume a star, which results in the destruction of billions of lives in that star system. Back on Earth, Grey and the X-Men attempt to harness the Phoenix Force, but Grey must face responsibility for the lives lost. Carrie, despite enjoying revenge on a key player or two in her complete and utter humiliation at the prom, also momentarily wanders away from the massive and deadly impact of her actions, only to have to face facts that something must be done. In each case, sacrifices are made, but as even the most casual comic book and/or movie watcher knows, second comings await.
And Peirce deserves one, if she wants it. Her Carrie is a first-class calling card, for anyone paying attention.