Director Kimberly Peirce on the queerness of “Carrie”

"Carrie" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals

Kimberly Peirce‘s first feature-length film was a huge success by anyone’s standards. Boys Don’t Cry, a movie based on the tragic murder of transman Brandon Teena, won 43 awards, including Oscars, Golden Globes and GLAAD’s “Outstanding Film – Limited Release.” While the critical acclaim can be somewhat evidenced in number of honors, grades and stats or money taken at the box office, the cultural impact of the film is unmeasurable. Never before or since has a film about a trans-identified person been so widely seen and discussed by those both inside the LGBT community and out, the latter arguably being educated on something they had either incorrect assumptions or no prior knowledge about.

Stop-Loss, Kim’s second film, came out in 2008 and was inspired by her brother’s return from Iraq and immediate stop-loss (aka his being sent back to war). The underrated drama starred Ryan Phillipe, Joseph Gordon-LevittTimothy Olyphant and Channing Tatum as soldiers struggling with their return to their normal lives in Texas. Coming out just before Obama became President, Stop-Loss was ahead of its time, making controversial statements about our country’s policy on enlistment and the war on Iraq. Again, something Americans might not have been aware of unless they were being directly affected by the involuntary extension of duty.

Five years later, Kim is taking on a very different kind of film. This weekendmarkes the release of Carrie, Kim’s redux of the 1974 Stephen King horror novel. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore as her abusive religious zealot mother, Carrie is a modern retelling of a revenge story loved by everyone who has read the novel or seen the 1976 feature from Brian de Palma starring Sissy Spacek.

Although it might seem like Carrie is a far cry from her first two films, there are truly a lot of the same kinds of threads woven throughout. The protagonists in Kim’s work are the kinds of people who take chances despite knowing there are risks involved. They are interested in doing what is right for themselves despite being told they are wrong and are severely punished for having tried. But for those familiar with the story of Carrie White and her infamous prom night, it might just be the first Kim Peirce film in which the outcast comes out on top.

We spoke with Kim about the innate queerness of Carrie, the continued relevance of Boys Don’t Cry and how she embraced her gender identity on a recent red carpet. I read the New York Times interview where you mentioned Butch Academy and I just wanted to say that would be my dream movie so I hope it comes to fruition.

Kimberly Peirce: That would be my dream movie too. I think actually it was a little bit ahead of it’s time so hopefully we can get it made. It’s a real fun romantic sex comedy.

AE: I haven’t seen Carrie yet but everything I’ve read have been rave reviews. What have people been saying to you after seeing it?

KP: You know what’s great is people fall madly in love with Carrie White, this outcast, this misfit who desperately wants love and acceptance and comes up against a really hard time at school with these girls who don’t want to give it to her and at home with a mother who loves her and at the same time has really severe ways of raising her. So I think it’s something everybody can identify with. Everybody loves the Cinderella story aspect, the dressing up for the ball. She gets to go and be with her date and have a beautiful dance and it’s great that people get such pleasure out of everybody ruining it. Everybody wants her to go to the prom but you have a sneaking suspicion it’s not a good idea because she has super powers, and she’s got a girl out there that means her harm and everything gets turned around and it’s really fascinating watching everyone get so excited by a revenge tale. They want to see the person who is treated unjustly, the person who’s taking advantage of, basically, get even. They love a sense of right and wrong story, they love a story about justice. So that’s really interesting and of course there are various queer undertones to the story of Carrie.


AE: The whole being different and being bullied—the story became popular what, 40 years ago? What was the first step you took to modernize it?

KP: Well you’re absolutely right. What King wrote was this amazing book that was timely in its day but it turned out it’s really timeless and even more relevant today than it was then. So the way I wanted to modernize it, first and foremost, was social media. Even in the last five years it’s like our world has revolutionized. We all carry cell phones, we take photos, we take videos. It’s almost not even enough to experience something—we feel we have to record it at the same time and that happens in the movie. The girls record what they do to Carrie. They record Carrie and they record themselves and they do what most of us do: They go home, they look at it and they upload it. Once you upload something, we all know it’s going to get downloaded, it’s going to get viewed, it’s going to get commented on and it’s going to get spread around. It’s phenomenal to me.

What I love in the movie is it’s not only spread around to the kids, and they’re like “Ooooh, it’s out there,” the teacher finds out about it. The teacher wants to find out who did it to stop it from happening again and then of course I did some interviews with teachers and principals and found out in the last five year snow, the schools are aware of what can happen with these kinds of videos. So the school, the teacher, the father and the girl are all called in to deal with it and, of course, the things we record don’t disappear, and it comes back in the movie. So I just thought it was an amazing thing that Stephen King foresaw what we were going to do to one another but now with social media it’s all become escalated. And, look, social media can be used for good or bad, it’s just what people do with it. That was a really exciting thing.

I think the other big exciting thing for modernizing it really was special effects and visual effects. Carrie White has superpowers—it’s a superhero origin story so I added a moment and scene of her discovering those powers, seeing if she can control them, losing control. Again the powers are definitely a metaphor for sexuality and queerness. It’s like if you’re a queer person and you want to be in the mainstream and you’re not—again, there’s a debate whether people can be in or not—and you discover you have a talent or a special skill, that’s kind of what her powers are—the thing that makes her right in the world, and feel normal. Her powers are a metaphor for sexuality—it’s who she is, it’s how she moves in the world, trying to convince herself and her mother that she’s OK and she’s normal. That’s obviously what queer people want to feel about themselves. At the end of the day, we’re normal; it’s just that we may not be like everybody else.