Photo credit: Sony Pictures
My son and I saw the latest film rendition of Steven King's "Carrie" Sunday afternoon. It was our post-brunch bonding time. I'm not exactly a horror movie fan. In fact, I almost never watch horror flicks. However, I saw the first version of "Carrie" in 1976 with a bunch of my screaming girlfriends and I wanted to see whether it would change substantially this many years later.
The story was the same. However, rather than inducing screams of horror the way the original "Carrie" did when I was a teenager, this version caused a different reaction.
Overwhelming sadness. Pain from wounds I thought healed long ago.
For the uninitiated, the story focuses on a quiet, socially misfit teenage girl named Carrie White. Carrie's mother is deeply disturbed and the implication is that Carrie has been abused since birth. Neighborhood kids and classmates harass her endlessly. Carrie does her best to be invisible so people leave her alone.
A few minutes into the movie, my heart ached for the kids like Carrie - quiet, and often for that reason alone, they become targets for the bullies surrounding them. Powerful people prey on the meek. Our culture is deeply competitive and prone to worshipping those who are physically and verbally formidable - even if they are jerks. We've managed to pass this value to the youngest generations.
At 50 years old, I still remember the torture of team-picking time in junior high gym class. I wasn't very athletic, and was among the last of those chosen. I was humiliated and it colored my attitude toward sports for a lifetime.
Worse, I remember one particular kid who called me creative variations of "fat" starting in fifth grade. I avoided him in the hallways because I never knew whether he would whisper it under his breath as he passed - the lesser of two evils - or whether he would shout it for everyone to hear. I have no idea why he chose to pick on me - and he kept it up through high school. I imagine what I would say to him today if I met him on the street and think, I would rather not waste the energy.
Then again, maybe I would.
I have mixed feelings about what happens to Carrie's tormenters at the end of the movie, because I did not feel sorry for them. Actually, I cheered a bit inside, although that's not the kind of person I want to be.
My son had a similar reaction to the film. He experienced his share of bullying in school. We knew it was going on and as parents, did what we could to help him through it. There are no easy answers, though. When a kid is pushed to her emotional limit, do we blame him for lashing out? What happens when she has nowhere to go, no one to trust? Certainly, "Carrie" was at that point. The fallout was enormous - an entire community suffered the consequences for the behavior of one or two.
Who knew this horror film would be a social commentary?
My son and I talked about whether bullying is worse today than it was years ago. Throughout history, powerful people have bullied those with less power. That doesn't make it easier to deal with. I was bullied. He was bullied. My 7-year-old granddaughter experienced bullying as a kindergartener. It not only breaks my heart - it angers me.
I think bullying is worse today. At least I could get away from the jerk that harassed me when I went home for the day. Now, kids are constantly connected through technology. Painful, embarrassing situations are photographed or filmed, then instantly uploaded to be shared with the not only classmates, but the entire world. Where can a kid escape from malicious messages when they are transmitted anonymously by text or email?
Moreover, how do you teach kids to combat persistent, hateful behavior? How do you help them heal from the spiteful words and cruel actions of others? How can caring adults prevent this pandemic of bad behavior in the first place?
This horror movie remake left me with more questions than answers - not about plot or characterization - but about life and culture and coping with pain. I think working through pain helped create my empathy toward others. It drives me to help those who suffer, or who are harassed or neglected by society.
It motivates me look for hopeful solutions to what seem like hopeless situations.