Kimberly Peirce: 'Why Are We Growing Domestic Terrorists?'
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
Pictured: Chloe Moretz stars as Carrie White / Image Courtesy Screen Gems
Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) and Sony Pictures have invested almost a year of marketing in Carrie, the reboot of the 1974 Stephen King novel about a tortured teenage girl whose telekinetic powers come raging out after being bullied by her classmates. Long before the film was finished, Peirce and her stars—Chloe Moretz takes over from Sissy Spacek in the title role, and Julianne Moore plays her fundamentalist Christian mother—showed a teaser trailer at New York’s Comic-Con. Moretz told MTV, “It’s about anybody who’s ever been told no.”
But now the March release date—and the feature story about Peirce that Out planned to coincide with it—has been delayed, officially to take advantage of the more lucrative (and thematically appropriate) late-October Halloween market. But every Hollywood studio with a violent film on its way is now in a similar position of balancing business with the potential for a true tipping point in American gun policy.
Spoiler alert: At the end of Carrie, almost everyone dies. Almost everyone in the small
Maine town where the story is set, and almost everyone from her high school, where
Carrie’s ultimate humiliation—the infamous bucket of blood dumped down on her
during Prom—prompts a violently broad massacre at the school gym where the dance
Out spoke to Peirce a week after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.—before the studio bumped the release date, but at the height of media coverage about what must (or might) change in America as a result. We talked at length about the supernatural violence in Carrie, potential changes that might be suggested to either its content or release, and how Peirce learned she can’t stay silent about a film’s political reality.
“I'm glad we're putting the people who have been hurt on the front page,” Peirce said, “that we're not immediately going to the straight white man who committed these crimes. [But] why do we have straight, white, angry men committing these crimes? There's something going wrong in masculinity right now in America. There is a health crisis going on… They're so angry and their anger is manifesting in such a way that they're going out and killing innocent people. And that's a curiosity to me.”
Peirce has long employed a journalistic approach to her filmmaking, preparing for each movie with extensive research and interviews. “I’ve studied tons of bullying literature, going back to Boys Don't Cry,” which was based on the true story of Brandon Teena, who was murdered in Nebraska after his killers learned he was transgender. “When I interviewed girls who'd been bullied, I was like, help me understand. Why are they doing this? What are they getting out of it? But as with [the killers in] Boys Don’t Cry, we do have to go to these people and start unraveling why this is happening.”
While she pointed to availability of high-capacity weapons as one culprit, Peirce also suggested a bigger framework. “I would almost call it a form of terrorism,” she said. “Terrorists have many goals, but let's say one is to do a symbolic attack that leaves the most fear, damage, danger. To go into a school and to kill 6-year-olds—it seems to me you're hitting pretty much everybody's fear. Why are we growing these domestic terrorists? That would be, to me, what this society should be asking.”
Sony hasn’t said that the delayed release was in any way related to the Newtown shootings, but red carpet premieres for both Django Unchained and Jack Reacher (neither of which had violence set in schools) were canceled in December. Gangster Squad, the noir mafia film that comes out this month, was delayed four months in order to reshoot and edit a scene that too eerily mimicked the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.—which in turn unintentionally pushed its release date to just after the Newtown shootings.
But Peirce didn’t shy away from discussing violence, gender politics or the queer subtext of Carrie. “With Boys Don’t Cry,” she said, “I spoke very politically. My next movie, [Stop-Loss], dealt with war at a time when Obama was not elected yet, and we strategized that I shouldn't talk about it as a ‘war movie.’ But it was—and I don't know that it did me any good to avoid that.”
In spite of the seemingly never-ending cycle of violent attacks, she said, “We don't want something too violent too soon, because our goal is to entertain you. You don't want to be heavy, burdensome, trying, difficult, because people can go to the news for that. They can go to a documentary.”
And even if Peirce’s version of Carrie is less campy than the classic 1976 Brian DePalma adaptation, it is still fundamentally a supernatural film, a closer cousin to The Ring than even the futuristic violence of The Hunger Games.
“What I don't want is for people to read this and say, ‘Oh my God, she made a movie about the shootings.’ Because I didn't. I made a [movie about a] book that I loved—and I think regardless of the shooting, Carrie is wildly entertaining. So I think the question is does the shooting affect the viewing of Carrie? I don't know. Should we alter Carrie for the climate we live in? I'm open to it, but I don't know. I think good filmmakers listen, and I think we're in a state now of listening. The world is changing quickly. I think Carrie's journey is a safe one for an audience. It's dangerous—she endures danger—but that's exciting to us. It's designed to be bigger than life.”