CHICAGO — Boys don’t cry, and young girls fight back with their psychic powers in director Kimberly Peirce’s films. This past Saturday in Chicago, Peirce, the director of Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss, and most notably the new remake of Carrie, took to the stage with WBEZ reporter Alison Cuddy at Francis W. Parker School to talk about the kids in her films. Peirce was invited to speak with Cuddy as part of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival, titled “Animal: What Makes Us Human?”
In the context of this overarching theme, Peirce and Cuddy’s conversation steered from the idea of Carrie’s humanness to the brute physicality of men and boys in both Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss. The conversation between Peirce and Cuddy moved quickly, turning and swerving like the famed Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, where so many cinematic creations and celebrities live and die.
To kick things off, Cuddy posed a question that’s likely been on the mind of anyone who’s seen Peirce’s remake of Carrie: what drew Peirce to the character? The director answered simply that she was overwhelmed by our sympathy for her. Carrie, bullied and teased by others and abused by her mother, is left to fend for herself in the harsh reality that is her girlhood.
“Powers were her one way of survival,” explained Peirce. Yet when Carrie attempts to tell her mother about her powers, explaining that there are other people like her, she’s beaten hard. “Stephen King’s story is a Cinderella tale turned on its head,” said Peirce.
Digging further into the horror that is Carrie, Cuddy questioned what this film was or could be. Is it a horror genre film that’s also a superhero flick, a revenge movie, and a teen film all rolled into one? How does a director humanize the star of a horror film, making her relatable and understandable to mainstream audiences?
Peirce explained that her primary focus throughout the film was a careful consideration of the complicated mother-daughter relationship between Carrie and Margaret. She felt that Margaret actually wanted to be a good mother, because if she truly hated her daughter, then she also hated herself, her body, and her sexuality. Peirce was also interested in making Margaret’s religion ambiguous so as not to identify her as Christian, Catholic, or otherwise.
For the film, Peirce spent a significant amount of time researching what bullying is like today. Stories like “12-year-old Nevada shooter, who killed Math teacher, got gun from home” and “NJ suicidal teen saved by Califorina girl who saw blog post on Tumblr” show what teens are dealing with, how’s they’re reacting, and how social media plays a role. Another case, one that Peirce came across during her research, took place in Gainesville, Florida: two girls made a video in which they used the “n-word” over and over again. Once it was discovered by school administrators, the girls were kicked out of school and nearly out of town. Peirce explained that the video, which is part of the adolescent selfie phenomenon, and other incidents reflect the ways in which culture seeps into films being made today, and vice versa. The link between bullying and social media is integral to her new version of Carrie.
“It’s about having the ‘cardinal sin’ of bullying reflected back on screens,” she said. “It’s the blood flowing back.”
“Kimberly Peirce: From Boys Don’t Cry to Carrie” took place on November 9, 5–6 pm, at the Francis W. Parker School (2233 N Clark Street, Chicago) as part of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival (October 13 & 20; November 1–10). Carrie is playing in theaters nationwide.