Stephen King’s novel Carrie not only gained notoriety through his words, but also through the film version as well. There have been several versions produced cinematically, each one slightly altering certain aspects of the novel and producing their own variation and interpretation. There are always going to be certain variances between the novel and the film version unless the author of the book is perhaps brought-on as a creative consultant or producer of the film. Even still, there are times when this is the case, and the author chooses for various reasons, to still portray certain aspects of the novel in a different light for the film adaptation. In regards to Carrie, there are a host of differences from the novel to the film. Taking into consideration the time in which the film version was released, there are certain portions which may have been viewed as “racy” or “sexually perverse” the director chose to eliminate. The shower scene, although brutal in both forms, was slightly less “graphic” in the film than the way Stephen King presented it in his novel. Another example of a difference is the form in which the entire novel is written. The epistolary version of the novel and the frame narrative form of the film is yet another difference between the two forms of Stephen King’s work. The last difference this paper will examine deals with the physical representations of both Margaret and Carrie White, and how they differ greatly from the novel and film versions.
The decision to open both medias with the shower scene is one that not only forces the readers and watchers to attempt to identify with Carrie, but it also does an amazing job of setting the scene and events that are to transpire. The graphic depiction of the brutality and social isolation Carrie faces when she publicly begins her first menstrual cycle is much more shocking in the novel then we physically see in the film version. King’s descriptive language provides a much better source of understanding and imagery for us as the reader than the film version’s representation is able to by means of incorporating other important pieces of information we as the reader should know. The fact Carrie’s name is written on various portions of the school, such as walls and desks, are added to this part of the novel, but are not visible in the shower scene of the film is something important to note. We are shown some graffiti featuring explicit insults and jabs at Carrie in the early portions of the film, but not during the initial shower catastrophe. Also important to note is the attitude of the physical education teacher towards Carrie, and how it differs from the film and novel representation. Miss Desjardin in the novel starts out being annoyed and aggravated with Carrie. “Miss Desjardin made an irritated cranking gesture at Carrie…” (King 5).
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In the film, the physical education teacher’s frustrations are present, but they are not directed at Carrie. Instead, she focuses her anger on the girls in the PE class whom she has caught ostracizing Carrie. Perhaps the technique here is to find someone to side with Carrie so that she is not represented as being completely alone. Although the girls are rough with her, fussing because she misses the ball during the volleyball game, the movie presents them at the beginning as being “jokesters” and “clowns,” not necessarily as mean, haggard, and self-proclaimed royalty. Carrie is not necessarily portrayed as a member of the lowest portion of the Caste system; an “untouchable.” Important to note is both representations of the shower scene are graphic, and of course contain similarities, particularly with the key phrase “Plug it up!” which screams brutality; however, the differences between the two are enough as to virtually change how Carrie’s social ineptness and the others hatred of her as much less intense then King displays.
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Another section of difference can be referenced in regards to the style and structure of the novel as opposed to the film. King does a wonderful job of writing the events in an epistolary form in order to add much more detail and in my opinion, to authenticate his depiction of the events that transpire. He uses articles written by therapists and psychologists as tools of reference, which are not presented in the movie. This could be for several reasons. One explanation could be the length of time the extra information would have added to the film version. Perhaps another reason could be a lack of attention to detail. Even still, the time and craftsmanship that would be needed to insert such important, but tedious information could take away from the story, or could even still lose something in translation from written word to film. Something important to have included would be Sue Snell’s eyewitness account and interviews after the prom night tragic series of events. In the novel, this information plays a very important role to the conventions of the rest of the novel. Although the film is not laid-out this way, the arrangement is still effective, but perhaps lacks a bit of detail and insight that would add to the plot, as well as, to the sympathy and level of understanding we as the reader have toward Carrie.
The goal of both representations is a level of compassion for a young, tortured and bullied teenager, and also to teach others about certain levels of power or control exhibited through various means. Choosing to eliminate so many key aspects of the novel, from the scientific professional articles to the interviews of survivors, eyewitnesses, and innocent by-standers is a decision based on such factors as budget, time constraints, and lack of resources to properly convey the meaning and interpretation of the events from the novel. By eliminating this important section, the film version of Carrie ceases to properly show the extremes to which Carrie feels she if forced to retaliate. Again, the way the characters are presented in the film versus their representations in the novel varies to such an extent that you almost do not feel quite as bad for Carrie in the film, and even may take it a step further and say her reactions to the prank at prom far exceed the crimes committed by her peers. The characters from the novel we despise, especially Chris Hargensen who torments and constantly belittles Carrie. If more consideration and better interpretation of the real characters would have been transferred to the film version, perhaps a deeper desire to loathe them would be present.
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Much like the character of Chris Hargensen, the representations, physically, emotionally, and mentally of both Margaret and Carrie White varies quite greatly from the novel to the film. We see a slender, waif-like version of Carrie as portrayed by Sissy Spacek in the film, which is quite a stark comparison to the Carrie of King’s novel who is “…a fat, whiny bag of lard” (King 11).
She is described to be so unattractive in the novel that even when she is dressed-up for the prom, a reader finds it hard to imagine her as being pleasant to look at all. the film Carrie, although dressed in long skirts and bulky blouses, having covered legs from knee socks, is not completely unfortunate looking. In fact, when she is ready and waiting on Tommy Ross for the prom, she is quite beautiful and almost seems to glow with her alabaster skin and long, silky hair shining under the lights. The choice for the director to vary the contrast between the two Carries so greatly again attributes to the fact he wants people to feel for Carrie, but not to the extent to which the novel presses the reader to. Perhaps Monash and DePalma clearly want the movie to be represented as a horror film filled with blood and supernatural power, and not be labeled a warning sign or possible outcome (although farfetched at times) of teenage angst and bullying gone bad. In fact, the stark contrast between fat Carrie and skinny Carrie greatly compares to the contrast between both Margaret Whites. Margaret from the novel is fat, with large arms and outlandish ornamentation (large hat, black briefcase, black Bible), whereas the film version is slender (like Carrie), who carries a black bag around with her pamphlets, trying to spread the word of God.
Although in both cases Margaret succeeds as the villain for the treatment she forces her daughter to endure, it is important to note the film version is at a disadvantage. There is no background on Margaret to help the reader identify, or at least attempt to with her methods, whereas the novel does a magnificent job of going back and giving us as the reader information deemed valuable which aides the explanation of why she may be the way she is. Interesting to note is this makes it easier to deal with the Margaret White of the novel, and lack of detail makes it more difficult to accept anything from the Margaret White of the film. She is hazardous, haggard, brutal, cunning, and indeed crazy, all of which causes her to mistreat her daughter to a degree where it can be said she is really to blame for Carrie’s final retaliation against all of the wrong done to her.
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Although the novel and the film greatly vary, the differences in each media make them a success. Whether or not the stance is taken that the novel is a representation of good versus evil or retribution for the tormented and wronged, and the film is a classic example of a horror movie with a supernatural element, and Carrie’s getting revenge is just “icing on the cake,” so to speak, both King’s novel and Monash and DePalma film are so ambiguous to interpretation, anyone who reads and/or watches will be able to make their own justifications, and point their own accusatory fingers at whom is to blame for the events that transpire, and what elements are responsible for the destruction of lives, homes, and other conventions. Choosing to eliminate so many important elements from the novel to the film, such as graphic imagery and useful documentation allows the reader to make their own case for each character, even though they may be presented in a different light from one media to the other, without necessarily clouding their judgment. Both works are great examples of creative liberties and exactly how the minds of different artists work, proving one person’s interpretation is not the same as another’s.
King, Stephen. Carrie. Signet Publishing, New York: 1974.