“Carrie” – A Schoolbus, Our Bruises, and What Stephen King Taught Us

“O Children Deaths go breathe your breaths
Sobbing breasts’ll ease your Deaths,
Pain is gone, tears take the rest.”

Allen Ginsberg, “Father Death Blues”

“During the 12 months before the survey, 32.8% of students had been in a physical fight, 20.1% had ever been bullied on school property, and 7.8% had attempted suicide.”

-CDC High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011

I sat in the middle of the bus, right side. It was junior high and we were on our way to a band competition outside Chicago. We each had our own seat, which was nice. I was tall and liked having the room to stretch out.

There was someone in the seat before mine who wouldn’t leave me alone, and there was a torture bullies used – probably still use – where they pinch your chest as hard as they can hoping they’ll hit something sensitive. I was bigger than him, I’d been doing taekwondo for years, and yet I did nothing to stop him. How much was self-control and how much was just fear, I don’t think I’ll ever know. The trip was two hours.

When I got home that evening and pulled off my shirt, I discovered my chest was purple and red with bruises. I could barely touch my own skin. I didn’t tell anyone, not a parent or teacher, not our band instructor, not even my taekwondo teacher. Shame is a powerful suppressant.

There were other times – getting jumped at lunch in the seventh grade, and in the eighth grade being surrounded by a dozen kids at recess while the weakest of them pummeled me in the chest for half an hour. I knew if I reacted, all dozen would jump on me and beat me, and so I didn’t react. I took it, and I didn’t tell anyone.

Now that I’m bigger, with 20 years of training and a black belt, I go out of my way to help people being picked on. When I work with children, I make sure they know there are adults to ask for help, and that bullies are only bullies because they’re being picked on by someone, too. I had good outlets, strong parents and a sister and taekwondo and football and, yes, even band, to pour myself into.

Yet, I still deal with anger issues I turn inward. Sometimes, I feel like it’s the universe against only me. I still have moments when I’m paralyzed making a decision, thinking of what’s safest, and I know that much of it can be traced back to two hours on a bus, to a crowd at lunchtime, to a half-hour at recess. When it’s said that bullying lasts a lifetime, it’s not an exaggeration.

The remake of Carrie addresses bullying by giving us young Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her overprotective mother Margaret (Julianne Moore). It follows Stephen King’s prescient 1974 novel of the same name. Carrie is tortured at school and she doesn’t have an outlet. Margaret is a fanatic and, when you’re a fanatic, it really doesn’t matter what you’re fanatical about. Here, innocent Carrie is punished for the sins Margaret herself committed when young.

Carrie is special – as she is bullied, she notices her own unique ability for telekinesis. She can move objects and light fires with her mind. At the same time, she becomes a cause at school – some classmates, bullied themselves, want to see how far they can push her. Others try to make amends.

Margaret thinks Carrie is possessed, but why would a girl with a gift be demonic instead of heavenly? Carrie tries to act normal and be accepted, both at school and by her mother, but in the end, she’s pushed too far. When people get pushed too far, they do something drastic, and when they can move objects and light fires with their mind…well, you can see where this is headed.

What if I didn’t have strong parents, a sister, taekwondo, and football? The next town over from me is South Hadley, Massachusetts, where 15-year old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in 2010 and drove bullying into the national headlines. As Stephen King told biographer George Beahm, the girl on whom he based Carrie committed suicide. So where would I be if I hadn’t had enough outlets? I might not be anywhere.

Carrie is an above-average horror movie bolstered by two superb actresses at the top of their game. It’s not great, but it is important. Kids don’t always know what outlets are available and real-life desperation doesn’t mean telekinesis. For Prince, it meant a rope. For 12-year old Rebecca Sedwick in Florida last month, it meant a tall building. For too many, it means a gun, their school, and the police. Carrie is rated R for blood, violence, imagery, language, and sexual content. It’s not appropriate for young children, but for those of a certain age, it’s less terrifying than a bus trip.

A version of this review by Gabriel Valdez first appeared in the 10/22/13 edition of La Vernia News.

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