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Carrie’s Drama

In ‘The Monstrous-Feminine’, initially published in 1993, Barbara Creed observed that as ‘Relationships in the maternal melodrama are almost always between mother and daughter, it is to the horror film we must turn for an exploration of mother-son relationships’ (Creed 1994, 139). The latter observation is supported by the likes of Psycho and Black Christmas and -surprisingly—the former claim is supported by Brian De Palma’s horror classic Carrie. The eponymous teen is yet another horror movie character suffering from an overbearing and cruel mother which— as we have seen so far—can only result in the mother’s enforced absence by matricide. Similar to cultural understandings of Ed Gein’s mother, Margaret White is portrayed as a religious fundamentalist who indoctrinates her child with Biblical stories of guilt and sin. She does not let Carrie partake in any of her peers’ activities and by bringing her up in such a conservative manner, she makes her an easy target for her classmates’ bullying. Eventually, Carrie commits ‘symbolic matricide’ by defying her mother and attending the prom against her mother’s will. This inevitable step in the process of psychic individuation—in the form of constituting a will of one’s own—has been taken too late though. Carrie’s status as a strange and weird outsider has attracted too much critical and even hatred- filled attention from the spoiled, rich girl in her class. After having been mockingly voted prom queen and drenched in pigs’ blood in front of the whole school, Carrie ‘finally’ takes revenge and kills most of the attendant people with her telekinetic powers.

In the following massacre, Carrie is portrayed as the eye of the hurricane. With an emotionless face and her eyes wide open, she kills dozens of people. As the prom banner goes up in flames, Carrie slowly leaves the gym, almost floating like a ghost. The building now resembles the gates of hell, which she has opened up wide. She commits coldblooded murder, causing the audience to no longer perceive her as the helpless and pitiable girl that she has been throughout the movie. Carrie’s monstrousness takes shape as she kills all those attending the prom, whereas Norman’s and Billy’s monstrousness had its beginning in these two sons killing their mothers. In the case of Carrie, it seems to be the other way around, for in the second scene in which Carrie kills somebody, her actions are portrayed as diametrically opposed to her first murder spree at the school. In this scene, Carrie kills her mother, but only after Margaret stabs her daughter in the back with a large kitchen knife. It is an act of self-defense. Music, filming techniques and a manically grinning evil mother render Carrie a victim once again. In this scene, a family tragedy takes place. By killing her mother, Carrie’s demise becomes inevitable, and she subsequently dies in the literally collapsing White family home, but her status as a victim has been reestablished. When the sons showed their most insidious and violent behavior when killing their mothers, Carrie is portrayed as a victim, and victim only, in this scene. In her final moments, the monstrous Carrie from the prom massacre has regressed back to the state of the innocent outcast, suffering under her multiple tormentors. This scene, although situated in a horror movie, is rendered melodramatically, which is why it supports Creed’s observation cited above. Especially with regards to Ben Singer’s definition of melodrama, of which pathos is one of the most important defining qualities, which includes unjust evil being inflicted upon a person who does not deserve it (Singer 2001, 44ff.), Carrie’s symbolic matricide gone awry is melodramatically charged. Tony Williams even called the melodrama ‘a sister genre to family horror because it has a specific relationship to it in terms of depicting family trauma’ (Williams 1996, 17).

Carrie is the victim of her classmates and, most importantly, of her religiously fanatic mother. Whilst Norman Bates maliciously poisoned his mother and Billy brutally murdered and literally devoured his, Carrie kills her mother in self-defense. Rage seems to be clearly gendered as male when it comes to matricide. Horrific is the ‘resolution’ of family trauma between mothers and sons, tragic between mothers and daughters. Carrie rages or kills her peers and teachers in a cold-blooded manner but when she kills her mother, it is portrayed as a tragic event. Carrie attempted to break free from her mother’s psychological grip by simply disobeying her; the two sons, on the other hand, only acted when blinded by rage. The possible explanations for this lack of feminine rage in the filmic depiction of matricide are—as always—manifold. But with regards to Kristeva’s theory of the abject, the most probable explanation is that Margaret White never posed a threat to Carrie’s identity itself. The proximity between mother and daughter was not as threatening as for Norman and Billy. Norman’s psyche revolved entirely around his mother and Billy’s corporeality was threatened by his mother, eventually leading to him cannibalizing parts of her. Carrie, on the other hand, suffered from her mother’s archaic world view but she managed to psychologically distance herself from her mother’s ideas, exemplified by her rather reasonable attempt to defy her by attending the prom. Both Norman and Billy were threatened by ‘an unbearable nearness that [did] not allow for the distan- cing/separation that is the prerequisite for objectification’ (Berressem 2007, 21). This lack of objectification led to these sons’ desperate attempts to enforce a distance which eventually resulted in the complete internalization of their mothers.

Margaret White is granted some back-story, but it only makes her appear even more insane, instead of presenting her as a human being with a history, a woman shaped by her socio-cultural background, a person who found comfort in her superstitious worldview. She is presented as irrational and her archaic beliefs do not allow her to be the protective and caring mother most ofthe audience might expect her to be. The mother’s deceitful attempt to kill her daughter when she is most vulnerable produces a certain degree of ‘sympathy for the devil’ in the audience, similar to that of the two examples analyzed earlier, quite certainly even more so. Carrie’s entire life is a drama and so is the matricide she commits. It instantly causes her demise and thereby renders her as an ambiguous victim again—whereas the sons’ monstrousness took its beginning in them killing their mothers—after her having become a full-fledged movie monster. Matricide, at least in this case, humanizes the victim quite clearly.

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