When Stephen King sat down to write “Carrie” in the early 1970s, he must have thought that a story about a girl forced to use her telekinesis skills to hurt other people would set a precedent. While we all have to feel some sympathy for Carrie White after everything she endured with her mother, it’s too tempting to not let a character with telekinetic powers do something that imparts a comeuppance. At least King left it open for debate about what good Carrie could have done with her telekinesis had it been harnessed to be used in a more sane world.
Fortunately, “Carrie” the book (and 1976 movie) didn’t necessarily set a trend toward showing mass destruction from young people with telekinetic ability. In fact, by the 1990s, there were several films that showed characters attempting to use their telekinetic ability toward something good before being exploited. Much of that went away by the 2000s to make room for more troublesome characters not able to tame the flame of their abilities.
Did “Star Wars” Start The Benevolent Telekinesis Trend?
Some might say that “Mary Poppins” was the first character on film with telekinetic ability used in a peaceful way. Even if the former is correct, “Star Wars” is still notable because of its epic struggle in harnessing The Force that enables the ability to levitate objects. It also came out a year after the first “Carrie” movie released and took telekinesis in a much more epic direction. At this point, the taming of special telekinetic ability had to be done toward stopping a seemingly unstoppable malevolent force.
Ironically, when movies showing more destructive telekinetic ability arrived, the “Star Wars” prequels were just beginning. The zeitgeist fit in with Anakin Skywalker using the gifts of The Force toward his path into the Dark Side.
Do you remember this 1996 movie with John Travolta playing a man trying to wrestle with his telekinetic ability? It was during the 1990s when showing powers for good in film seemed be an upward trend. The mood of the country was considerably better then and was probably a reflection. This film also tried to expand on “Star Wars” by making telekinesis look like a spiritual gift from something greater. Additionally, it created debate whether the ability was from a brain tumor or mysterious lights Travolta’s George Malley encounters earlier in the film.
It kicked off a renewed sentiment toward environmentalism when Malley tries to create alternative energy sources thanks to also having a mysteriously high I.Q. No creating firestorms here, and it could have been a little too mild if not for the hot debate over whether real telekinesis would come from on high or through a medical fluke.
In this family film, we saw telekinesis from the polar opposite perspective of where Carrie was. It’s also used in more playful ways with the little girl Matilda using her telekinesis in ways that help the good guys. Conversely, it’s also used to get back at those who cross her without killing them at a prom.
Released the same year as “Phenomenon”, 1996 seems to be the last time we saw more benign telekinesis. Along with the “Star Wars” prequels mentioned above, telekinesis was used on epically wide scales in film to show mass destruction. A lot of that was in anime films like “Akira” or “Pokemon.” You also saw it in the “X Men” movie franchise, particularly Jean Grey/Phoenix.
Is telekinesis in the movies meant to show considerable harm, or can it be reeled back in to show it being used toward something useful? Considering we get some hints at to what Carrie White could have potentially done with her skills, it’ll likely always be a subject of conflict in movies.
Someday, though, some astute writer will show it as a power trip that takes someone to a higher office or similar position. That movie will be based on the power being a definite mysterious gift and not a brain tumor.