Depictions of dominant and mentally disturbed matriarchal figures have made their permanent mark in films over the years. However, the character of Margaret White as mother to “Carrie” might be the epitome of all of them. She might even be the top Mommy Dearest of the religiously fanatical characters we’ve seen in other movies. No thanks to other depictions, that kind of character might warrant a rejection based solely on seeing too much of it in real life.
That’s one reason why the new remake of “Carrie” with Chloe Moretz has to be judicious in its new depiction of Margaret. You can say this despite the excellent possibilities in having Julianne Moore playing the part. Out of all the actresses that played the character in various incarnations, Moore could potentially set a standard.
Regardless, what kind of interpretation of Margaret White are audiences willing to accept today?
If you go by Stephen King’s original portrait in the book, it’s so over the top that it might garner a few eye rolls with a modern audience. Back in the 1970s, we hadn’t seen enough characters like that yet, let alone one with telekinetic powers to make things worse. In Hollywood, there might have been so much fear behind showing such a character that they watered the character down to assure certain demographics weren’t offended.
Those who’ve seen the 1976 “Carrie” remember Piper Laurie playing Margaret with a much more attractive visage. White’s morose past wasn’t even alluded to, despite making it clear that she’s more than a little off. The fact that she was given a southern accent possibly made it dangerously close to angering those in the bible belt of the time. And because this was a big screen adaptation, the religious symbolism of her demise at the end perhaps was inevitable.
Piper Laurie’s interpretation is one that’s not as well remembered as Sissy Spacek’s performance as the title character. However, it’s much better than the musical version that happened to make it to a Broadway stage 12 years later.
Yes, there was actually a musical version of Margaret White that gave a chance for the character to lament on stage in song. While it might have been easy to dismiss at first, it attracted significant Broadway talent with Barbara Cook and later Betty Buckley. It was even revived in 2012, so there’s still a chance of a movie version being made.
Get ready for a more sympathetic portrayal if the musical adaptation is ever done. That might go over well in today’s culture where we forgive the most despicable people.
But let’s not forget the TV-movie version of “Carrie” from 2002 that had an adaptation of Margaret closest to the book. Patricia Clarkson was delightfully creepy here, especially in the final scenes where she attempts to drown Carrie in a bathtub. Her demise is also exact with the book and probably came close to being as memorable as the 1976 movie if not for being a low-rated cable TV movie. Plus, things would have been worse had it become a proposed TV series.
Now we have Julianne Moore supposedly becoming the closest Margaret White to the book we’ve ever seen. Considering how Moore can’t look ugly, the appearance from the book can’t really happen as evidenced already in clips from the movie. The fact that so many actresses hired to play Margaret White have always been attractive doesn’t help, despite hints of attractiveness bringing more intrigue.
The toleration level for this character may not be there any more, though. With so many variations already done on “Carrie”, the original characters can sometimes seem an annoyance in an age of crazy cinematic matriarchs becoming a part of a different era.