Getting carried away

Reel Librarians  |  Carrie title screen

Title screen for the TV remake of Carrie

In the TV remake of Carrie (2002), a plodding by-the-numbers mediocrity filled with actors too old to play high schoolers, the school library serves as the setting for several small scenes throughout the film.

Three minutes in, a teacher calls out Carrie (Angela Bettis), saying she’s been excused as per her mother’s request (Patricia Clarkson, too little seen in this remake). “You might as well head down to the library right now.” This introductory statement sets up the library as a more social place, and indeed, we soon see the school library filled with students, hanging out throughout the library, at tables and computers and in group and individual study spaces.

In this school library scene, the camera peeks in behind Carrie, busy doodling pictures of a boy named Tommy Ross, and looks up. Her perspective reveals the real-life Tommy (Tobias Mehler), and in the background, a peek at the school librarian (played by Irene Miscisco).

Reel Librarians  |  'Carrie' library shot

Carrie’s object of affection, Tommy Ross, in the foreground, while the school librarian is visible in the top right corner

A boy — credited as “Obnoxious Student,” and billed right above (!) the school librarian — starts poking fun of Carrie and making loud sex noises and gestures. Tommy responds by throwing a book at the kid’s head, causing a string of profanity from the obnoxious student. This very loud scene garners NO response at all from the school librarian. SIGH.

Twenty minutes later and after a traumatic scene in the school gym, Carrie rounds the corner into the school library. The camera’s perspective, once again, peeks over a character’s shoulder, this time introducing us to the back of the school librarian’s head. We also see that the librarian is reading a tabloid magazine!

Reel Librarians  |  The school librarian in 'Carrie'

The stereotypical physical characteristics of this school librarian, decked out in thick glasses and lanyard, are juxtaposed with the images in the trashy magazine she’s holding.

Carrie, obviously nervous, is brave enough to ask the school librarian a question.

Carrie:  Mrs. Johnson?

Librarian:  Yes, dear? [hurriedly stashing away the magazine]

Carrie:  Can you show me how to do a search?

Besides my annoyance at yet another librarian character not being allowed a character name in the credits — even though she’s referred to by her personal name in the film! — I frowned at the significance of this scene. Why show the librarian reading a tabloid? By the guilty way she puts it away, Mrs. Johnson is obviously embarrassed to be caught reading the tabloid.

Is the reason for this shot to demonstrate the ineptitude of everyone in the school? Every authority figure in the school, however well-meaning, is shown in a not-so-flattering light in at least one scene. The gym teacher (Rena Sofer) sticks up for Carrie more than once but also shoves a student into gym lockers and verbally threatens her. The school principal (Laurie Murdoch) stands up for Carrie in front of an angry parent but can’t remember her name — even when corrected by Carrie herself. The school librarian apparently helps out Carrie in searching, but is also seen looking at a trashy tabloid on the job.

And how about that searching? The next shots reveal closeups of a woefully outdated search screen interface, as well as search results for the keyword Carrie types in, miracles. She gets a librarian to help her search, and all she can think to type in is the word miracles?! No wonder she gets wildly different search results, including:

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

Result #6, “Jesus – Man of Miracles,” which puts the keyword in a religious context…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… while result #22, “Miracle Underwear,” conjures up visions of Victoria’s Secret…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… and finally, Result #26, “Miracles:  Hidden Powers of the Mind,” combines the keyword with paranormal activity.

And even though I didn’t get a good shot of it, after the 26th search result — the one Carrie clicks on about telepathy — there is a line that reads:  End of results. That made me laugh out loud! Even in 2002, there would have been more than 26 results for a generic search for miracles!

Reel Librarians  |  Library scene in 'Carrie'

Another shot of the school library

However little actual help the librarian provided, we do see Carrie in the school library one more time (42 minutes into the film), researching another web site about telekinesis. This time, she’s in a darkened room at the back of the library, writing in a (blank) notebook. When Tommy comes into the room and calls out her name, Carrie rapidly shuts her notebook — oddly mirroring the earlier gesture of the school librarian closing up the tabloid magazine! She also lies to Tommy about what she’s reading; she says she’s reading about sewing, foreshadowing her self-made prom dress.

In the middle of the library, Tommy asks Carrie to go to the prom with him, which attracts the attention of a gang of popular mean girls. Although the librarian is not pictured, it’s interesting how this very public scene — set in the library, already well-established as a popular place — sets in the motion the rest of the plot and the prom finale. Reel librarians often propel plots forward, but in this case, the library as place serves this function more than the librarian herself.

And by the way, even though we see other school officials at the scene of the prom, the school librarian Mrs. Johnson doesn’t appear to be one of the chaperones. But Mrs. Johnson does get to help chaperone Class IV, with other reel librarians seen only briefly in their respective films, and hang out with the other Information Providers.

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6 comments on “Getting carried away

  1. I wonder if the film is (accidentally?) smarter than it lets on. I wonder if the tabloid was indeed intentional, and not just to suggest the librarian’s inattention to academia: it seems significant that the first scene with Carrie doodling Tommy in her notebook and the last scene where he asks her out (both to the derision of classmates) are tableaux of the kind of celebrity relationship gossip in the tabloid.

    Or maybe you’re just highlighting an opportunity the film failed to capitalize on. 🙂

  2. Also: 26 results for “miracle”!?! That is HILARIOUS! I love that you point that out!

  3. ej runyon says:

    Like SS-B, I was thinking too along the lines of what Mrs. Johnson is reading, how she reacts to being seen reading it, and how Carrie’s mom is such a guilt monster at home. that they were all subtexty ways for setting up the viewers reactions to ll that guilt with Carrie herself – as it gets shown in the Tommy/doodle scene.

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