|Merrin, his faith, and the amber light against Pasuzu.|
I. The Man Behind The Legend.
“That’s much too vulgar
a display of power, Karras”
William Peter Blatty is an American novelist and screenwriter. He was born in New York City January 7, 1928. He had a hard childhood as his father left home when Blatty was 6. His mother raised him up in poverty, but with education. Blatty graduated from Georgetown University, where he received an A.B.
Even though William Peter Blatty’s work reaches over 8 novels and more than 10 screenplays, it is undoubtedly that his major work was to its date, and has been, ever since: The Exorcist.
Blatty had a very rooted fear of death since childhood. In many ways, this lead him to search for a sign of something beyond our perceived reality. Books like The Exorcist, Legion, and The Ninth Configuration shed some light in the author’s obsession with this. They attack layered themes like good and evil, and magic and fantasy. “Blatty’s own obsession with ‘magic’, or more precisely with ‘evidence of transcendence’, has its roots in a youthful terror of death” (Kermode, 1998).
Both The Exorcist and Legion have its roots in documented facts. William Peter Blatty saw a late 40’s Washington Post article about an exorcism case involving a twelve year old boy. This provided Blatty one of the most tangible proofs of ‘transcendence’. Blatty intended to make a non fictional account of the story, but the church never let him publicize anything regarding the exorcism case.
Blatty didn’t let this blow bring him down.
He got his things, headed to Lake Tahoe, rented a cabin (cabin 666, according to him), and started writing the work gave him a spot among history: The Exorcist.
II. The Story
“Shall we summon the writer?
I believe he’s in Paris”
An old priest, Father Merrin, is working in an archaeological excavation in Iraq. He finds an idol: the ancient demon Pasuzu.
Meanwhile, Chris MacNeil has just moved in to Washington with her daughter, Regan. Chris is a well known actress working in a new film. Regan is a 12 year old girl that misses her father, and starts playing with a Ouija board to pass the time. When Chris finds out something’s wrong with her daughters health, she takes her to see the doctors. They can’t find anything wrong, and she keeps getting worse and violent.
Regan starts acting as a totally different person. Chris is completely shocked by what her daughter has become. There’s a point in which Regan’s actions are beyond anything humanly possible. The doctors advise Chris to seek for another kind of help: spiritual.
Chris asks Father Karras, a priest with decadence in his faith, for help. After two visits, Father Karras accepts Regan’s is a case of demonic possession. The high priests decide to call Father Merrin as the main Exorcist, and Karras will assist him.
Merrin arrives, and Regan/Demon is at its most powerful and shocking state so far. Merrin and Karras perform the exorcism. It doesn’t seem to be working. They take a break. Merrin decides to go back in and leaves Karras outside.
When Karras enters the room, he finds out Merrin is dead. Karras takes Regan, hits her and commands the demon to take him. The demon possesses Karras, and he jumps out the window, committing suicide. Regan is back to normal.
III. A Demon Can’t Be Analyzed
“I not good to you, Dimmy?
Why you leave me to die all alone?”
We live in a time in which the society in general has witnessed a decrease in spiritual fervor. Not just talking about religion, but in its more general concept. Our lifestyles take us to consider the tangible, safe things around us. If the question Is somebody out there? Shall be introduced in a gathering, many people would either ignore the question or deny the existence of anything but what men has discovered to be true. It is in this theological/philosophical/metaphysical cornering that The Exorcist breaks through and brings the supernatural, the ‘magic’, the ‘transcendence’ into a very real context. It makes it approachable.
The interesting thing about The Exorcist is that it introduces three characters with major revolts against faith: Chris Macneil, who is an atheist; Father Karras, a priest with a wound that makes him doubt his faith; and Lt. Kinderman. Merrin, then, would act as the archetypical figure (perhaps the only one in the movie besides “the Shadow”) of the Old Wise Man.
Chris MacNeil is an atheist actress. But this is not the only issue in her life that needs a bit of a tweak. She has been neglecting her daughter by spending most of her time at work or at debauchery parties with her friends. And the worst, maybe the fatal flaw in her is that not only is she an atheist but she is a woman that places her philosophy in everyone around her.
She is totally against any kind of religious symbols in her house, for her or for her daughter. In the movie is not as clear how radical she is about her denial of God. In the script, however, you can see how Sharon is terrified of her thinking that she placed the crucifix in Regan’s room. Sharon immediately tries to convince her that she’ll never try anything. This gives us a sense of how open this woman was to be confronted by supernatural forces.
But let’s not confuse the supernatural realm this movie wishes to portray with an evangelization with catholic biases. The context in which this movie develops is just a tangible, approachable situation. It only acts as a tool to bring the audience closer and open to what’s going on. It could’ve been set up in a Native Mexican community with Shamans, and exotic rituals. But this scenario would not be as effective to tell the story to most of the people as something involving the most popular religion in the world.
All these faulty characters: Chris, Karras, and Kinderman, are people that have been living by certain values and beliefs that are now totally obsolete, or in crisis, thanks to Pasuzu and its possession of Regan. “This was the opportunity for Karras and Lt. Kindermann to see that the world is much more than killers, and loved ones dying” (Kermode, 1998). But this is also true for Chris MacNeil who almost needs something like this to happen to revalue what she has: her little girl.
The execution of the film is great. The make up still holds up to this date. The special effects, even though a bit rustic, still are effective. And the direction of the film is overall fantastic. Every actor, in each of their scenes, really brings the top of their game, and no one ever overshadows the other. There is a great balance between the different strong characters presented throughout the film.
One of the main aspects that grabs your attention is the awesome photography throughout the events. The film starts with a much warmer lighting in all the scenes. From the night shot of Chris’s house at the beginning, with the warmth of Regan’s room dissolving to darkness; to the aridity and blazing sun of the Iraq desert, to the church’s interior scenes; the first part of the movie is of an amber chiaroscuro. This echoes the dissolving faith of the society when in the latter scenes, the blue, gray and black color palette reigns over each frame.
IV. Between Regan and Emily.
“How can they don’t believe in God, “Call us ‘Legion’,
If I show them the Devil” Karras. We’re many.”
(Emily Rose’s letter) (Regan/Demon)
There is a great parallelism between The Exorcist, and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. The simplistic parallel would be that they both deal with a demonic possession of a girl. But both these movies really speak to a broader, deeper theme. These are not light horror tales. They represent, in either timeframe, society’s progressive, unstoppable rejection of faith. There is something out there, and these movies bring that to the open.
While 1973’s The Exorcist, tells a minimalistic story of a drama in a high class, atheist family; 2005’s The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, also tells a story of the struggle of a young woman, her family, and a priest against a demonic possession. This time, though, the family is a lower class, rural family. They are extremely religious.
In The Exorcist, the movie almost presents us a microworld of what’s starting to happen: society losing faith. An atheist actress with religious domestic assistants; a priest losing his faith; and a detective that is open to “alternative” explanations of the facts. They are all in one way or another, exceptions to the rule.
In The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, the context is reversed. The rural, religious family is the exception to the rule. In one sense, it represents the fact that spiritual monopoly is in the hands of illiterate people. In other sense, it represents how the legal frame (society’s value system) does not even considers alternate occurrences to one of their own. But in the end, the legal system redeems itself by understanding and being open minded.
This inconsistency of “character” is landed in attorney Erin Bruner, who’s not an atheist, just a lost soul. She doesn’t know what to believe, and in fact rejects any possibility of supernatural occurrences despite the phenomena she’s witnessed. The whole society, then is related to a character with a case of extreme crisis in its belief and value system.
In the end, both religious and atheists are challenged to consider alternate solutions. While in The Exorcist, Chris needs to consider religious help to cure Regan, in the case of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, the religious family is challenged to consider scientific explanations, all this in the frame of a legislative tribunal.
In both cases, the fear that emanates from the screen much of the time comes in the form of psychological terror. There is something very dark and haunting about shaking your spiritual conceptions. It is talking to something very primitive, in this point, almost exotic. But at the same time, it is something very relateable to us, because there is an inherent need for the human being to search for explanations. The human is a symbolic animal, more than an “intelligent” animal. This makes us search for truths that then we feel very attached to. When those truths are challenged, we feel vulnerable, and it is something unknown.
And the unknown always resonates with our childhood fears.