In the winter of 1973, in the heyday of gritty
Hollywood postmodern sophistication so beloved by critics of the
subsequent era of Star Wars and Superman,
In his book Monsters from the Id, Catholic writer E. Michael Jones connects the fascination of horror to the debunking of Enlightenment rationalism, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist certainly supports his case. Postmodern areligiosity, the decline of marriage, casual dabbling in such occult phenomena as Ouija boards, and the therapeutic culture are all indicted in this horrifying tale of a bubbly, increasingly troubled young girl whose single mother turns for help to doctors, tests, and prescriptions.
“You just take your pills and you’ll be fine, really,” Chris (Ellen Burstyn) promises her daughter Regan (Linda Blair), but part of the film’s brief is that pills aren’t the answer to everything, and faith and religion may have answers science doesn’t.
Very strong obscene and profane language and imagery make The Exorcist a shocking, harrowing experience, but arguably the film’s most troubling factor is the lack of true redemption in the twist ending, which resolves the demon possession without allowing good to triumph over evil.
In Terence Fisher’s Hammer horror films in the 1950s and ’60s, the power of the cross or holy water over satanic powers was absolute. That may have been overly optimistic (in Catholic theology, sacramentals aren’t intrinsically efficacious), but The Exorcist errs in the other direction, depicting a demonic presence that is ultimately expelled by God’s power, but induced into departing.
Christian novelist Stephen Lawhead argues that the film depicts evil as powerful, but good as merely “lucky,” winning by a “surprise tactic.” That’s not good enough.
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The Exorcist review needs “Satanic forces” upper-cased “S”, as do all name-based words. The Shoes of the Fisherman needs references to the Telemond character to delete “German” since this role was based on a French priest whose works were under suspicion.
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[Spoiler alert – SDG] In your review of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you say: “Although Emily Rose is more grounded in the real world than The Exorcist, both films are ultimately about failed exorcisms.” I recall that in the latter movie, the exorcism succeeded. The demon(s) left the girl, went into the priest, he jumped out the window, then received absolution before he died. At any rate, the girl was exorcised. Am I wrong?
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.