25th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2009, the 50th anniversary of Psycho in 2010, the 30th anniversary of An American Werewolf in London in 2011 and the 90th anniversary of Nosferatu in 2012. Alas, my schedule has made this more difficult than I originally planned, but at long last I'm able to sit down and put together the first of my "Exorcist XL" series, commemorating 40 years since the release of the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture...
Growing up as a Roman Catholic, The Exorcist was a film that has filled me with dread for as long as I can remember. On the sidebar of this very blog, I recount the traumatic experience of first being exposed to it at the tender age of 8. It was a film that had an aura of the forbidden, and seemed in many ways to be the literal embodiment of evil. However, over time, I've come to the conclusion that--far from the unholy terror it has often been portrayed to be--The Exorcist is actually a very pious work. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it pro-Catholic propaganda. And that's coming from someone with the utmost admiration for the film.
Why would this be the case, if The Exorcist were in fact a Satanic, anti-Catholic movie? If anything, it is quite the opposite. Within the world of The Exorcist, the priests are the good guys--they are soldiers of Christ. In fact, the movie is almost medieval in its thinking, casting the scientists as misguided, ineffectual and even actively negligent in their inability to help Regan during her plight. God and the Devil are quite real here, and only the disciples of God can be of assistance. Von Sydow's Fr. Merrin knows this to be true, and calmly dismisses more secular approaches.
Those who choose to avoid The Exorcist because they consider themselves good Catholics are missing the whole point. The movie may portray things that are considered hideous and obscene sacrilege, but these are depicted solely to demonstrate the work of the Devil in all its explicit evil. The movie does not take the demon's side--if anything, it is the men of God whom we are most encouraged to root for. Regan's revolting words and actions are shown simply to make the defeat of the demon that much more satisfying. And there is nothing seen that cannot also be found in actual reports of exorcisms performed by Catholic priests. I do not believe the film glorifies these elements, but rather uses them to establish the significance of the threat.
The Exorcist may make the Devil seem cool, but don't forget that in the end the Devil loses--and it's the power of Christ that compels him.
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