|07:20 pm - Exorcist Report Repost (maybe)|
I'm putting this up here for the Final Girl Film Club. I can't remember if I ever posted it back in November, but here's a short write up on The Exorcist.
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist
Evil is a palpable presence. This is clear from the opening moments of The Exorcist, even if we are not yet aware of its intentions. A dig in northern Iraq brings Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) into direct contact with evil, in this case the demon Pazazu. Pazazu’s visage is buried in the earth and displayed prominently as a statue, but his power permeates Merrin’s world. Clocks stop, beasts rage, and ominous signs point to the arrival of evil incarnate. But not in Iraq; this evil will manifest itself much closer to home.
In Georgetown, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) lives with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair), her assistant Sharon (Kitty Winn), and assorted servants. The MacNeils are displaced people in a world coming apart; Chris is divorced and living in the Washington D.C. area while her home is being rebuilt in Los Angeles. She’s also in the midst of shooting a film about student riots, another sign of the times. The world is in upheaval, and Chris’s world will undergo a further change soon, beginning with sounds in her attic.
Regan is a normal girl; she likes horses, art, and loves her mother. But all this moving disrupts her social world, and at the cups of puberty, Regan is all alone. Chris pays little attention to Regan’s imaginary friend Captain Howdy, but soon her strange behavior becomes too much to ignore. Although it may be no surprise that Regan knows how to curse (her mother frequently utters profanity), when she urinates on the floor during a dinner party and complains of her bed shaking, Chris realizes something is amiss. Little do Regan and Chris know of the journey into the abject that lies before them.
Chris is not the only person in Georgetown suffering a crisis of conscience. When we meet Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller); he is dealing with the crippling blow of his ailing mother’s death after being committed to a psychiatric facility. Damien is himself a psychiatrist, and his faith is waning from the shifts he and his mother faced; her death is but another test he is incapable of dealing with. Meanwhile, his church is shocked when a statue of the Virgin Mary is defiled with a phallus and overly phallic breasts, reminiscent of Pazazu.
Regan’s condition continues to worsen, and her behavior continually breaches what could be considered abject: she vomits bile, curses, mutilates herself, and violently masturbates using a cross. She is sexually uninhibited in her language, either by her own virtue or that of a demon who claims to possess her. Whether it is Regan or this demon speaking, her actions are beyond that of the abilities of doctors and psychiatrists. Their horrendous tests amount to no reasonable answer for her condition, and when Chris’s director / love interest is murdered (possibly by Regan), they attempt one last option; hypnosis. Even while under hypnotic suggestion, Regan is openly hostile towards men and attempts to castrate the psychiatrist. As a last ditch effort to avoid committing Regan to an institution, one doctor recommends the possibility of an exorcism.
Chris turns to Father Karras for assistance, but he is at first unconvinced that Regan is actually possessed. The demon inside of Regan claims to know Damien’s mother, and reacts to tap water as though it were Holy Water. However, when she begins speaking in languages which Regan does not know, and one Karras discovers to be backwards English, he suspects this may in fact be possession. Damien does not believe the demon’s claims that it is the Devil himself, but the demon speaks fearfully of a priest called Merrin. Regan appears to plea for help from inside her own body, now wracked and cut from self mutilation and filthy from vomit. The church agrees to allow the exorcism, on the condition that Merrin oversees it.
For Chris, Regan, Father Karras, and Father Merrin, the final act of The Exorcist is a journey into the abject itself. Karras and Merrin are instruments designed to restore the natural order, and Regan / Pazazu / Captain Howdy is the abject, which must be faced and rejected in order to do so. Their ritual, an exorcism, will not be easy. Regan hurls profanity, telling Karras “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!” and implying the two priests are homosexuals, challenging order. Merrin remains unfazed by her display of language and her attempts to distract him by spewing bile, but Karras cannot ignore her, and Merrin casts him out of the ritual. When Damien returns, he discovers that evil prevails; Merrin is dead, and Regan, unbound from her bed, sits laughing. In a fit of rage, Damien attacks the girl, begging the demon to enter him, and as it does, he casts himself out her bedroom window, plunging down the same stairwell that killed Chris’s lover. The ritual is complete; order is restored.
Finally, with her daughter returned to her and the natural order back in balance, Chris and Regan leave Georgetown, presumably to Los Angeles. Regan has no memory of what happened, and Chris will perhaps no longer utter profanity or take the Lord’s name in vain, but the cost of facing the abject will sit heavy on them both. The Exorcist warns us that evil is everywhere, and we cannot simply ignore it. Only by facing evil can we hope to understand or even defeat it.