I recently re-watched The Exorcist from 1973 for the umpteenth time. I still think it’s one of the greatest horror movies ever.
And it’s more than just a great horror movie. Beyond the more disturbing and startling elements of the film, it works as a deeply nuanced exploration of the nature of evil and faith.
That being said, something occurred to me for the first time during the most recent viewing. I watched the two priests carrying out the actual exorcism rite at the movie’s climax. And I thought: They don’t seem to be very … good at this.
I should say right here that there will be some spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go out and see it. Then come back and read the rest of this posting.
Everybody seen the movie now? We’re all on the same page? Good.
Now, I’ll admit I’m no expert on exorcism. But if the Catholic Church did indeed use that particular rite for centuries, I’d hope it would at least work a little better. Or if the rite does work, are these guys doing something wrong?
Just to review, Father Merrin and Father Karras represent the forces of holiness there to do battle with evil incarnate in the form of the possessed Regan. How does that work out? Well, Regan spends a bunch of time f**king with them. Then Father Merrin dies of a heart attack. Karras tells the demon to come into him. When it does, he jumps through a window and kills himself.
So yeah, the demon is dispatched by the end. But two of God’s lean, mean fightin’ machines DID kind of get their asses kicked by a 12-year-old girl.
Maybe I’m being unduly harsh here. The priests were brave and noble and self-sacrificing and all. Still, think of it this way.
You’ve got a raccoon in your attic and you call a wildlife removal service. They send over two guys. In the course of doing battle with the raccoon, one of them dies of a heart attack because it’s too much of a strain. The other’s method is getting the raccoon to clamp its jaws on him and then throwing himself out your window, killing both himself and the raccoon in the process. And probably taking a significant chunk out of your security deposit.
You’d probably feel bad for the two guys who got killed, and admire their dedication to their work. At the same time, you’re probably not going to call that particular wildlife removal service again.
I’m surprised the first scene of Exorcist II didn’t show Regan’s mother on the phone saying: “Hello? Presbyterians? Yeah … the last guys didn’t work out so good.”