Further to my post marking the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist, I thought it might be fun to look at one other way in which the Exorcist movies parallel the Star Wars franchise: namely, both series feature an actor who plays considerably older than his real age, and then, in at least one of the sequels or prequels, the actor plays more-or-less his real age in scenes set years or even decades earlier.
It was 40 years ago today that a movie called The Exorcist came out in theatres and proceeded to shock its way to box-office success. But the film did more than jolt people with its images of outrageous demonic behaviour; it also subverted the assumptions of modernity by suggesting that there was more to us than science and psychology could understand, and in its own roundabout way, the film became an expression of faith (certainly on the part of its screenwriter, William Peter Blatty, though his particular brand of faith might not be exactly conventional or orthodox).
To mark the anniversary of the film’s release, I have re-posted my reviews of the original film and its prequels, and I have compiled a few links to other blog posts that I have written about the film. Check ’em out below the jump.
Have you ever looked at a film’s credits and wondered what the difference was between the “story” written by these guys over here and the “screenplay” written by those guys over there? Often, the “story” in question used to be a proper screenplay in its own right, until someone else was hired to give it a bit of a polish, and by the time the finished film came out, it became impossible to say for sure which bits were the work of which people.
You can see something of this process whenever an old movie is remade; some of the more confounding plot twists in, say, last year’s versions of The Stepford Wives and The Manchurian Candidate begin to make sense when you watch the original versions of those films and realize why and how the stories went in those directions. And when remakes go off in their own direction, it often says something revealing about the people that made them. But remakes are generally made many years after the originals — or, in the case of foreign-film adaptations like The Magnificent Seven, after a story has been transposed into a different culture — so the new films still tend to have an identity of their own.
So apart from the film’s actual content — more on that in a moment — the most remarkable thing about Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist is that, in tandem with last year’s Exorcist: The Beginning, it provides a unique opportunity to see how tweaking a screenplay can produce a very different film, even when many of the same elements are in place.
It is almost impossible to imagine that a worthy sequel to 1973’s The Exorcist could ever be made, but that hasn’t stopped several filmmakers from trying. The original film — directed by William Friedkin from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the original novel — was more of a mood piece than a story. The demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl was less a conflict to be resolved than a hook on which to hang a thoughtful meditation on the tension between modern materialistic science and an ancient, even primitive, belief in a spiritual realm beyond this life. At a time when many were asking if God was dead, and if concepts such as goodness still had any meaning, Blatty and Friedkin hit audiences with a bold, shocking depiction of evil and dared them to say that this, too, was not meaningful. If there truly was such a thing as evil, then there truly must be such a thing as good, too; and if the Devil existed, then so did God.