Long ago, pre-Internet, some researchers tried to find out which movie had the greatest spiritual effect on viewers, in terms of provoking people to think about sin, salvation and life after death.
A Billy Graham movie perhaps? “The Ten Commandments”? “Chariots of Fire”?
Nope, apparently it was the R-rated, scare the living daylights out of audiences classic, “The Exorcist.”
With that in mind, let me state that I really enjoyed that USA Today feature that took director William Friedkin and author and screenwriter William Peter Blatty back to, well, their old Georgetown haunts 40 years after the release of that famous film.
However, I really do think that this story has one serious hole in it — but we’ll get to that shortly.
The key to the story is that, for Blatty, the major themes in his book and in the movie were rooted in his Catholic beliefs and, most of all, in his conviction that life-and-death battles between real evil and absolute truth take place and cannot be explained away. Reporter Brian Truitt made this a key issue in his news feature (which has also been circulated by Religion News Service).
The story of the story starts at Georgetown University, back when Blatty was a student:
It was in White-Gravenor Hall in a New Testament class that Blatty first heard of the 1949 exorcism of Maryland boy Roland Doe, and that sparked his interest in writing about the possession of Regan. And the infamous fall of Father Karras was influenced by Blatty watching one of his physics classmates take a hospitalizing tumble after trying to steal a final exam.
Blatty modeled Karras after his own feelings, he says. The death of Karras’ mother caused him to lose faith in God for a time, while the passing of Blatty’s mother also was deeply traumatic, “a period when my faith was more a hope than a belief.”
Exploring the evidence of his faith in writing “The Exorcist” was “very gratifying because it solidified my belief that I would one day see my mother again,” Blatty says.
Through the years, the film has grown in popularity, but Blatty missed the spiritual aspects from his original work, so Friedkin added 12 minutes for an extended director’s cut that was released into theaters in 2000.
And the bottom line? Why show such torment in the life of a young girl, her mother and the priest who, literally, gives his all to save the child? Blatty explains: