The Rite

Exorcism movies are now becoming so abundant that they have almost become a sub genre within the horror genre of movies. We’re all becoming familiar with the twitching fingers, the rolling eyes, the growls, the supernatural gymnastics, blasphemies, spitting nails and so forth. This is not to minimize the reality and horror of demon possession, but I think movies like this have a double effect. On the one hand, they remind us of the fact of demonic infestation and the reality of the supernatural. On the other hand, we can become calloused. “Oh yes,” we yawn, “yet another movies about young girls with devils inside them. Ho hum.”
Anthony Hopkins has specialized in roles of men on the edge. On the edge of madness, on the edge of evil, on the edge of the supernatural, on the edge of remarkable goodness. He comes through again with a riveting performance–this time of Fr Lucas Trevan, a down to earth, yet otherworldly exorcist based in Rome. Young American seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) goes to Rome to take a course in exorcism and gets involved with the exorcist and his clients. The movies is uneven at places with a plot line that wanders, but on the whole it is a good account of the realities of exorcism. It’s a dramatic movie, so it goes for the high drama and what we don’t see is the more mundane exorcisms, we do glimpse the dreary hard work of repeated ministries and exorcisms that can take days, weeks or months as the exorcist works time and again with a young girl possessed by an especially nasty demon.
So as a movie, it’s pretty good. I like the Roman setting, the cool old architecture and atmosphere of Rome, the fine acting by both Hopkins and Donoghue. The directing is suitably atmospheric and the drama/horror managed in a way that is larger than life, but not too much so. There were little problems with verisimilitude church wise, but on the whole 8 out of 10.
What intrigues me most about exorcism movies though, is how they undermine the rationalistic, materialistic mindset of our modern world. Whenever an exorcism movie comes out what sets it apart from your usual horror film is that it is invariably prefaced with those somber words, “What you will see is based on true events.” Demonic possession is one of those anomalies in the modern world which just “isn’t supposed to happen”. According to modern materialists there simply is no such thing as demons. But after all is said and done, once all the psychiatric tests are run, once all the medical diagnoses are complete, once the person is totally assessed mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally, a condition exists which cannot be explained any other way. The personality really is taken over by an obscene, monstrous and repulsive entity totally alien to the infested person’s mind and heart.
If this is so, then it is a reminder that our watertight, materialistic little world is a little bit leaky. There are things out there that we cannot account for. Reality is rubbery. What we thought was solid and ‘real’ and dependable turns out to be ephemeral, unreliable and unpredictable. The universe is open ended. There are possibilities we cannot predict and connections that we can never explain. There are patterns and systems that are far greater and more mysterious than our silly, narrow scientific minds can deal with.
If this is so, then religion is the realm of interaction with these things. In religion we grasp the poor tools we have to deal with the unseen world. It is through religion that we make a transaction with the Almighty. It is there that we deal with demons, encounter angels and joust for the salvation of souls. It is there that we face the Realities beyond our small realities. It is there, in the everyday routine of a priest’s work, and in the everyday prayers and sacrifices of the faithful that we battle unseen forces and wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the forces of evil in the unseen world.
All the worse then, when religion is turned into some sort of self help therapy session to make obscenely rich middle class Americans feel even better about themselves. All the worse then, when religion is turned into some sort of ideology to make the world a better place and to dish out greeting card sentiments to people already satiated with self love and sentimentality.
No, I’m for what I call ‘crunchy Catholicism’–and more on that later…

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  • Shadow

    "Crunchy Catholicism" – I love it! Just my cup of tea. And that's how it's supposed to be.

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    Is there an iconographical depiction of Satan?yesHe is the dirty old 'shepherd' with a dim kind of smooth faced low browed accomplice who is breathing dank mildewed doubts into the ear of St Joseph in The Nativity Iconalways trying to get us to do what he is incapable of doingturning us against our better God given nature and image and just taste a little of all that glittering forbidden and bitter, bitter fruit Hollywood has done the evil one a great service by making him into a 'mega-brilliant' ingenious master of the 'evil universe'only we can do that on his behalfPray for us Fr. Gabriel Amorth to be free from the vile 'smoke' of the workers of iniquityOnly One is Holy Lord Jesus Christ to the Glory of God the Father. Amen.

  • Robert

    Carl Sagan once authored a book "Demon Haunted Planet". He observed that in "primative cultures" phenomenon ascribed to demons are in modern societies ascribed to aliens and there is little commonality between the accounts. Since it's "obvious" alien accounts are wrong, both demonic and alien accounts must be discredited. Since perfectly rational and credible people have seen aliens, there must be some sort of hullicination that even effects rational people. Since more than one rational credible person has seen aliens at the same time, there must be a yet undiscoved means of mass hullicination. Of course, there's no scientific proof for any of these, and wrt mass hullicinations, there's not even a theory how two or more people can mispercieve the same reality without that "misperception" being real in some way.Carl Sagan's book is a classic example of how rationalism can explain away what he sees as solid evidence. As G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, "The materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle…is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel."I'll have to admit, after listening to his book, I came away with an impression exactly opposite to Sagan's. I used to dismiss alien abduction stories offhand. Now I'm more cautious. What some people ascribe to "aliens" might actually be demonic…or perhaps those imps are getting impertinent again:-).

  • Sister Mary Martha

    From one Crunchy Catholic to another, I salute you.

  • wloch3

    How could such a thing hide in plain sight as it did? The "etymological roots" of Crunchy Catholicism have been exposed to everyone for four years, and perhaps you are not the first to use or coin the term, Father Dwight; but thank you! You have given me a big smile today. 

  • Paul Rodden

    Fr Thomas Euteneuer:"The violations of chastity happened due to human weakness but did not involve the sexual act"- Sounds very 'Clintonesque'.Corruptio Optimi Pessima.Saint Michael the Archangel,defend us in battle;be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,by the power of God,thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spiritswho prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.Amen.

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    Pauldon't you think it brill in the book of Jude when Satan disputes over the body of Moses and the Holy Archangel Michael simply says:'The Lord rebuke you'this is what I mean about the great 'sturm and drang' and 'glamourization of evil' that Hollywood and others- Ealing for example- do as a great service for the cause of evil.'get thee behind me, Satan''The Lord rebuke thee, Satan''It is finished'not the gargantuan battle of the ages- just piss off you piss ant kinda thing

  • Ismael

    @RobertCarl Sagan fails on different levels, although some points he makes are Ok.First of all he starts from the conclusion. He's a closed minded materialist and skeptic: hence he presupposes from the beginning that demons or 'aliens' are 'just imagination'.This is of course not rational or logical thinking, but it's assuming materialism and taking skepticism to irrational levels.However: It is true that many 'visions' of demons or other 'strage creatures' are just fruit of the imagination.It is important to always remain sober and not immediately scream 'miracle'.Skepticims is good in healthy doses.Also you can hardly compare demonic possession (where you do not see the demon, but observe symptoms) or estatic visions by saints to 'UFO-sightings' or even 'demon-sightings' or 'ghost sightings' as they are completely unrelated phenomena.I do not know how much of the 'UFO thing' is true, since it all comes through the filter of sentionalism, paranoia and conspiracy theory.No doubt the contemporary UFO-paranoia is related to the demon-paranoia of the past…