"The Rite" Roundup – UPDATED

It’s not on my “must see” list, but then again, I am a crank who doesn’t like going to the movies, anyway (although True Grit did lure me), but The Rite opens today and it seems many people are aching to explore a theme of exorcism, so here is a round-up of sorts:

Start with the book by Matt Baglio which uber-reader Julie Davis says “gets it right”:

Undoubtedly, when the film is released, it will be sensational, but reading The Rite may deliver more authentic chills; without the CGI there is still imagination, and with a book there is something more: readers get to “watch over Father Thomas’s shoulder” as it were, and to make the same spiritual journey, asking the same questions he asked, making the same discoveries. . .

One thing that keeps bothering me is the silly narrative that sends a seminarian “with doubts” to Rome to learn about exorcism:

One discrepancy Fr. Thomas pointed out was that he went to Rome as a 50-year-old seasoned priest with a desire to learn more about the rite of exorcism – hardly a cynical seminarian in the midst of a faith crisis. Despite the differences, however, he called the film “very good.”

“The human side of the priesthood is very well developed,” he said, adding that the portrayal of “the institutional Church comes out very positively.”

I’ve read in several places that the film is an overall “win” for the church and the priesthood, which could use one. If Hollywood needs “a hottie in a cassock” for that to happen, so be it.

John Zmirak, over at Inside Catholic has some fun with a must-read post that had me laughing out loud but also pondering deeply. It is almost too-good to excerpt:

“. . . it bothers me that so many of the movies promoted this way are not really “spiritual,” much less Christian; they’re simply bland and inoffensive.

The Catholic faith is neither. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war waged by invisible entities (deathless malevolent demons and benevolent dead saints) whose winners will enjoy eternal happiness with a resurrected rabbi, and whose losers will writhe forever in unquenchable fire. Sometimes I step back and find myself saying in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice: What’s with all the craziness? Why can’t I just enjoy my soup?”

What follows is even better than that, but as I say, difficult to excerpt. Go read it; I think it’s probably the best essay on the film that I’ve yet read.

Steven Greydanus in Christianity Today has some thoughts on the Devil in Tinseltown but rates The Rite with an overall grade of “B”.

Roger Ebert gives it a thumbs up in his interesting and thoughtful review:

Father Michael is not a saint. He enters the seminary as a way to get a four-year college education before taking his vows, and then tries to leave the novitiate. Discovering the cost of his education would then roll over into a $100,000 student loan, he reconsiders and agrees to attend a monthlong course in Rome. This sort of detail is more refreshing than shots of him silhouetted against ancient desert structures while monks intone Gregorian chants.

In Rome, he attends classes, debates scripture, and then is advised to spent some time with an experienced exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). This too is from the book by Matt Baglio, although in the book, this priest is Italian. As Hopkins appears onscreen, “The Rite” slips into gear and grows solemn and effective. Hopkins finds a good note for Father Trevant: friendly, chatty, offhand, self-effacing, realistic about demonic possession but not a ranter. He takes the kid along while treating the apparent possession of a pregnant young woman.

That something happens to make people seem possessed I have no doubt. Diagnosing whether Satan is involved is above my pay grade. What I must observe is that demonic possession seems very rare, and the Church rejects the majority of such reports. Yet it approaches epidemic proportions in “The Rite,” almost as if it were a virus. The film is like one of those war movies where everybody gets wounded but John Wayne.

Still, I found myself drawn in. It is sincere. It is not exploitative; a certain amount of screaming, frothing and thrashing comes with the territory. My own guess is that people get the demons they deserve. While true believers go into frenzies, the Masters of Wall Street more cruelly lose joy in their wives and homes.

NY Times’ Stephen Holden is less somewhat less thoughtful than Ebert.

At First Things, Mark Armstrong writes:

While he admits the film is not an accurate portrayal of what happened to him in Rome, Fr. Gary is pleased with how The Rite turned out, and he hopes the film will get people asking questions about one of the least understood rites in the Catholic Church. A greater awareness of the Devil’s actions in the world—and the tools Christ has given his Church to combat him—becomes all the more crucial when, as Fr. Gary explains, “in this country . . . there are more and more people that are involved in idolatry and paganism.”

Interestingly Father Gary Thomas sits for an extensive interview with a Witch

The Wall Street Journal has “Exorcism for Beginners” and a sort of summary of mainstream reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes finds it mostly rotten.

Naturally, this film will make people want to read about real-life exorcisms. Dr. Pat McNamara of McNamara’s blog dishes one up for you, from Iowa. Yeah, Iowa. Who knew?

If all of this has you wondering about heaven and hell, do yourself a favor and read John W. Martens excellent little essay on the sound theology behind Purgatory

UPDATE: I’ve never heard of this ratings system before but Frank Weathers swears by it.

Better and Worse than one will expect

Catholic World Report: Doorways for the Devil

UPDATE II: Two more reviews, both of them pretty thoughtful, one from Hell Burns and one from Busted Halo

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://cinemacatechism.blogspot.com/ Bender

    The commercials all point toward sensationalistic, schlock horror film. Hardly a movie for people to take the Catholic faith seriously. Quite to the contrary. And having Hannibal Lector as the priest only makes things worse.

    I had hopes too for The Exorcism of Emily Rose. And then I heard people laughing at it in the theater.

    If you want a serious treatment of it, notwithstanding the typical 70s priest with a crisis of faith, go rewatch The Exorcist (based on a true story).

  • http://yimcatholic.blogspot.com Frank Weathers

    Having a limited amount of movie dollars, I use Metacritic to filter my choices. It has never failed me. It gives this film a “yellow” with a #41, which to me means “avoid.”

    In contrast, True Grit was “Green” and “80″ while The King’s Speech was “Green” and “88.” Both of those movies were excellent! I think I’m done with movies for the year…

    Metacritic review of “The Rite.”

  • http://twitter.com/MaggieG45 Maggie Goff

    Charlie Rose did a wonderful interview with Anthony Hopkins the other day. Go to Charlierose dot com and click on the words Anthony Hopkins on the lower right. Then click on the figure Anthony Hopkins and it will start the video. He’s an absolutely delightful man, with quite a story.

  • Mandy P.

    I’m very interested in reading the book before I see the movie. partly because I’m a bibliophile and partly because I don’t like my impression of the source material to be slanted by someone’s interpretation of such. It’s next on my to read list.

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  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I love my Catholic faith and I embrace it whole heartedly. But when it comes to exorcism, you’ll have to count me in with the skeptics. Call me doubting Thomas on this. But what do I know? We all come in contact with things we cannot fully understand. Looks like a good movie.

  • jeff

    Nothing can top The Exorcist but I will give The Rite a try. You can’t beat Anthony Hopkins.

  • TheresaT

    If you want a movie to lift your heart and spirit I’d recommend “The King’s Speech”. This movie brings out the best in human nature, friendship, family, love, loyalty–which is facing the worst in the looming war. Yet there is a wonderful triumph of the human heart at the center of this movie. “True Grit” entertained me–’The Kings Speech” haunts me.

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  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I went and looked it up on your suggestion. That was a brilliant interview. It has really endeared me to Hopkins. Thanks. :)

  • Svansteen


    Well, considering that Iowa’s activist Supreme Court “discovered” the right to gay marriage in my home state’s constitution, it appears that the devil’s foothold there is rather strong.

  • AnneG

    Manny, Read the book, The Rite. It will give you a really good picture of the priesthood even if you stay skeptical about the sacramental rite of exorcism. Best recommendation for me on the book were the complaining reviews that it wasn’t sensational enough. AnneG

  • http://twitter.com/MojoSmith Ishmael Alighieri

    30+ years ago, while in college, a group of use came across a book that claimed to accurately describe 4 exorcisms. We gave the book to an old Jesuit priest, and asked him if it were accurate (the guy had spent 40+ years as a missionary all over the world). He advised us to 1) get rid of that book; and 2) not to dwell on the work of the devil in this world. He said that nothing good could come of us amateurs (not his word) fretting over this, instead, focus on being good Catholics.

    Seems like good advise, I’ve followed it for 3 decades now. We’ll be skipping this movie.

  • jeff

    I can’t fully agree with the old Jesuit’s view. The problem today is that so many Catholics no longer have any sense of sin or of the supernatural. It’s all “social justice.” Movies and books on this topic are like cold water in the face, they serve the purpose of waking people up.

  • Sal

    I appreciate the round-up, but when I first read at Big Hollywood the part about a wet-behind-the-ears seminarian being ‘apprenticed’ to an exorcist,
    I figured the whole thing would be equally inaccurate. Hunk in a cassock, indeed…
    As always, wonderful comments.

  • Manny

    Ok, Ann, I will look for the book. But you called exorcism a “sacramental rite.” It’s not one of the sacraments, or does that refer to something I’m not aware of? I’m confused by the term you used.

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  • Pam

    I read the book last year. And I saw the movie yesterday. I enjoyed both and I hate horror films. This was scarier than I expected because it dramatized the more dramatic episodes from the book, and added things of course. Nevertheless, it was not hokey or a slam at the Catholic Faith. And it brought out the fact that the demon lies and tries to emotionally devastate the exorcist and anyone else involved with true past sin for which people are deeply ashamed. I think it will make people think.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    My wife and I went to see “The Rite” last night and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would be walking out and call me crazy but I guess because of what I’ve been through since the early mid sixties and back then, I quietly and as secretly as possible tried searching for God in my own way. In other words, I tried not to draw too much attention as to what I was doing but I finally stumbled in 1970 and had to spend a month in hospital and to make a long story short, off and on I was very good and every time I was bad, the forces locked me UP for protection I guess but I can safely say that most in todays society of reality would say that what I did was not that bad and I am just being too hard on myself.

    Anyway as time when by, “IT” cost me three more so called nervous brake downs and as far as I was concerned then and even now, evil exist in many form and I’ve learned that “IT” can be so easy and yet so hard to discover and as I’ve said before in writing, I’m glad of the experience I’ve accumulated but I agree that no one should be as foolish as I was, in other words, they should simply stick to praying and help where they can. Nowadays if most simply try and take care of only themselve, well I think, they’re ahead of the game and everything else should fall into place. I think that Shakespear who ever he was would agree with me that life is really a stage. He might even go as far as to say today that for some “IT” is a “Spiritual Stage” and yes as scary as “IT” might sound, Satan and his angels are for real and very smart indeed compared to U>S humans. Since Jesus defeated him over 2000 years ago he’s being very careful and the ones who follow Christ with a sincere heart and keep their nose clean, they will probably only have to deal with small daily evil and “IT” is kind of going through a sort of diet but in this case, we’ll call “IT” a “Spiritual Diet” so don’t worry be happy but for what “IT” is worth, know that “The Evil Trinity” does exit although they don’t want you to know that and as far as they are concern “The RiTe is nothing but B.S. and “IT” does not stand for Blessed Savior for them.

    Although I could go on and on, on fire, I’ll try closing and say that no body should try out the stuff which took place in The Rites movie unless they truly have “The Faith” of God and are prepared to lose their soul and maybe even their flesh if need be, in other words, if you try “IT” being a little crazy might help. :)

    Again I would simply recoment that we ordinary humans should stick to “Praying for each other” and leave that type of work for “God’s Angels” and between you and me, they are working very hard every day for U>S and probably won’t stop while we’re praying until “The Judgement Day” comes and just because we can’t see these Angels, “IT” doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. As far as skeptics are concern, I did write about some of my experiences and gave “IT” to our Good Bishop and a little to one of our past Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau and God Bless his soul.

    Before I close, did I tell you that I enjoyed that movie and would recomment “IT” to those who want to increase their faith especially if they have doubts about evil existing. I must also say that The Good Cop is not as Bad as The Bad Cop in other worlds Saint Anthony was holding back somewhat in this movie but maybe “IT” will help this generation to see the light before “IT” is too late if you know what I mean folk?

    I hear ya! “IT” would certainly make a good Halloween movie.

    You think? Go Figure!

    God Bless Peace

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  • Chairman

    What concerns me, now that we are talking about exorcisms, is why the Vatican installed a second exorcist in the USA last year. For a very long time, we have only had one exorcist, now we have two….why?

  • Iris Celeste

    Victor, dear, be at peace. I requested some Masses to be said for the intentions of the Guardian Angel of the USA and The Immaculate Conception patroness of the USA, but at the time I did not request a specific date. I didn’t even know the movie was coming out this soon. I received a note that the 1st Mass was to be said on the 28th of January and then I learned that was the day the movie would be released. Therefore, I don’t think it is a coincidence. God is going to use this movie to turn hearts.

    I’ll say a prayer for you and send you my spirit for comfort.

    Iris Celeste

    P.S. I have also been concerned about our Buddhist friend of late. Have not seen any comments by him in awhile. He is also in my prayers.

  • Jbagnell

    I just saw it. On balance very good and i love the last scene showing confession starting. Only criticism is the young priest is too callow and smug but i guess he had to be. Also should have used more of the crushingly powerful language from the rite of exorcism.

  • Tom

    Your right Jeff,

    The prayers from the rite are beautiful. The prayers that they chose to right into the movie wern’t bad, but the actual prayers from the Rite of Exorcism would have been an enlightenment for all watching. It would have given a little proof that “mother church” is thoughtful and cares greatly, deeply about its people. However, the scene where the young deacon goes back to pray over the girl in the street was quit moving. Tom

  • Tom

    Cheers, TheresaT

  • Eposophos

    Its not a (Sacrament) Manny. However, Augustine thought that “air” was and lots of other stuff too. But, I think your right for questioning this one. Should be only 7.

  • Tom

    One of the biggest struggles college kids have always had is having real purpose. What is it, one of the rules of statistical anlysis is that one will spend 4/5 of their time gathering the data for the study and then working the study. Its hard being young and not knowing why you are in school, or why your just working, or really why you’ve joined the military, or maybe why am I sitting in this seminary? Moving forward in life has to come with clear thinking, which implies that we need good mentors, advisors, wise council to help us through. This movie was a fabulous example I think of this point.

  • Jeff

    I agree, and yes the accident scene was exceptionally well done.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways and thanks for the comment.

    P.S. My wife tells me that my doctor told her today that I’ve got to stop worrying about the world and take care of myself so your spirit for comfort sounds good right now. :)

    God Bless

  • Kathleen

    Well I haven’t seen the movie but with all this fuss I plan to. At least in reviews they are calling Catholics Christians. Which can be a real novelty when you live in the bible belt.

  • Jeff

    Funny. Well as Cardinal Newman once said, to know history is to cease to be protestant…