By Guest Contributor David Patten
Written November 3, 2019
I was eating dinner with an old college friend earlier tonight (that would be the Catholic Bard Catechist) and he told me that he finally seen the film The Exorcist on Friday night. Now, my friend Mark is a devout Catholic and I have been telling him for many years that he should consider giving the film a viewing. I understand completely that the graphic content the film could prove to be highly offensive to a lot of people. I mean there are just some people who will not even today some 46 years later sit down and view that particular film.
For the purpose of this post I’m going to assume that most of us if not all of us whether we love the film or hate the film know what the basic plot is. 12-year-old girl gets possessed by demons; her desperate mother turns to the Catholic Church after modern medicine fails completely.
Over the years I have viewed this film several times and I will say that it is one of the movies that sparked my interest writing and film production. The Exorcist is in part a study in contrasts. As you watch the film you see the battle between good and evil, as well as a brilliant balance between scenes shot in the dark versus scenes shot in the light. This cinematic dance of light and shadow acts as an unconscious (or maybe it was a conscious decision?) representation of the struggle that is about to ensue.
I also want to briefly address the use of sound in the film. First if you have seen the film you know that with the exception of the closing credits and one brief sequence where the Ellen character is driving in a car on the way home from the doctor’s office there’s very little music used in the film except for the closing credits. When music is used in the film and is very subtle and is used as a tool to ratchet up tension that is the backbone of the entire film. The execution of sound in The Exorcist was truly unique for its time. An example is the unsettling noises in the attic at the beginning of the film. The sound in this part of the film is top-notch even by today’s standards and at the time this film was released it was groundbreaking. It should be noted that actress Mercedes McCambridge steals the show as the demonic voice. Interestingly no one in the film won an Academy award for sound.
Lastly, and I think perhaps the most important part of is how it addresses the idea of the mystery of faith and just how far one human being will go to save another. I believe it was Arthur C Clarke who said that The Exorcist was in his opinion one of the greatest love stories of all time. (Yes, you read that sentence right!) In the movie you have two priests who engage in the exorcism of the young girl. One priest, Father Mehran, has an unwavering faith and knows exactly what he’s up against. The other priest Father Karras is guilt ridden over the death of his mother and his faith is completely crumbling. Nevertheless at the end of the spiritual battle the priest of little to no faith sacrifices himself to save the young girl. Thus showing love for another person.
This brings me to my three key questions that I have..
1) Could we make the argument of Arthur C Clarke that the exorcist is indeed a love story of a very unique kind?
2) Is the film still scary in 2019?
3) Is the film still as disturbing as the first time you saw it?
Here are my answers.
1) In my opinion the film is a story that addresses the mystery of faith. What role faith can play in the battle between good and evil. We have to remember that Father Karris never met the little girl Reagan. He only meet the demon that was processing her. Yet in the end he literally takes a leap of faith out the window to save not only her life but her very immortal soul. I think Clarke was spot on with his argument about a different kind of love story. The character Father Karris laid down his life for another human being who he really didn’t even know. Say what you will about the vulgarity of the film, I think that this part of the story does represent an active selflessness that is perhaps the best part of the whole film. This part of the story challenges you and really makes you think. I guess through all the vulgarity and gore and frights the most important part in the end was selflessness and doing whatever it took to rescue the innocent.
2) I will admit that the film in no way comes close to scaring me like it did when I was a kid. However it does still retain some of that creepy atmosphere.
3) The short answer is no is not as disturbing as when I first saw it.
I know this post is as another long one but if you get a chance feel free to comment. It’s 3 AM and I gotta get some sleep. Have a wonderful night! I feel the film has held up well over the years. Although as our society and perspectives change I think the movie is starting to be just a little dated. That is just something that I picked up on as I was watching it last night. I think it might be the influence of having viewed the tv show a couple of years ago. That having been said I think that what makes the film so brilliant is it really forces you to think about the nature of faith how supernatural forces could possibly influence our modern world. The Exorcist is one of my favorite movies of all-time.