Spiritually devastating for many folks when it came out, this horror pic of the glorious seventies can by our day be recognized for what it is, namely an undeniably religious flick. I am not alone in thinking so; my favorable opinion of this film is shared by none other than Roman Catholic exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth, founder of the Associazione internazionale degli esorcisti. (About Fr. Amorth you can find out something on this page.)
The film has more than one sublime side to it. They include:
- The entire opening sequence in “northern Iraq,” comparable to the opening sequence of 2001 in the feeling of desolation it evokes.
- The depiction of this particular mother-daughter relationship, in its peculiar setting (Georgetown in the 70s) and circumstances (absent father, doting but preoccupied glamorous actress-mother, daughter’s encroaching, increasingly baffling, dangerous, and apparently incurable “condition”).
- Depiction of the hard life and times of the psychiatrist-priest hero, Fr. Karras, who turns out to be a sacerdos for all seasons (former boxer, modern scientific training, forced to deal with an impossible horror from another era…withal, obedient servant of Church and Society throughout…)
- The faithful presentation of the Roman ritual of exorcism (in the English translation of 1964, 1 but still), the priests’ and the film-maker’s adhering to which is all the more remarkable, given the distractions that occur during this particular exorcism.
The horrors that Friedkin/Blatty have dreamed up for us in the latter part of the film serve chiefly, for me, to underline how the two exorcists soldier on at their task. (This comment I do not mean to apply to Fr. Karras’s final act of self-sacrifice, which is preposterous and definitely not in keeping with the ritual.) Wisely, Friedkin did without a musical score, which could only have detracted from the impact of the images (and the sounds).
- As I know thanks to my erudite friend LMF