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↩
Dr. Lee Fratantuono says
Retrospectively, I find it quite moving that near the end of the film, there is a lovely scene where the now liberated Regan sees Father Dyer’s Roman collar and spontaneously hugs him as if in gratitude for her freedom. That scene would never be filmed today.
I would also add to the post’s lists the wonderful depiction of the relationship between Father Karras and Lieutenant Kinderman. That relationship is passed on at the end of the film to Father Dyer, and continued in the under appreciated 1990 “Exorcist III: Legion.”
Mad Beppo says
I concur completely with Dr. Fratantuono’s remarks.
May one hope that someday someone will review the under-appreciated “Exorcist III,” as well as the delightfully ridiculous “Exorcist II” (that showpiece for the acting talents of Richard Burton)?
Jack D. Heaton, Jr. says
I have very much enjoyed this timely review and the learned comment. I look forward to more! I’d also like to compliment the creator of this site; it’s pleasing to the eye and ear and easy to use. LONG LIVE BEPPO!
Mad Beppo says
Your words are music to our earzes!
Mary Michelini says
I have not had the courage to see the Exorcist. The comments here intrigue me. Perhaps it would be worth the trip to meet these characters?
Mad Beppo says
You could at least watch the film up to the when the manifestations really get going, which is at least half way through the picture. After that point, some of the stuff is really shocking, even nowadays. (Still, the priestly fortitude and ritual correctness of Fathers Merrin and Karras bucks one up [Father Merrin’s being quite calm, while Fr Karras’s has to huff and puff and steel itself] bucks one up a bit.)