100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 72: THE EXORCIST

by Brek the David


The Exorcist (1973) – Director: William Friedkin   Screenplay: William Peter Blatty  Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair   OSCAR COUNT (2) – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound

Demon: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Father Damien Karras: You would like that?
Demon: Intensely.
Father Damien Karras: But wouldn’t that drive you out of Regan?
Demon: It would bring us together.
Father Damien Karras: You and Regan?
Demon: You and us.

I think possibly what frightens me most are the implications in The Exorcist rather than the overt shocking scenes.  Sure Regan’s head spinning around and Regan spider walking downstairs is unsettling, but it’s more the fact that demons exist and there is no way to counter their power.  We’d like for the exorcism to work and the demon be driven away by the power of Christ and righteousness, but this is not the case.  The exorcism ultimately fails and one man’s sacrifice saves a little girl’s life.  This is one of those rare films where evil triumphs undeniably, and there is no good to combat its power.  There is nothing but death and destruction in the wake of the demon.

Now I don’t believe in the supernatural nor divine, but I do believe in our concepts of good and evil, righteous and wicked.  I have to suspend disbelief for the demon and exorcism, hell even the belief in God.  Interestingly enough, God has no power in The Exorcist, no matter the priests attempt to compel the demon.  So this film implies there is either no God, or His servants are impotent.  There are, however, dark, immensely powerful forces that will crush the souls of men with wanton aggression, and these vile powers do so with impunity.  The implication here in The Exorcist also is that this entity predates Christianity and operates apart from it.  Within the Christian mythos, demons exist, and the power of Christ is absolute over them.  The demon here in this film did not get that memo.

The most interesting implication for me is that Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, has tangled with this demon before.  In the beginning of the film we see him at an archeological site, coming face to face with a bizarre statue, an ancient abomination of long forgotten lore.  Later when Father Merrin arrives at the house, the demon screams out his name, possibly relishing in their ongoing and inevitable combat.  When face to face, it’s clear the demon enjoys tormenting and taunting Merrin.  It also preys on the fears and self perceived weaknesses of those around it, including goading Father Karras into making the ultimate sacrifice.

From the opening sequence with Merrin and the statue, there is a sense of dread and foreboding.  From that scene out in the desert of Iraq, The Exorcist begins a slow, but inexorable building of tension.  The Exorcist goes out of its way to establish normality, creating a seemingly normal day to day family life.  The seeds of impending doom are planted once Regan, played by Linda Blair, informs her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, that she’s been playing with a Oujia board talking to something named Captain Howdy.  Strange things begin to happen as the normality unravels until chaos reigns supreme and this innocent East Coast family is firmly in the clutches of something definitely diabolical and decidedly evil.  The dichotomy of the mundane and the profane is what makes The Exorcist such a powerful and disturbing film.

 

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One response to “100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 72: THE EXORCIST

  1. This is the scariest movie I have ever seen not named Jaws. And for a while it was scarier than Jaws because I really believed this type of stuff could really happen to me. I

    The most memorable scene for me is when Regan, or the demon, starts stabbing her on crotch with the crucifix. That scene is just etched into my nightmares.

    I never considered the possibility that the demon was so powerful because it pre-dates Christianity itself. I like that idea.

    Well done again, Brek

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