The Exorcist

The Exorcist ★★★★★

Halloween Horror Marathon (#18)

“I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To reject the possibility that God could love us.”


Father Lankester Merrin is a man experienced in exorcism. During his time spent at an archeological site in Iraq, he literally comes face to face with the statue of a demon, but this is not a chance meeting. Father Merrin is staring into the eyes of an evil he has met once before. Beyond them is a pair of dogs fighting to the death. He knows this is an omen. Merrin realizes and accepts in that moment that while he still lives and breathes, he will again face his nemesis for one final battle.

In Georgetown, Washington DC, Chris MacNeil, a famous actress prepares for the film she is starring in. She hears rattling scratching noises above her and like any sane human being believes it to be rats. She has no idea that pure evil has landed in her home, and like any sane human being, Chris has no idea what is to come for her and her innocent daughter, Regan.

Why has evil arrived at Chris's home? What does it want with Regan? Why is this even happening? There are no clear answers, and there is no time for them. This threat is real, and it's only escalating with every minute of every day. We have to address what's wrong with Regan, and yet no one has the ability to.

That is only part of the brilliance of The Exorcist; all these unanswered questions. It allows for a divide between logic and the supernatural. Chris is wealthy enough to invest everything she has into finding the best doctors to discover what's wrong with Regan and cure her, but it does not matter how qualified they are. It does not matter how much logic they turn to, there’s still too much fog for any clear answers.

I'm not a Christian, nor do I believe in God, but to this day I will never understand why most Christians and believers condemn this film. If anything, it is the ultimate story about the strength of believing in God, in losing and rediscovering faith for the sake of combating an overwhelming evil presence, believing in something whose love is a power beyond words and is a love you reciprocate unconditionally. Isn’t that what having faith is? To fully love God and to know in your heart that God loves you just as much, and that power is what makes you strong enough to overcome something that so easily can cause despair?

Those who criticize William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty for their intentions are completely ass-backwards in this regard. They seem to forget that this isn't just the story of a mother and her possessed daughter, but of a willful priest who has lost his faith. Father Damien Karras is in my opinion the best character in the film because his development is ultimate. Despite the horrors Regan goes through and the toll it takes on her mother, it is Karras who is the most tragic character of them all. He has every reason to lose his faith and prefer logic above all else. He is actually the most skeptical character in The Exorcist and retains his skepticism for most of the story. He has every reason to be cynical in his views, and it is because of his development through the story that I consider him one of the most heroic characters in fiction ever.

I've watched The Exorcist so many times that I've lost count. When people ask what my favorite horror film is, it tends to differ. On some days I say The Shining. On others I say The Thing, but I truly believe in my heart that The Exorcist is the one. It's not only one of the greatest horror films of all time, it's one of the greatest films ever made, period, and with every year that it ages, it only becomes more underrated in my eyes.

Everything about it is masterful: the direction, the cinematography, the atmosphere, the performances, the dialogue, EVERYTHING. It's absolutely timeless. The Exorcist to me is The Godfather equivalent of the horror genre. It never gets old. If anything, it only gets better in time.

Of course you can't talk about The Exorcist without discussing how disturbing it is. I can't even imagine what it would be like to live in the early 70's and see this for the first time, as it truly was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced before. I can't imagine how alarming it must have been to watch all the horrible things that happens to this innocent little girl, not to mention the relentless intensity of its final act. I'll never forget the footage I saw years ago of people fainting after seeing it. I'll never forget how traumatized my mother told me she was after seeing it at the age of 12, so traumatized that she forbade me to see it until I was a teenager, though she still vocalized immense disapproval.

When my mother came to visit me earlier this year, I actually discussed with her why I love The Exorcist so much. This understandably made her uncomfortable, until I explained everything that I have already said in this analysis. No matter how horrific the experience may be, on so many levels, especially outside of the scares and its disturbing nature, everything that makes it a great film as a whole stays with you forever. You can't condemn something like that.

The Exorcist still divides people to this day. Unfortunately like most golden age horror classics, its staggering reputation to horrify and scare audiences has caused most young adults and teens of this generation to be underwhelmed by the experience. All I can do is recommend everyone judge it not as a horror classic, but as a masterful film with amazing direction, a gripping story, strong characters and award-worthy performances. Look past all of its infamy and enjoy it for what it really is.

I don't mean to spoil the ending, but *spoiler alert * I have to say that after everything else, the moment that cements The Exorcist for me is in that final scene where out of nowhere, Regan runs up to Father Dyer and hugs and kisses him on the cheek before returning to her mother. I fucking love that scene. It puts tears in my eyes every time.


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