The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The secret behind fear
(Le secret derrière la peur by Pascal Kane - Cahiers du Cinema 253, October-November 1974)

There would be little to say about this mediocre product if its success, considerable in the United States and fledgling in France, did not make it a privileged symptom [of current cinema]. Faced with the spectre of the 1930s and the Great Depression, which is more topical than ever, the bourgeoisie has, as you might expect, its answers on every front. Economic: it is the scandalous (!) non-solidarity of the countries supplying raw materials (the Third World) that threatens Western capitalism. Political: the weakness of central governments, caught in the trap of democracy and their "too much liberalism" (but, what can you say, that's the way of the times). Here, on the ideological front, is a new way of looking at things. A possessed teenager, the impotence of medical science (of the authorities) and a miraculous salvation found in a return to more authentic values (religion) make for a metaphor that will not be too difficult to decipher. All the more so as the little girl borrows, during her "illness", the very language and attitudes of the "pornographic" exhibitions, the wave of which, as we know, is shaking America.

The fact that the old puritanical repression (stronger there than here) can therefore make a comeback on this occasion and assert its worthiness - accompanied by the traditional mistrust of psychoanalysis, the instigator of all this disorder - will make the spectator, who is more than ever lost in a world that has lost all its sense of values, endorse the film's point of view and approach. Namely, that our misfortune comes from elsewhere, but from a specific somewhere (from far away, in Iraq, where the evil medallion was unearthed), that we are playing with fire by handling irresponsible images (doesn't the mother, an actress, play in a film that complacently represents a student riot at the University? ), that the culprits, among others, are certain artists (the director of the said film, an image of the queer and irresponsible left-wing intellectual - having nothing to envy in ignominy to the poujadism of our country - and who, rightfully so, will be killed by the teenager whose monstrous image he had contributed to shape), that therefore the enemy is the "other": the young person (vulnerable to possession: pornography or, why not, Marxism), the madman, the colonized (and here in a more subtle way: the devil borrows the language and appearance of the exorcist's mother, an old Greek woman who died in an asylum, to make him renounce his "Task"), and that finally the remedies to evil exist: they are right there in front of us, and are always the same; still, one must deign to call upon them (here religion, an archetype of true value scorned - even the priest doubts for a moment - but still there!).
All that's missing is a few warlike themes (a mysticism of the superman, for example, or perhaps rather of the distant sub-man) to transform all this petty-bourgeois paranoia into a new fascism.

The Exorcist is, let's be sure, the prototype of a new cinema, a "cinema of crisis", in which the disorientation of the spectators, of the protagonists will be the main theme. Just as it is already the theme of a film such as The Middle of the World: but there, the heroine, effectively lost, asserts her disarray, turns it into an asset in the face of her partner's weak certainties and puny comfort.
The strength of The Exorcist is in its surface level: to frighten beyond all explanations. To achieve this all the stages of the process must be laid bare at once. At the end of the film, the two exorcists are killed by the devil. The spectator is therefore all alone: it is now up to him to know how to draw, for himself, the consequences of his fear.

Pascal KANE