What if an alien in the future stumbled upon William Friedkin’s The Exorcist? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
This week’s film:
The Exorcist (1973)
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn
Director: William Friedkin
Production Co: Hoya Productions
Written by: Ben Steiner
Directed by: Jared Bauer
Analysis by: Kevin Winzer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Produced by: Jacob S. Salamon and Emily Dunbar
The Exorcist’s Hidden Meaning – Earthling Cinema
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is The Exorcist, starring the lady who was in like ten minutes of Requiem for a Dream and the guy who was in like ten seconds of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Wakes Up.
The film follows female human Chris, who has a male name, and her female daughter Regan, who has a Republican name. Chris is an actress, even though that has basically nothing to do with the plot of the movie. Her daughter Regan plays a game of Spooky Monopoly, which I guess is the inciting incident, but the film isn’t exactly clear on that. She starts acting like a millennial — being irritable, saying swear words, and pissing all over everything she sees.
Chris shuttles in thousands of doctors to test Regan — which she can afford to do because she’s a famous actress. But the doctors can’t find anything physically wrong with her, other than her inability to transverse beyond the third dimension, an affliction that was common in the Milky Way Galaxy before we developed a vaccine.
One night Regan takes it too far when she does the whole “don’t tell mom the babysitter’s dead” routine, so Chris decides it’s time to give up on modern medicine and start having a little fun with it. She goes on a romantic stroll with Father Karras, a cross-dressing mystic, to see if he can do that thing from the title. He isn’t sure if Regan is really possessed by a demon, so he asks her and she says. After that, all he has to do is procrastinate for a little while longer and then — like a CrunchWrap Supreme — he’s good to go.
Unfortunately, the bureaucrats at corporate determine Karras is too much of a sexy hothead to perform the ceremony by himself, so they fly in a ringer named Merrin and bump Karras down to first alternate. The two priests start vigorously exorcising Regan, who luckily has been content to just sit in her bedroom the whole time instead of making any attempt to leave or cause havoc or do anything at all.
Demon Regan responds by giving Karras a gentle razzing, which causes him to get the vapors, so Merrin kicks him out so he can go it alone, maverick-style. But the real maverick thing to do is die immediately, which brings Karras back to Times Square one. All out of ideas, he asks the demon to possess him instead, and the demon is so damn agreeable it just does it with no hesitation. Then Karras jumps out the window to his death, presumably destroying the demon? Seems like it could just float away and find someone else. I don’t really know how demons work.
The Exorcist is a contemplation on religion’s place in the 20th century of Earth’s existence. The film was released during a time when religious obedience was on the decline, and the 1970s sexual revolution was on an incline, since that provides more torque. In the opening of the film, we meet Father Merrin uncovering doodads on an ancient burial site, signifying that spiritual beliefs have been buried in favor of modern fidget spinners. Chris and Regan are products of their time — ignoring religion even though it circles around them like an annoyingly persistent hula hoop. Chris casually takes the lord’s son’s name in vain, and besides football, obviously, the only significance of Sunday is that she doesn’t have to work. Thus, when Regan’s problems start to manifest, everybody looks to secular explanations, such as her absentee father, and scientific causes like CTE.
The film explores the area between science and religion, also known as homeroom. Father Karras, whose religious training was overlaid by years of med school in Boston — well, near Boston — initially considers the idea of exorcism to be antiquated. His experience with his mother’s dementia predisposes him towards psychiatric explanations for Regan’s tomfoolery. Furthermore, the demon pretends to be hurt by tap water, which reinforces Karras’s doubts about the demonic properties of fluoride.
In contrast to Karras, the devout Father Merrin acts with the conviction of a racist grandpa set in his ways. When Karras starts to explain Regan’s “case,” Merrin stops him because of his extensive experience with Highlanders. Karras ultimately accepts the true nature of Regan’s possession, the message being that religion maintains its relevance in the modern world, since both religion and the modern world are equally absurd.
Through Karras’s journey, the film explores the reason for evil’s existence, an area of study called theodicy. The film specifically espouses the Irenaean model, not to be confused with the Iranian model. Saint Irenaeus believed that to achieve moral perfection, a human must suffer evil and possess the free will to choose goodness instead even though it’s boring. Under this explanation, Regan’s possession doesn’t indicate the absence of God, but rather serves as a test of faith to those around her, especially that babysitter she killed. Father Karras is alienated from God because of his mother’s condition and his burdens as a psychiatrist, and the demon attacks these pressure points like a Swedish masseuse. In the end, Karras confronts this evil head on by performing a Christlike sacrifice, thus demonstrating his reunification with God. Similarly, when Regan kisses a priest after she is cured, the film suggests that the ordeal may bring her to faith as well. It also suggests she’s in for a lifetime of barking up the wrong dick.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. The power of space compels you!