Thursday Night Movie Club
The Exorcist
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Release Date: December 26, 1973
(Re-release review)
Director: William Friedkin
ACTORS:
Ellen Burstyn
Max von Sydow
Lee J. Cobb
Kitty Winn
Jack MacGowran
Jason Miller
Linda Blair
Reverend William O'Malley
Barton Heyman
Peter Masterson
CHARACTERS:
Chris MacNeil
Father Lankester Merrin
Lieutenant William Kinderman
Sharon Spencer
Burke Dennings
Father Damien Karras
Regan MacNeil
Father Dyer
Dr. Klein
Barringer (the Clinic Director)
Exorcist poster
The Exorcist is still a horrifying, terrifying movie. I never saw this film on its original release. I was a teenager and a bit more naive, and I really had no interest to be scared silly. Of course, I heard all of the best lines so I was expecting certain things to happen. Even so, it was still a horrifying experience.

First, let me dispense with my rating of 3 & 1/2 stars. This is for three specific segments/elements of the movie that were not explained. The first was the opening sequence in Iraq where diggers are mauling a hillside with sledgehammers and picks. I was reminded of the opening of "Spartacus" and thought these poor souls were slaves. This scene and its significance are not explained in the movie. I have a feeling this was important in William Peter Blatty's novel so it was kept in them movie (since he wrote and produced the movie). The second is the reason why Regan, the young girl (Linda Blair), is possessed in the first place. Of all the people on the planet, why this particular girl. I will explain # 3 later.

The Exorcist starts mysteriously at a dig site in Iraq, where aging priest Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) discovers some ancient relics. Moving on to Georgetown, Chris MacNeil is an acclaimed actress working on her newest movie which takes her and her daughter, Regan away from home. It is difficult for both of them, but they honestly love each other. They are a happy family in spite of the fact that the father and estranged husband is not around. During a routine physical examination (another aspect of the movie that I didn't understand was why MacNeil took her daughter in for this examination. There was no prior reason/suggestion that Regan had a problem), the doctor is alarmed at Regan's foul language and violent behavior, none of which has been seen from Chris.

As Regan's behavior gradually changes, more and more doctors and specialists are called upon to diagnose the girl's strange affliction. All of the doctors seek the rational explanation even though the audience is "clued" in to the actual cause of Regan's problem. The doctors are portrayed as uncaring/unknowing buffoons who cling to their empirical form of data-gathering to explain the obvious.

As Chris struggles against the doctors suggestion of institutionalizing Regan, they suggest, rather facetiously, that Chris could attempt an exorcism. The doctors belief is that the patient who "thinks" he is possessed, can be cured by an "exorcism". The doctors believe that Regan's problems are mental/psychological although none of the doctors attempt to explain Regan's bright, yellow eyes in a rational manner.

With the doctor's suggestion, Chris meets with Father Karras (excellently played by Jason Miller), who is under-going his own crisis of faith. Karras is the Church's official investigator, a man stuck in-between faith and science to try to prove that certain events are miracles or fakes. After years of investigations, the strain is clearly evident as Father Karras has more and more difficulty serving Mass. His struggle of faith is the true story here.

As Father Karras investigates Regan's affliction, Lt. Kinderman (shrewd use of name) is investigating a bizarre death of the movie director that Chris works for. In an interesting scene of foreshadowing, Chris drives home from work to discover police and ambulance crews just outside her two-flat. She dismisses the events as does the movie audience (unless you're like me and I was wondering why this was so obviously depicted). Lee J. Cobb is always excellent in these types of roles (He may be the original member of the Thursday Night Club movie heroes). Kinderman's purpose here is very clear. He is the opposite end of the spectrum from the doctors in trying to put a rational explanation on irrational events.

Father Karras is slowly convinced of Regan's possession. As he collects more data, Regan descends further into a hell that is unimaginable by her innocence and our naivety. Shocking doesn't begin to describe Regan's metamorphosis. Pity for her doesn't even come close. At best, I hoped that Regan had no knowledge of what was happening to her. I can't comprehend the opposite happening, Regan fully aware of what she is doing but unable to stop it. This is what scared me the most about this movie. And my question is not answered directly.

Father Karras presents his case to the highest religious authority in Georgetown. The decision is made to ask for the assistance of Father Merrin, who has returned from his diggings to concentrate on his next book. Merrin has presided over another exorcism that nearly killed him. He is distraught that he has been asked to perform another exorcism, but he answers the call of duty. Father Karras assists, since he is closest to the situation, but he is clearly troubled by his obligations/faith.

The final exorcism is a struggle between faith and reality. What is real and what is not. As Regan's possession peaks, Fathers Merrin and Karras struggle against the evil within and their own faith. As they continue to scream, "I cast you out!", without any results, the answers are as obvious as the unanswered questions are troubling. Father Merring calmly states that they will take a break and start over. How many of us have that kind of conviction?

My final "bug" about the movie is the very ending. In a last ditch effort to save the "soul" or life of young Regan, Father Karras pleads with the devil to take him in place of Regan. The devil promptly agrees and Karras jumps through the window, killing himself before the devil can possess him. Of course, suicide is "frowned" upon by the church, but that point is not brought up here for the sake of closure. My final problem with the movie is why would the devil switch places with Father Karras when the devil, seemingly, has the ideal host?

Well, I have picked apart what I perceive as the plot holes in "The Exorcist". However, this is easily the most comprehensive review that I have written to date. The movie terrified me for all of the unanswered questions this movie presents, not only from its original release and now. What would happen to someone today that actually was possessed by the devil? That thought scares the hell out of me!