Friday, October 30, 2015

Watching The Exorcist again for the first time

The other day I sat down to watch some DVDs, old horror movies, to write up in this column before Halloween. The missus is gone in her role as professional petsitter and house-watcher for vacationers. I am alone at night this week with only the creaking and settling of my 45-year-old house to keep me company, unless I turn on the television to drown out the other ambient noises of my environment.

The Exorcist was first on my list. How many years had it been since I had seen it? I thought back, and as I watched the movie I came to a startling conclusion. I had never seen this movie before! I “remembered” some parts, but others were a total surprise.

What had confused me after four decades are false memories of actually seeing it. Having heard so much and read so much about the movie (plus reading the novel) had tricked my brain into thinking that at some point I had watched it.

When The Exorcist came out in late 1973 it was a huge hit, much like Star Wars would become a few years hence. In Salt Lake City the movie showed at one theater, the Regency, for a long time. Everyone who wanted to see it had their chance. My memory is not tricking me in remembering people who were scared before they went into the theater. A guy I worked with told me he was so terrified before the movie started that he was hyperventilating. I also got the blow-by-blow descriptions of what went on in the movie from people who wanted to share the experience. I usually stop people before they launch into lengthy descriptions of movies. First, it is boring, and second, I don’t want any spoilers. But The Exorcist was different, and it was because I had read the William Peter Blatty novel and knew the ending. When people wanted to describe it to me I did not stop them. Because the demonic dialogue was much more profane than other movies of that era the guys I worked with loved to repeat it. I knew all of the dialogue, including the famous “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!” line.

The ouija board showed up in the movie. Some people, including my mother, felt the ouija board to be demonic. Somehow we had a ouija board in our house in the early sixties, and played it like a parlor game. One day Mom threw it into the incinerator and burned it. Someone had told her by using it we were “letting Satan in.”

So, besides me being possessed by untrue memories, how true is the story of the exorcism that inspired the book and movie? A lot of myths have grown up, and there are various versions of the story. I personally like the version from Strange Magazine, “The Strange Hard Facts Behind the Story That Inspired The Exorcist, which demonstrates the author, Dean Opsasnick, did his homework.

The 1949 event involved a young boy in Maryland, who had been given exorcisms by more than one faith (Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic), and that later it was revealed it took “20 to 30 rituals of exorcism” before the devil was cast out of the boy. In the movie it took a lot less to get the demon out of Regan.

But beyond the artistic license, director William Friedkin, who apparently believes in possession, in the January 2014 issue Fangoria magazine said he thought the evil was directed at Father Karras. Friedkin explained: “When we meet [Father Karras] [he] is on the verge of retiring from the priesthood. He believes he has let his mother down. He tells the older priest, who is his mentor, that he feels he's losing his faith. It gives the demon an opening to show him that human beings are nothing but animals and worthless, and that his faith is in itself worthless.” In my opinion of course the chain of events that led to the girl’s possession and doom to the priest came about because Father Merrin unearthed the devil in Iraq.

Considering the troubles we have had in Iraq over the years, I wonder if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their gang of neocons weren’t possessed by demons in getting us involved. (I’m only half-joking.)

Another thing I noticed when the movie was first run in theaters was how many people were claiming they were going back to church. Other reports told of people who thought they were possessed by demons. To me those stories meant that people were giving credence to the supernatural rather than admit they might have a mental illness.

Something else were articles exploiting the actress who played Regan, young Linda Blair. The articles worried about how she would survive such a role, as if she was really possessed. I am sure to Ms Blair it was an acting job, not a lifestyle. It got her roles in movies, and then at age 18 she was busted buying cocaine and it cost her. She still acts, but has gone on to an animal rescue organization she founded.

Everyone has seen the pictures of young Linda Blair as the demon-possessed Regan. This is a lot nicer.

 ...And when she grew up! Very nice!

The Exorcist is still a good movie. I don’t believe in demonic possession, but I understand why people related to it.  In 1973-74, when it was playing theaters we Baby Boomers were still young and still looking for our way. The movie affected a lot of people, for better or worse.

And before I forget, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Kirk said...

"He tells the older priest, who is his mentor, that he feels he's losing his faith. It gives the demon an opening to show him that human beings are nothing but animals and worthless, and that his faith is in itself worthless.”

I personally equate God with the "supernatural", i.e. you can't have one without the other. A supernatural minus God would inevitably become detectable in a controlled setting, such as a laboratory. However, if the supernatural is controlled by a supreme being, a supreme intelligence, it could consciously withhold evidence of its existence anytime it wants. This is what makes me more of an agnostic than an atheist. It also makes me hostile to any religion that claims God is out to punish atheists (or agnostics, for that matter.) A supreme being could bring an end to atheism simply by showing up.

I tell you all this because if a demon really wants to rob Father Karras of his faith, as Friedkin suggests, then all it has to do is STAY AWAY. I mean, if a little girl's head started revolving on its axis right in front of me, it would be kind of hard for me to remain an atheist or an agnostic. OK, you might say that would only prove the existence of the "Devil", as opposed to "God", but if there's only the Devil that would, for all practical purposes, make it a Supreme Being, hence God (Anton LaVey came to the the same conclusion in the The Satanic Bible, often using the terms "Satan" and "God" interchangeably) OK, that's just me. On its' own terms, The Exorcist has Karras becoming MORE, not less, religious, thanks to his encounter with the demon, so I'm not sure Friedken even knew exactly what it was he was directing, though he did do a good job of it anyway. It's a helluva movie.

Interestingly, in the movie, and unlike real life, the existence of the supernatural is indeed proven under laboratory conditions. After all, it's MEDICAL DOCTORS who end up suggesting that young Regan be exorcised. And without even first having seen her levitate a bed!

DEMiller said...

I saw the movie in Orinda with a friend. Orinda is an exclusive sort of town populated by the rich. During the showing of the film, some rich kids, who apparently had been drinking, started tossing empty beer bottles into the crowd. It got so bad that they had to stop the film and give us all tickets to another showing. We did go back and see the film, but to be honest, I didn't enjoy it that much. I don't even remember much about it. I am a bit biased because I am not a fan of horror type films, especially if they are based on religion.
Years later Linda Blair came into the restaurant I worked in San Francisco. A co-worker was thrilled and went to her and told he that she respected her a lot for all that she had done. Linda was really grateful and thanked her. I don't know what Linda did that caused my co-worker to say that to her, but it was interesting to see.

Postino said...

Dave, he was probably telling her he respected her for showing her boobs in Playboy. At least that's how MY mind works!

Postino said...

Kirk, I think accepting God means a person would necessarily believe in those things that God would bring, including miracles. Since I find those things impossible I don't really have a reason to believe in God or the supernatural. If they are true then I personally haven't seen anything I would identify with them.

But the human mind is more complex, and I can't speak for people who see God and the supernatural in everything. The mysteries of the human mind and why we believe or don't believe are actually more interesting to me than whether there is a God or not.

I like very much what you said, "A supreme being could bring an end to atheism simply by showing up." In this age he would have to do something spectacular to prove his own existence. We are all pretty jaded nowadays.