The Exorcist

The Exorcist ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I saw this movie for the first time at the perfect age of 12, which is the same age as Regan in the film. Also, I went to Catholic school growing up so this movie fucked me up. I was convinced what happened to Regan would happen to me. I had nightmares for YEARS. This film has stayed with me over the years and I only have grown to love it more with time. This movie will always scare me and still does to this day.

When I was rewatching it this time around, I turned off all the lights to get the full effect of the film. At one point my cat scared the shit out of me because she snuck up quietly and was sitting and staring at me. I did not see her yet, but I looked slightly to my left and I see a silhouette of her devil looking ears with the TV glow behind her. Not gonna lie she made me jump up from the couch! Anyways to my review…

The opening sequence sets the tone perfectly. I love that Father Merrin is a worldly priest going on adventures like Indiana Jones or something until he stumbles upon something he maybe wishes he hadn’t. One of my favorite scenes in the Iraq is when they are examining their findings and the clock suddenly stops working behind Father Merrin. It is so eerie and unsettling. Clocks have great symbolism for change and death. There is not a lot of dialogue during this sequence but a very important line is said “Evil against Evil.” I will come back to that. I love the frame of Merrin and the Pazuzu statue having a standoff. Also, Max von Sydow’s makeup is INCREDIBLE!

Cut to Chris MacNeil played by Ellen Burstyn hearing some strange noises coming from the attic. She presumes that it is rats… holy crap the sound design in this film is outstanding. The way they mixed different sounds together to achieve some truly terrifying sounds. It works so well! 

Father Karras played by Jason Miller is a very interesting character with his own personal demons he is dealing with. He is a priest, but also is a counselor. He drinks and doesn’t feel like he fits in as a priest. He loses his mother which she was found dead and alone after a few days. The guilt is immense for him and grieving the loss of his mother takes over. There is a lot of unknowns about the relationship between Karras and his mother, but her death is weighing heavy on him. The dream sequence with his mother is so realistic and haunting. I have had similar ones with my dad who I have lost as well. 

I think Chris’ job as a famous actress is important to the story. It explains how Chris is able to afford all the medical testing for Regan in the film. More importantly, it shows that primitive evil can’t be avoided from the wealthy. Evil can show up anywhere including within your innocent daughter. I think a pivotal scene for Chris’ character is when Kinderman comes to question about Dennings‘ death. Dennings was found dead by the stairs outside of Regan’s bedroom window. It is presumed he fell from a drunken accident, but was found with his head completely turned around. Only Regan and Dennings were in the room before he died. The question that is often asked is how could Regan have killed him? The question that should be asked is WHY THE HELL WAS DENNINGS IN A 12 YEAR OLD GIRL’S BEDROOM?! I got a theory. 

Chris is acting like everything is normal during the conversation with Kinderman, but upstairs her daughter is changing rapidly before her eyes with no logical explanation. Chris is connecting that it is possible that Regan killed Dennings. She isn’t sure how, but in her heart she knows it to be true. Chris is exhausted from the countless doctor appointments and this conversation, but puts on her acting skills for Kinderman. Kinderman ends the conversation by asking for her autograph which makes it even more tense and awkward for Chris. She just wants to this guy to leave, but needs to keep acting like everything is normal with her. 

Cut to the very next scene which is the most disturbing scene in the film. The room has all types objects flying in the air. Regan masturbates with the crucifix and molests her own mother. Regan says the most obscene and despicable things to her mother. For example taking on the voice of Dennings through Regan’s body and says “Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?” That can be interpreted so many ways. She then moves the dresser with the power of her mind to try to kill her mother. This is the scene that Chris is now officially scared of her own daughter and is desperate for help. 

Since all the doctors can’t find an explanation for Regan’s behavior, Chris turns to a religious/spiritual solution, an exorcism. It is mentioned throughout that Chris and Regan are are not religious. In a desperate attempt for help she turns to Father Karras by asking to perform an exorcism. Karras is cynical at first about Regan being possessed by a demon. At first she doesn’t meet the criteria from the Catholic church to perform the exorcism. I think this messes with his faith of what is deemed a demonic possession in the eyes of the Catholic church versus what he is seeing in front of his eyes. Once you see it you believe it. One of the scariest scenes is the HELP ME message written in her stomach. 

Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil is such a sweet, innocent, and adorable girl that completely transforms to your worst nightmare at the climax of the film. The scene of Father Merrin arriving to the house is truly iconic. A perfect shot as the shadowy figure in the front of the house about to face some true horrors inside the MacNeil’s home. Merrin and Karras team up to perform the exorcism on Regan. The demon has completely corrupted Regan’s body and mind. In this climatic ending we lose Father Merrin and eventually we lose Father Karras by him sacrificing himself. I think it is really effective that Chris hesitates to console her daughter after she is freed of the demon.

At the end of the film it is mentioned that Regan doesn’t remember anything. I think a moment that suggests otherwise is when she kisses Father Dyer on the cheek. At least I interpret it that she subconsciously remembers from that. 

I think this film is so effective because it tells and shows us just enough to be scared and left to our own interpretations for the rest. With that said, I have a theory about this whole movie. I think a big question is why does this happen to Regan? A scene that is only in the extended version gives a little answer to that which I will further elaborate on. The extended scene is with Father Merrin and Father Karras. They are discussing this very question, why this girl? Merrin’s response, “I think the point is to make us despair.” I don’t need this scene in the film, but I do appreciate the context it provides. 

My theory is Regan’s possession is the manifestation of sexual abuse. Regan’s father is absent throughout the whole film. We never get that why, but I am going to explain what I think. His name is Howard. Regan mentions an imaginary friend named Captain Howdy during the Ouija board scene. Howard? Howdy? There has to be a connection there like an old nickname or something just between them.

We never actually hear the name Pazuzu in this film. The name isn’t said until the sequels. Remember at the beginning of the film “Evil against Evil.” A theory I have is that Regan’s abusers was her own father and Dennings. Regan’s father is clearly an asshole he didn’t call to wish her a happy birthday and not present in her life. Dennings is a wealthy off putting alcoholic director (Did someone say Roman Polanski anyone?!). I think somehow Pazuzu made a deal with Regan that he would kill her abusers if he could use her body as a vessel. Or maybe it was more unspoken. Or possibly an innocent young person is the vessel that Pazuzu can grow most strong in. Or maybe a little bit of all the above. Pazuzu is a evil spirit who drives out other evil spirits. Possibly this was a way to rid her memories of being sexually abused and get rid of her abusers? 

The scene where Regan urinates on the floor in front of Chris’ party guests is one of the early signs that something is not quite right with Regan. Uncontrollable bladder control can be a sign of sexual abuse. Overly sexual verbiage and behavior can also be a sign of sexual abuse. Several examples of this, “Your mother sucks cocks in hell,” grabbing the doctor’s junk, abusing her mother, etc. I think Pazuzu uses your worst inner demons against you and to others. Regan’s deepest pain is her history of sexual abuse so that is how the evil is portrayed.

I think at the end of the day I do think the movie is about an innocent girl who gets possessed by an evil spirit. I think the scariest part is it is beyond rational understanding and there really is not a reason why. It is to make us DESPAIR. It is human nature to try to make sense of situations so that is why I came up with this theory. Evil is evil. It lives within people and sometimes there is no reason why bad things happen to good people.

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