‘’As Christians, we reject Satan and all of his works, and all of his empty promises, but rejecting Satan is something very different from denying his existence. Reducing evil merely to the sins of man—or, worse yet, a sociological phenomenon—does not make us safer. Like Regan's Ouija board, it opens us up to the horrifying reality of evil from which only faith can save us.’’
Regan Macneil (Linda Blair) is a sweet and innocent twelve-year-old girl, completely violated by an obscenity spouting demon. For any beginning screenwriter, this film has something to say about structure. According to author Dave Butler, he says, to write fantasy or science fiction, one must start with a world that is broken or sick. He uses the word sick only once and refers mainly to it as sick, this author prefers the term sick because it fits in better contextually to the film.
They often refer to Regan as being sick in the film. Jesus himself according to the bible, said ‘’those who are well don’t need a doctor, only those who are sick.’’
One could argue that the film is every bit as much about Father Karas (Jason Miller) as it is about Regan. Father Karas is a priest who also is a psychiatrist. Inside this very man, is a duel nature or personality. He is a priest, man of the cloth/ faith. The man is also a psychiatrist. This is a man of reason and logic.
He is having a crisis of faith in the film. Father Karas even asks his boss to let him out of his job as a psychiatrist for the Jesuits. He even admits that he believes he has lost his faith. Switching gears from Father Karas, this essay now will transition into speaking about Regan and her mother Kris Macneil (Ellen Burstyn).
Regan and her mother have no faith. Most attribute the possession of the child to Regan playing with the Ouija board. Ouija Boards, are a combination of two languages German and French. Oui, French for yes, and the affirmative in German ja.
Ouija boards are believed to be dangerous for the following reasons. They are believed to attract earthbound spirits. These are spirits that have never moved on. When one uses the Ouija board, one does not know what sort of spirit one will attract. Another danger in using an Ouija board is that you are asking the spirit to give you a physical proof of its existence and are coming in close contact with it. Only a planchette separates the spirit and the one using the board.
It is also Ouija's superstition that one should never play the Ouija board alone. It is allegedly easier to become possessed if one plays with it alone. This is what Regan does in the film, and the results are apparent in the film’s title. She gets possessed. Science suggests that an Ouija board is just the subconscious telling its user messages unconsciously, without the user being aware of it.
Let us now observe the parallels between Regan and Father Karas’ mother. Both the priest’s mother and Regan are believed to be ill mentally. Damien, Father Karas, even incarcerates his mother in an asylum. He wants to have her taken out of the asylum when he sees what a living Hell that place is.
Damien even talks to his uncle about putting her in a private hospital, but the uncle asks who has the money for that since priests take a vow of poverty that is impossible. Damien’s mother dies in the asylum. Damien even suggests that Regan be placed under psychiatric care for six months in the best hospital she can find.
Kris denies this plea because as she says, ‘’that thing upstairs isn’t my daughter.’’ She does not feel that is best for her daughter. Seeing what happened with Damien’s mother at seeing what a Hell the asylum was and how miserable she was there.
The film’s director William Friedkin, says the film is about the mystery of faith. In the book, the idea of Regan being possessed isn’t so much to affect her, it is to teach or scare those around her a lesson. I keep this in mind while viewing the film. I also would tweak the message of the book and apply it to the film.
I think the film aims to help two people. The film has a Christian message. The devil is real. Beware. That also means God is real. In the film, Father Merrin believes the demon is trying to get the people in the film to see themselves as animals and ugly and deny the possibility that God can love them.
I believe the film is about fixing three characters. In a theological sense, if I were to guess what the divine plan for Regan getting possessed in the film in the context of the film, I would hypothesize the reason Regan gets possessed is to help Regan and Father Karas and even Kris herself.
In the film, Kris raises her daughter with no apparent faith. Kris does not come around to a belief in God. Okay, understandable. She is a woman that has lived her entire life this way, but Regan is a twelve-year-old girl. As Jesus once said ‘’suffer the little children come unto me…’’
Regan kisses Father Dyer. This is Damien’s best friend and a fellow priest. She kisses him because she sees the priest’s collar. This is an interesting point because Kris is asked if Regan remembers anything. Kris says she does not believe so. Regan notices the collar on Father Dyer’s shirt. One can read this scene in one of two ways. One way can be Regan knows a priest saved her and is thanking him. I also believe it is probable that this has awakened a new faith in Regan and it is part of the divine plan in context to the film. One can also see it as Damien is working through the little girl to say goodbye old friend, see you on the other side.
Regan’s look of thank you, makes me think the first or a blending of the two theories is perhaps saying both are true. This makes me believe that Regan is a vessel for the divine. The film is about the battle between good and evil and the prevailing message is good will triumph over will. Father Karas is a priest that admits he believes he lost his faith.
Regan epitomizes innocence. She has done nothing wrong and yet, she is possessed by the terrible demon Pazuzu. She is seen playing with her mother and them both giggling and laughing. Regan asks for a horse and her mother replies with ‘’we’ll see, Regan.’’
Had Regan not possessed in the film, she would have never gained her faith. Through her newfound faith, her soul is saved and so is Damien’s. These are the interpretations that the author of this paper takes away from the film. In an interview with Mick Garris, William Friedkin, the film’s director, said he is a fan of those films that demands the audience to bring themselves to their films and draw their conclusions.
He later admits that he does not believe in giving his audience’s neat solutions. As an audience member, these are the films he enjoys that bring something of himself and not some director telling him what to do. One has to applaud Mr. Friedkin for this. Offering a neat solution feels safe. It gives the film a kind of thesis for the screenwriter or director to follow in telling their narrative.
Also, it gives the audience a clear message and the crowd can decide to accept it or not. The fact that Friedkin chooses not to give the audience a clear cut message in itself, is a bit of a statement being made. One examines the life and realizes that there are several instances where there does not seem to be an answer or at least one we can observe or we may have to draw our conclusions about certain aspects of life. Friedkin himself believes The Exorcist is a film about the mystery of faith. If Friedkin gives his film a clear cut message, he risks alienating his audience.
The writer of the screenplay is a catholic. Friedkin himself is a man or was at the time of the film, a man of no faith. In a more recent interview, Friedkin admits the older he gets the more he leans towards belief and the teachings of Jesus.
As Christians, we reject Satan and all of his works, and all of his empty promises, but rejecting Satan is something very different from denying his existence. Reducing evil merely to the sins of man—or, worse yet, a sociological phenomenon—does not make us safer. Like Regan's Ouija board, it opens us up to the horrifying reality of evil from which only faith can save us.
The above statement is a direct quote from William Peter Blatty. This is the writer of the novel and the screenplay of the film. This is the thesis of the paper. Let us examine Father Karas first. Damien is a man struggling with his faith. The writer of this paper would deduce that all men and women of faith have had several tests of their faith.
For whatever reason, Damien believes his faith is lost. During the subway scene, a homeless person claiming to be an old altar boy asks for change. ‘’Can you help an altar boy, father?’’
This is the quote the man begging for change uses in the picture. The bum is cast mainly in shadow except for the light of the passing subway illuminates the homeless person’s face. Damien looks at the man and ignores him. He keeps walking. This scene can be seen as Damien trying to turn his back on his faith.
This is not the only scene like this. In the bar, Damien is having drinks with his boss, an elder priest named Tom. Damien is a psychiatrist. He was sent to psychiatry school by the Jesuits. Damien asks to get out of his job. He admits ‘’I think I’ve lost my faith, Tom.’’
Tom suggests he can be reassigned. Damien sees himself as unfit. This desperate attempt to turn his back on his faith is stopped by the exorcism itself. The demon itself forces Damien to confront his lack of faith. Let’s play a Sliding Doors scenario with the film.
Regan is possessed. Damien refuses to help Regan out. Regan dies. Now the film becomes very different. We have Damien filled with remorse. He feels bad that his uncle leaves Damien’s mother to die in an asylum. He even asks his uncle ‘’Couldn’t you put her somewhere else?’’
‘’Like a private hospital? Who got the money for that, Demi?’’
This is the uncle’s response. Faith saves Regan in the end. Sliding Doors is a film featuring Gwyneth Paltrow. It shows both possibilities of what would happen if the title character chooses variations in the choices that lead up to her fate. Let us play this hypothetical game with The Exorcist.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that Father Karas chooses not to carry through with the exorcism. Would Father Merrin survive? His heart is faulty and he is elderly. Chances are the old fellow’s ticker would stop eventually. There is no proof that the demon kills Father Merrin. Only that the demon finds it amusing that the priest is dead.
Regan would most likely die. Kris refuses to put her child in an asylum. They are too horrible. Damien carries guilt over his mother’s death. The demon later confronts Damien and accuses him of leaving his mother alone to die and she will never forgive him.
The message Blatty wants to achieve with this film is that only faith can save us. Karas and Father Merrin die. It seems rather tragic that these men die. But the alternative is more tragic. If Regan dies because Karas refuses to give the exorcism, according to Christian belief, Regan is non-believing as is her mother.
Father Merrin goes to Heaven. Regan goes to Hell, Karas goes to Hell. Father Merrin is pious and he is a spiritual rock. His body is frail. One can assume that Father Merrin is not an important character. On the surface, this is an alluring prospect. It is wrong.
Father Merrin is a mentor to Damien. He is the main exorcist. He is the only one of the two with exorcism experience. The last encounter with a possessed person nearly kills Merrin. Does Merrin fail? No. He has successfully slain a previous demon. His purpose in Regan’s exorcism is to mentor Damien.
Through Merrin, he finds the strength to conquer the beast. Merrin is a rock when it comes to his faith. That rubs on Karas and when he is killed it throws Damien into a rage. He attacks the demon physically and verbally ordering it to take him instead. Karas reaches for the girl. He is now possessed and overcomes the demon trying to force his hand to strangle and harm the girl. and he shouts ‘‘no”
He triumphs over the demon and we assume this drags the beast back to Hell and Damien’s spirit through his faith and eventual martyrdom ascends his spirit to Heaven after his friend Father Dyer reads the dying priest his last rights. The final scene includes Regan seeing the collar on father Dyer’s shirt and she kisses him.
This is strange because Kris tells Father Dyer just moments before this the child has no recollection of anything that happened when she was possessed. We see the kiss as proof that Kris is mistaken. We also see the glimmer of hope that the child has found a newly formed faith in Christ/ the divine/ God.
The film has something to say about fathers. Let us look at Regan. Her father refuses to talk to her on her birthday. This is a clear case of abandonment. One can argue that Father Merrin becomes a mentor/ father figure to Damien. His health ultimately fails and he dies.
In a way, both Regan’s father Howard, and Father Karas’ mentor fail them. One dies and the other just abandons the child. What this film seems to teach us about fatherhood is earthly fathers can abandon you, they will grow sick and pass away.
The divine father God, will never abandon his children. Friedkin believes the film is about the mysteries of faith. Blatty believes the film is about how we can only be saved by our faith. Friedkin directed the movie in such a way that he forces the audience to bring themselves to the picture and does not deliver a clear cut message to the film shows the true genius of the film.