The Exorcist

10/09/2015 21:15

Film: The Exorcist

Year: 1973

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: William Peter Blatty

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair



This film is a classic. I’m guessing that anyone who is looking at my review has seen this at least once. My quick background, my parents showed myself and I. Since then, we’ve seen it many times. My mother even took us to see the extended cut when it hit theaters. For this most recent viewing, Jaime hadn’t seen it in a long time and I wanted to revisit for my Traverse through the Threes.

Synopsis: when a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

We start in Northern Iraq, where an older priest is doing an archeological dig. His name is Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). He discovers a small statue of the head of a demon while doing this. He goes into town where we see that he must take glycerin tablets for his heart. This sequence ends with him watching the sunset, a larger statue of the one he saw while two dogs fight in the distance.

It then shifts over to the family we’re following. The mother is a movie star, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). They’re living in Georgetown while she works. Her daughter is Regan (Linda Blair). She’s a normal teenager who likes to make art projects. Helping is Sharon (Kitty Winn) and two housekeepers, Karl (Rudolf Schündler) and Willi (Gina Petrushka).

Regan tells her mother that she talks to a spirit on a Ouija board named Capt. Howdy. Soon after she becomes ill and her mother takes her to different doctors. They can’t seem to find out what is wrong with her though. No matter what they diagnose, it doesn’t help.

Chris has a party where all her friends and others are invited. Included is a priest by the name of Father Dyer (William O’Malley). Chris inquires to him about another priest that she’s seen around who is intense looking named, Father Karras (Jason Miller). The movie has already introduced him, but I’ll come back to him. Near the end of this party, Regan comes down and says a cryptic message before urinating on the carpet.

It sems like a medical explanation has been exhausted at this time with no answer. Whatever her ailment, she continues to get worse and her life might be in danger. The doctors recommend her a last resort is to ask a faith she doesn’t follow to save Regan from what could be inside her.

This leads Chris to meet Father Karras who is also a psychiatrist. What she asks isn’t his medical expertise, but with an exorcism. The stakes are raised when the director of the film that Chris is working on is found dead at the bottom of the stairs below Regan’s window. The detective put in charge of this case is Lt. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb). The circumstances are odd. He begins his inquiry with Father Karras and Chris. This makes the latter’s blood run cold with fear that Regan could be involved.

Father Karras agrees to meet with Regan and what he find makes him question his faith even more. Whatever is inside of Regan seems to be moving parts to have a showdown with Father Merrin, who just so happens to be back in the United States.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction. Where I’m going to start is that this is simply amazing. I’ll get into the reasons why, but I want to start is that we have a religious film where science is used to exhaust all medical reasons as to why she is sick, but there is no answer. In that sense it is great because they don’t immediately use that as the answer and it takes quite a while before they come to that conclusion. Having also read the book, I think it is great to have the writer of the novel doing the screenplay. The adaptation of the feel, story and everything was well done there. An added dimension to the story is also that Chris is a famous actress, so she is doing what she can to keep this from getting out to the public.

Issues that arise in this film are the love of a mother for her daughter. I can see a mirror in the same aspect of Jesus/God’s love for his ‘children’ or just the fact that Jesus was the son of God according to Christianity. The demon has possessed an innocent and is doing what it can to pervert that. Another issue is the battle of good and evil and whether the former can overcome the latter. There is also the issue of losing your faith and trying to find it again as well. This last bit is interesting to me as it is explored through the character of Father Karras. Chris comes to him as a priest. He can’t let what is happening to Regan go unaided. It is fitting where things end.

What makes this work so well is the acting. It is simply great. Burstyn is so good here as this mother that is exhausting every resource to find an answer. She is pushed to the edge with worry. Having now watched this as a parent, I can fully appreciate her performance. Blair is also great at her age. She does well physically in pretending to be possessed. She doesn’t use her own voice, but the way she moves her head while talking or doing certain things is scary. Sydow is great as the exorcist. He commands the scenes when he is there. What is great is that he has such limited screentime as well. Another excellent performance is Miller. It is also interesting. He is a younger priest, who has lost his faith and questions whether this is even a possession. What makes it even better, I get the feeling that at times during the investigation stages. He doesn’t want to believe, but the evidence is there. I’ll also credit Cobb, Winn, Jack MacGowran, O’Malley and the rest of the cast to round this out for what was needed.

This is also an amazingly made movie. I’ll start with the soundtrack. The songs used bring an eerie feeling to the scenes and it ramps up the tension. The theme is iconic as well. Continuing with the tension, for a film that runs over two hours long, it doesn’t feel like it. Scenes that don’t seem to have meant anything end up having importance later. What is great is that the exorcism sequence only lasts about thirty minutes of the runtime. The final thing to talk about here is the effects. They were done all practically. The make-up of Blair looks great. The vomiting and other things she does while possessed look real enough. Now I will say that if you watch the updated version with the newer effects, some of those are done with computers and CGI, but I thought they were subtle enough where it works. I don’t have issues with them.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend this enough. There is a story that evolves. It doesn’t play its hand too early and evolves. The acting is great. Seeing the pain that Chris feels for her daughter is great. The dilemma that Father Karras must deal with even before going against this demon is great. This is also an excellent movie. I’d go as far to say that this is as close to perfection as you can get. It is a classic. If you’ve never seen it, give it a watch. I’d even say if it’s been a while, give this one a go.


My Rating: 10 out of 10