"The Exorcist" is a story that weaves several different plots and messages that still ring true after 40 years: the lengths a parent will endure to protect their child; the overwhelming belief by the medical community that its Western medical practices can explain all ills; the constant battle between living in the “natural” world and the belief in a supernatural; and the commitment required to overcome evil.
It is not a horror film as they have evolved since The Exorcist’s original release in 1973. In these newer horror movies, much is made of the brutality and gore.
"The Exorcist" blood, gore, swearing and blasphemy are integral to the part of the story. They do not exist to titillate the salacious interest of the viewer as many horror films do today.
At its core, however, is the battle between good and evil. Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is a Jesuit priest who has been medically trained at the behest of the Society of Jesus.
He is the “Psychologist Priest”. Because of his medical and psychological training and experience, he believes that evil activity is the effect of medical or chemical processes within the body.
He believes this so exclusively that he has lost his faith. Fr. Karras faces the conflict between man and God as well as his personal guilt before he can resolve this dilemma.
Unlike Fr. Karras, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) never faces this dilemma. She is so focused on saving her child that she never faces the larger issues - Good v. Evil, God v. Satan.
On the other hand, Father Lancaster Merrin (Max von Sydow) has faced evil in a previous exorcism that lasted 6 months.
Because of his faith and his experience, he does not need to understand Regan MacNeil’s (Linda Blair) psychological profile that Fr. Karras wants to give him. When Fr. Karras indicates that he has observed 3 distinct personalities, Fr. Merrin says, “there is only one.” Fr. Merrin knows it is the Devil.
While the movie is now 2:12 in the Extended Director’s Cut, the additional scenes enhance the characters’ development and you get the sense of their personal dilemma’s and angst.
For example, in the scene depicted in the attached image, Chris MacNeil is walking through her kitchen and the Devil’s apparition briefly appears next to her.
She is aware of it, but does not see it. However, it’s appearance sends a shiver down her spine that is visible as she continues the walk to Regan’s room.
As time has passed from its original release, "The Exorcist" has been parodied so many times, even by Linda Blair herself, that much of the movie’s message has been lost.
Today’s audiences view the movie from today’s lens of extreme special effects and ignore the battle between God v. Satan. Indeed, it could be argued that today’s audience views the battle irrelevant or non-existent.
However, it would be very wise for us to remember - as both Frs. Merrin and Karras demonstrate - that there is a price that must be paid to save ourselves from evil.
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