Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Thursday, September 08, 2005  

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This may be the best movie of its kind since The Exorcist (1973). It is terrific in the original sense of the word, and not for those with weak hearts (like me). There are many loud, startling noises, and sudden cuts which make you jump. My heart doesn’t need such stress.

More than that, the movie pits atheism or a certain kind of rationalism against belief in the supernatural in an impressive manner. This movie respects the beliefs it examines, but examines them with a very sharp knife, all the while scaring the wits out of the audience. It puts faith on trial in a way that the very stacked deck of Inherit the Wind (1960) never allowed because it was scornful of the Bible and its adherents.

Emily Rose is a faith filled young woman who leaves her devout Catholic family to go off to college, and then begins to experience episodes of demonic possession. Or does she? It may be she is epileptic, becoming paranoid to the point of hallucination, and experiencing a kind of psychotic panic attack to end all panic attacks in her sudden confrontation with the world apart from her family. Or perhaps she is hyper-sensitive to spiritual realities.

It won’t give away anything to reveal that the movie is a post mortem which looks at Emily’s death through the subsequent trial of her priest for negligent homicide. This is based on a true story, but I doubt very much that it has anything in common with what happened apart from the names and a few facts about Emily’s death.

That doesn’t matter. It is a fine drama even as fiction rather than documentary.

The audience that I saw it with was impressed throughout. Two radio stations gave away tickets for the screening. One, a Hispanic station, the other, a black rap/hip hop station. The audience was young yet left quite subdued and sober. The movie captured their interest entirely. This was exactly the reaction to The Exorcist when I first saw it.

At the very end before the credits, one young man hollered out, “Bulls**t!” He only got a few laughs. It demonstrates the power of the film that someone is disturbed enough by it and has to publicly deny it. A group of three young men said to each other as we were in a corridor exiting, “I hope the press writes that the audience laughed when they weren’t supposed to.” His fellows agreed that it proved how very non-frightening the movie is.

Yes, people did laugh a few times slightly out of place, but they were at times which allowed it, whereas the entire audience didn’t laugh. Only a few tittered at the “wrong“ time, although there were numerous instances of relief laughter (which often occurs with such storytelling).

In fact, having seen a few TV ads for the movie, I expected that I would laugh quite a bit. I generally find movie depictions of the supernatural ludicrous. I didn’t laugh because the concern we have for Emily, the compassion we feel overrides such derision. We are sorry for Emily, and don’t find what happens to her at all amusing.

This is exceptionally effective film making. It is not so much we believe she is possessed, but that we are immediately worried for her and want it to stop. The scientific rationalism helps us here in that if it is true she is suffering from a severe brain illness or mental disorder, we are horrified by that alone and suffer with her. If she is being possessed by demons, then we start praying that she will be spared, or we can learn what went wrong and why wasn’t she spared (which is deftly handled in the film) by God.

The closing argument of the priest’s defense lawyer centers on “possibilities.” It is indeed such possibilities which make the movie plausible from the two major perspectives which are antagonistic here.

The power of the Christian story is amply demonstrated here as it was in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Perhaps, that is because Christ is the underlying foundation of our culture. It resonates even when people wish to ignore it and what it implies about reality. Or is it because the Christian story has at its core, the very culmination of truth and reality? It would be interesting to know if other religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam can produce works of art which are as effective in pitting good versus evil on a supernatural plane.

Every culture produces scary ghost stories, but not every religion, it seems to me, is as effective at producing such powerful allegories.

If you ask me whether I believe in demons and angels, I will demur. I know that human psychology and spiritual understanding is surprising, hard to understand, and that strange phenomena manifests in people. I do not believe that God operates in the manner that some of the characters in the movie believe he does. Yet having passed through conversion, many things the movie illustrates I know to be real in the process of reform. Great psychological stresses occur which are incredible as many faith traditions testify. I am also aware, though, that there are forms of religious delusion which are detrimental to health.

This is a great movie to talk about just as The Exorcist was in its day.

This movie is fair to Christianity, and that, in itself these days, is miraculous


For more information on the actual story which bears only slight resemblance to the movie go here.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 1:01 AM |