Watching: The Exorcist and History

For some reason, I was thinking about The Exorcist the other night.  The original movie is a masterpiece.  It is pure horror and a purely psychological thriller. It’s also one of the most thought-provoking pieces on faith in the modern cinema. It’s a testament to the script and the perfect direction that a movie can work on so many fronts.

Then for some reason, the thought occurred to me that the movie also can stand for how we look at the twentieth century.  I’m sure someone smarter has written more eloquently than I will on this topic, but I haven’t looked it up to see.

When I watched the movie, and more when I read the book, how matter of fact everyone dealt with the situation.  There was something extremely wrong with the girl.  Yet, everyone kept going about the lives while trying to solve the problem.  Yes, the mother quits her job but she doesn’t abandon Reagan.  The servants keep serving. The priest doesn’t walk away.  No one does. They face the evil and they move on.

The author of the Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, was born at the start of the Great Depression. Both he and the director, Willam Friedkin, lived during World War II.  The Exorcist was written and filmed during the Vietnam War and during a presidency that was soon to undo itself.  The world had seen unspeakable horrors during this time, and with the help of modern technology in their own living rooms. The horrors of war where now in our newspapers, movie reels, and televisions. Yet, we had to carry on. Also, having the butler be German and making him of an age that he would have been a young man during the war adds another reminder that the twentieth century sucked.

Yet, everyone just carries on. The priests, wonderfully played by Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, both know the horrors too well.  Miller’s character, Father Karras, is actually going through an existential crisis during the film. Karras is having trouble reconciling his faith with the world in front of him. Father Merrin’s character gets fleshed out in one of the later sequels and has him as a man who has seen firsthand the horrors of the Nazis and low point of man’s depravity.  We don’t actually know that in the movie, and I can’t remember if his wartime past is mentioned in the book. In the end, both men only have their faith to combat the evil in front of them.

Everyone is faced with an unspeakable horror. Yet, they survive.  They find faith whether it be in God or just in themselves.  They had so much reason to give up but never did. Winning a fight can sometimes not feel like a victory because so much as been lost, but as long as not all is lost, then it is still a victory. It will leave them scarred, with a story they will never want to tell, much like those that lived through the horrors through the twentieth century.

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