Sunday, September 18, 2005

Exorcism of Emily Rose

Mrs. Curmudgeon and I had some free babysitting last night and a couple of movie passes, so we went to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Mrs. Curmudgeon had seen (via a Seattle Catholic,* link) a generally positive review of the film; I had seen the link but never got around to it. I don't know any of the details of the actual situation from which the film gets its premise, so I can only comment on it as a work of art. I have three thoughts, (just impressions really--not worthy of being called "analysis") which I hope to expand someday, perhaps after seeing the film again:


A. The crowd. Not all of the caterwauling was coming from the possessed woman; much of it came from the auditorium where the film was shown. People are breathtakingly rude. It shouldn't amaze me, but it still does. Kids talked and cut up through the whole film, and when occasionally someone would call out for them to be quiet, they'd scream profanity at them. Likewise, kids noisily stomped out of the auditorium at regular intervals (I guess that, although this film fell into the "horror" genre, it apparently wasn't the sort of Freddy/Jason/Chuckie flick these kids expected to see. Admittedly, this is the first time I'd gone to a late movie in many years (and I don't go to many movies at all), but I was appalled that people--even 21st century teenagers--acted that way.

B. The purpose and general message of the film. The review was accurate in the sense that it didn't send out the typically-Hollywood message that Catholics were statue-worshipping cranks or that the priest was stupid, crazy or evil. It was refreshing to see a priest doing what he was supposed to do on film (i.e., not breaking his vow of chastity). The director successfully got the message through that there is a willfully Evil One in creation and that he can manifest himself in horrible, sensible ways. He also attempted to get it across (with perhaps less success) that there's purpose of suffering.

C. The details. While the film had merit, there were a number of things that the director could have tightened up to make the work more coherent (without making it didactic). Some of the Catholic "jargon" in the script seemed shaky to me. I think that he could have had the priest speaking a bit more forthrightly about Satan, rather than vaguely about "dark spiritual forces." On the other hand, he did pull some good detail in, such as when the priest said a small portion of what I sounded like the unabridged version of the Leonine St. Michael prayer. Likewise, the dialog concerning the apparition of the Blessed Mother was awkward to traditional Catholic ears.

The director also could have checked his facts, i.e., the exorcism norms. Surely no simple parish priest these days would be authorized to perform an exorcism, much less on his own parishioner. Very few priests are trained to or authorized to perform exorcisms. Nor would it seem likely that a priest would perform an exorcism without at least one other cleric present, and without better restraints (restraining Emily with rags? C'mon!). The film gave no inkling of the steps that I hear are now required to rule out medical explanations of I also thought that throwing in the stigmata near the end was a bit of a stretch--it was a superfluous detail that had a potential natural cause (which was otherwise unexplored) and it thus undermined the supernatural events of the film. Did the director and script folks just decide from the beginning that they were going to do the stigmata and just stuck them in wherever it would fit, without really weaving them into the story?

And the defense lawyer's closing sequence was unbelievable and weak. Even a novice lawyer would have addressed the holes in the prosecution's case (which were presented in the film) before launching into a speech about doubts and possibilities. When the jury brought back a guilty verdict, Mrs. Curmudgeon had to ask "based on what?" My only answer was "malpractice by his lawyer." After all, through the two hours of the film, we as the audience heard that Fr. Moore tried to make her eat, that he had a medical professional in attendance at the rite, that she'd previously been on that psychotropic drug for weeks to no effect, that he visited her regularly before and after the exorcism, and that she refused further intervention of any kind.

I'm not asking that the film be a documentary. I'm not asking that the director be doctrinaire. I'm just merely suggesting that a little more attention to detail (consultation with a knowledgeable priest and a trial lawyer on the script), this good movie could have been a great one--more powerful, both technically and thematically.

But then, part of being a Curmudgeon is that I'm never happy with anything.


*Seattle Catholic is one of two essential almost-daily compilations of Catholic news; the other "essential compilation" of the day's news for Catholics is, of course, Catholic World News. Between the comprehensive set of links to mainstream press articles (and some original reporting) appearing every morning on CWN, and Seattle Catholic's fewer, but carefully-selected articles from both mainstream press and alternative opinion and news outlets (with coverage of special interest to Catholics of traditional comportment) posted around noon most days, one gets a good overview of what's going on in the Church, at least in this country from day-to-day.

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