"The Exorcist" and the Devilish Dilemma
For Sunday Movie Night, befitting the month, we watched William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973), which I'd never seen before, but which, because of documentaries, film books, old "Carol Burnett" skits, I still "remembered" more of than almost everyone else there—most of whom had seen the movie just once, either 35 years ago, on television, or more recently on DVD. We all liked the fact that Friedkin took his own sweet time giving us Satan—comparing the pace favorably to the quick-cut, roller-coaster rides of today's movies. And we all loved ourselves some Max von Sydow. Of course, the inevitable questions:
- What's the connection between the northern Iraq burial dig and Georgetown?
- Why this family and this girl? (Is it: Why not this family and this girl?)
- Once the Devil shows himself, why does the mother (Ellen Burnstyn) take the roundabout way of getting help? Why ask, cry, explain? Why not: Come see THIS! These quiet, conversational scenes between the scary devil-in-the-girl-in-the-bed scenes don't feel quite real, given the unreal circumstances.
"The Exorcist" was the no. 1 box office hit of 1973, and, adjusted for inflation, it's the 9th-biggest domestic film of all time, grossing, in 2009 dollars, $793 million. Since it was released in 1973, only four films have—in adjusted dollars—grossed more: "Jaws," "Star Wars," "E.T.," and "Titanic." It was also nominated for a best picture Oscar—as was every no. 1 box office hit between 1967 and 1977.
Here's what I took away from the film: the Devil, as we tend to portray him, ain't that smart. If his goal is to turn people away from God, then he should do one thing: Nothing. The story of Job got it backwards. Nothing brings people closer to God than evil or misfortune; than a hint of the Devil. There are no atheists in foxholes, etc. In "The Exorcist" a priest is losing faith...until the Devil shows up. Thus he helps save Father Karras (from doubt), who helps save Regan (from the Devil). He's his own worst enemy. Maybe that should be (and maybe it is) the great Devilish dilemma. Satan knows the best way to win is to do nothing, but, man, he just can't help himself. It's just so much fun messing with people.