At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Exorcist

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Father William O’Malley, Father Thomas Bermingham, Peter Masterson, Robert Symonds; Voice of: Mercedes McCambridge/ Runtime: 122 minutes

Indeed it should be said that if you could ever name a film as the most controversial film to ever be a part of the Hollywood main circuit, I definitely feel that The Exorcist would most assuredly be comfortable with that label due to its ability to by equal measure repulse yet horrify still intact after over 30+ years. Yet even though I feel the majority of what goes on during this cinematic experience might not fully stun some viewers nowadays or even send a shiver down their spines, I also feel that the undeniable essence of the disturbing circumstances that go down in this film will be enough to stun and chill in equal measure the most cynical of movie goers. Indeed instead of choosing to showcase what many might consider to be “cheap schlocky thrills” through jump scares and the like, this is a film which chooses to set up what will scare the audience via an ever-increasing sense of dread and distress courtesy of a central premise involving demonic possession and a young child who finds herself the unfortunate victim of said possession. Thus when you combine that riveting element alongside a eerie yet also riveting story as well as fantastic work from a cast and crew at the top of their collective game, what you are left with is a chilling yet intriguing story that will leave you both scared yet also questioning of the world in a way you never thought possible before..

The plot is as follows: The Exorcist tells the story of a household in Georgetown that finds itself seriously upended and thrown for a significant curveball when the 12 year old daughter of a popular actress who lives in the house suddenly starts to showcase some incredibly odd behaviors while also becoming a highly scarred, and extremely potty-mouthed monstrosity. However, following a collection of assorted exams of a medical nature all resulting in no answers whatsoever, the girl’s mother desperately decides to venture towards the idea of an exorcism courtesy of a Jesuit priest she is familiar with as well as of a veteran priest who has done them in the past. Thus the stage is set for a cinematic event filled with equal measure horror and terror so chilling and blood-curdling that to this date it is able to inspire nightmares like no other…

Now this film’s director manages to do an incredible job of transporting you down a rabbit hole that is equal parts tense, horrifying, traumatizing, but also is a riveting showcase of how everyday ordinary people find themselves probing the legitimacy of both the power of faith as well as the nature of true evil. Indeed by the moment that this cinematic experience chose to bed down, literally, with this epic showdown between the forces of good and evil that is literally taking place in the bedroom of a young girl, I was exhausted in the best ways possible, and amazingly there was still significantly more to the story. Indeed this is a movie which manages to do an incredible balancing act of showcasing the struggles of a group of people whose lives all intersect while they are dealing with this intriguing investigation of demonic possession. This film also does a wonderful job of also showcasing the absolute suffering and uncertainty at what is ailing this young girl by the people who’re entangled in this all the way to the predicament being faced by a cop who is attempting to solve a homicide that may have been committed by said demon. Yet even with all of these narrative threads in play this film still does a wonderful job of keeping everything in place without ever once giving any prominence to one particular narrative.

Now this film contains a script that is absolutely perfect in the way that it not only showcases the balance that must exist between the forces of both good and evil, but also about the inner conflict that we as human beings must have when faced with things beyond our realm of understanding. Indeed make no mistake: this isn’t a film which is out to make you a believer in a specific set of religious beliefs. Far from it actually. This is a film which instead shows that there are forces we may not understand, but that when these forces interfere with our daily lives or with the lives of those we know and/or love thereby disrupting that precious balance then we must be willing to put our own lives or conflicts aside in order to fight to restore that equilibrium no matter what the cost.

Now the cast in this film all do a fantastic job at bringing this riveting and haunting tale to life in a way that feels like this is a documentary rather than a work of fiction that was “inspired by a true story”. This of course starts with Ellen Burstyn who does an engaging job at mixing motherly love along with frustration that no one is able to help her daughter and fear that she’ll never go back to normal, and goes on to include Linda Blair who is absolutely astounding at being able to elicit both sympathy and terror in equal measure as the young woman who finds herself sharing both her body and soul with the ultimate evil, Jason Miller who as the troubled Father Karras does a wonderful job of playing a man who, despite being at a crossroads in his faith, finds himself drawn to helping this little girl and her mother be rid of the menace at the heart of all their troubles no matter what the personal cost, and screen icon Lee J. Cobb who in his role as Inspector Kinderman manages to showcase a character who is both dedicated to his job yet also possesses a very human and warm side to his demeanor that really helps contribute a much-needed sense of both humanity and relatability to the film. Finally there is Max Von Sydow who, as the titular exorcist Father Merrin, is absolutely compelling both in his almost ESP-level sensing of the coming demonic force in the film’s riveting opening set in Iraq while also possessing a tense calm mixed with a subtle sense of apprehension when called upon to be part of the exorcism and thus engage in a showdown that he knew he would eventually take part in.

All in all The Exorcist is a phenomenal cinematic experience that manages to bring us as audiences head first into the puzzle of faith in one of its most brutal forms and that is the battle of good vs evil with each and every one of our lives and souls hanging in the balance. Yet besides that this film is also a masterpiece that has few if any equals in the horror genre and it is all done without the use of computers to enhance the effects in any way. Rather it is a film which chooses to utilize its narrative and the performances within that narrative in order to give audiences a film that is by equal measure both splendid and horrifying in equal measure. Ultimately though I think the thing I love the most about this film is not only that it forces you to ask yourself just what you as an individual believe in, but then it will proceed to keep you questioning and shivering at this movie’s answer to the question of just what may or may not be out there after all….On a scale of 1-5 I give The Exorcist a solid 5 out of 5.