Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin
Writer:   William Peter Blatty 
Cast:       Ellen Bustyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller


When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter. 

I had seen this film when I was about 12 and was scared shitless. That was not such a big deal back then since any decent quality horror film would have done the same at those sort of age. Once you grow up and become rational, horror films don't work that well for you on a getting scared level and the same thing happened to me. I am not a big fan of horror films these days and the ones that I end up enjoying tend to be 'Psychological Thrillers', which doesn't go all supernatural on us. Last year's 'The Babadook', a film championed by William Friedkin himslef, was one such film and you can pretty well explain that one as it happening inside the minds of the two protagonists- mother and son. My recollection of The Exorcist was that of it being a supernatural story and I really didn't feel the need to revisit it even though I became a big fan of Friedkin over the years after watching To Live and Die in LA, Sorcerer, French Connection and Killer Joe. Mark Kermode, film critic, frequently cites 'The Exorcist' as his favorite film of all time. That and general boredom led me to finally take the plunge and revisit the film.


I don't know if I am talking absolute bollocks, but I think Friedkin is playing a huge prank on our skepticism towards horror films and all things supernatural. The mother character is not at all religious and when her daughter starts behaving oddly the doctor explains it as caused by a lesion in her temporal lobe. The scans reveals nothing and the doctors recommend 'Exorcism' as a last resort, acknowledging it as a placebo technique. On the other side you have a priest, Father Karras, who is a qualified psychiatrist. He is suffering a crisis of faith and is grieving, with guilt, the death of her mother who died old and alone. He is bewildered when the mother approaches him, asking for exorcism. Like us the viewers, he is also skeptical about supernatural things and thinks her daughter's ailment is purely psychological. It is quite a habit to check who all are in a room witnessing when something seemingly supernatural happens in horror films. This is so as to explain events as hallucinations/psychological, and till the last exorcism part of the film, I could only put the mother as sole witness to unexplainable things in the film. So you can still possibly have 'The Babadook' explanation for it. But it goes apeshit during the final exorcism and it lands like a slap in your face when she defies gravity. It also does the same for Father Karras who finally accepts that they are dealing with the devil/supernatural indeed. So, the father character, is representing us in the story and we see the film from his perspective.  

So, to sum up, it is indeed great and is not just a horror film. Performances are excellent and the atmosphere it creates is terrific. The special effects and make ups have aged very well which is remarkable. Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' is used sparingly than I thought considering the fact that it achieved its legendary status due to its association with this film. The film was an adaptation of William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel with the same name. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture Academy award but lost out to 'The Sting'. Yup, Mind-boggling!!! Begrman's 'Cries and Whispers' was also nominated.

Rating: 5/5