Monday, September 12, 2005


Okay, I knew The Exorcism of Emily Rose was going to suck. And it does. It is, as you might imagine, a second-rate rip-off of The Exorcist. But I didn't realize it was going to be a retelling of Inherit the Wind. Except this time, wouldn't you know it, William Jennings Bryan - played by, uh, Laura Linney - brings the house down.

"Based on a True Story" (uggggghhhhh), the film is about a priest on trial for denying a young girl medical treatment even though she clearly needed it. She was epileptic and psychotic, as any doctor would point out. But of course, in the film version of the story (the real one involved a German girl named Anneliese Michel), the doctors are closed-minded cynics who won't allow for the possibility that Emily's symptoms are caused by the inhabitation of her body by Belial, Satan, and four other demons. Silly doctors.

In real life, Anneliese claimed that one of the demons inhabiting her was Adolf Hitler. The film wisely replaces Hitler with an old-time, scary-sounding demon, because hey - Hitler? Well that's just crazy. The priest takes her off her antipsychotic medication, and over a period of days allows her to mutilate and starve herself rather than stabilize her in a hospital.

The film starts off pretending to be a Rashomon-like, balanced portrayal of the events. You know: Linney puts a defense witness on the stand who describes events, and we see a flashback with creepy demonic effects (Emily's eyes go black, she screams in multiple voices, she bends her joints at unnatural angles, etc). Then the pencil-moustached prosecutor puts a doctor on the stand, and we see the same flashback as if it were being seen by a rational person (Emily contorts in the less-supernatural throes of an epileptic fit). But before long, the film goes off the reservation, rationally speaking, and gives us flashback after flashback of strictly Linda-Blair-style antics, with no narrative rebuttal from the scientists.

This departure from a balanced presentation inside the courtroom is matched by the whittling away of Linney's own perfunctory doubts about her client. A spattering of supposedly unexplainable events (...a stopped watch - call the Vatican!), and suddenly Linney's ready to accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior. Her closing argument (you know - the one set to rising, weepy strings, that's supposed to make our hearts soar?):

"The prosecution has presented you with facts. But facts get in the way of... possibilities."

Indeed they do. The difference between The Exorcist (a film I love dearly) and this dreck is that, while The Exorcist taps primal fears in the service of a real examination of faith and reason, this film disingenuously purports from the get-go to be based on fact, and thus requires no such consideration. Instead, it sets medical science up as a convenient straw-man standing in the way of a wider societal acceptance of Christian truth.

Nearly a century after the Scopes trial, a startling number of people - more than half the population of the country - have come to believe that Bryan had a point. Particularly given this frightening trend, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is worse than irresponsible filmmaking. It is, in fact, truly diabolical.


Blogger Andrew J Wahlquist said...

Ah, a disappointing review of the movie!

Supposedly the co-writers approached from opposite point of views. Scott Derrickson is a Christian and a pretty liberal one at that, and Paul Boardman is a skeptic agnostic. They set out to present a balanced view of both sides, and show neither one to be an idiot. Hard to watch the movie as completely unbiased though, because clearly the protagonists are on the spiritual side.

By no means did the movie try to prove that demons exist, and god-forbid convince you to seek redemption in Christ. Laura Linney remains an agnostic, albeit with more confusion. Wilkinson is convicted as guilty, though without further punishment. Also case in point, the first shot of the movie was of the barb wire fence dripping blood. A not insignificant image, considering the explanation of Emily's stigmata later in the film.

I think your take on the movie, rather than exposing the filmmakers supposed agenda, instead just reveals your own personal biases. I'm amazed how violently you react to the idea that there are spiritual things going on in the world that we can't explain.

I, personally, am glad that a man of faith is finally portrayed in a good light. The media would just love to leave priests as sex-oppressed child molesters who lie to the world for their own financial and power hungry pursuits. Maybe they're not all like that.

8:35 PM  

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