Is The Exorcist a Misogynistic Film?
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Is The Exorcist a Misogynistic Film?

The Excorcist is a ground-breaking horror film directed by William Friedkin and based on a novel by William Peter Blatty. The film is a masterpierce of horror, and a complex theological thriller which investigates the mysteries of faith. Yet, the film has been criticised by Feminist writers for its problematic representation of femininity and the female body.

'What an excellent day for an excorcism . . . '

The Excorcist (1973) is a ground-breaking horror film directed by William Friedkin and based on a novel by William Peter Blatty.  The film is a masterpierce of horror, and a complex theological thriller which investigates the mysteries of faith.  Yet, the film has been criticised by Feminist writers for its problematic representation of femininity and the female body.

The Exorcist allows its female protagonist to assert a strong and guiltless sexuality, to rebel against parental authority, and to violently challenge the patriarchal regimes of family, law and religion. This outline may imply that the film is a Feminist tract, exposing the misogyny of America’s most revered institutions and revealing them to be founded upon the repression and oppression of women. However, I will argue that the portrayal of characters and institutions is such that the film condones this repression as justified and necessary. By examining the film in its political context, I will show that it seeks to attribute the degradation of society to a female Other or scapegoat, who is then relegated to an unthreatening position by patriarchal institutions. The Exorcist allows its monstrous female to challenge male authority only in order to re-impose it at the end with even greater conviction.

The film begins with a prologue set in the ruins of Nineveh, Iraq, suggesting a basis in an ancient feud between good and evil (represented by the confrontation between Father Merrin and the statue of Pazuzu, a Mesopotamian demon). By contrast, the film’s main setting of Georgetown is emphatically modern and immediate: unlike many classic horror films, there is no distancing in time or place. Consequently, The Exorcist has to employ other methods to disguise its engagement with contemporary anxieties. The film’s ambiguity is central to this. Much of it arises from the presence of two authors - William Peter Blatty, producer and author of the original novel and screenplays, and William Friedkin, the director – as the controversy over deleted scenes attests. But beyond this there is also a calculated ambiguity present in the film, which obscures its highly conservative ideology (as would have been essential given the film’s reactionary attitude to Feminism). Barbara Creed has rightly stated that the theme of demonic possession is merely an excuse to portray woman as monstrous.2 Similarly, while the ostensible project is to investigate good and evil, these are defined exclusively in terms of male and female: the film is based upon gendered oppositions.

A faith in male authority is established at the outset. Like Klute (1971), The Exorcist is named not after its main character (Regan), but a male protagonist. This constructs Merrin as a hero, which the prologue seeks to confirm. Among the ruins of Nineveh, Merrin happens past a line of Muslims praying - obliquely suggesting his formidable spiritual presence. He also deflects armed guards with a wave of his hand and is begged to remain in Iraq by a loyal assistant. Therefore, even though Merrin will not be present during the film’s middle section, the prologue has already established his heroic status. The subversive acts of horror and profanity that follow, each of them threats to male authority, are all undermined by the audience’s secure knowledge that Merrin will return to restore order.

In opposition to Merrin’s authority are the black-garbed women who haunt him in Iraq. One nearly kills him with her carriage, and her sinister appearance and great age (as well Merrin’s obvious physical frailty) imply that the women represent his imminent death. The fact that death is presented as a female figure introduces one of the film’s main themes: that monstrous or aberrant women challenge male authority. In The Exorcist, good and evil are gendered concepts. The opposition is reiterated in the relationships between Father Karras and his mother, and between the priests and Regan.3 It is fought on several fronts. One of these is the family.

The MacNeil home is an all-female household conspicuously lacking a male authority figure. The absent father is alluded to in Regan’s use of a Ouija board – the first indication of her disorder/possession. Claiming that the answers to her questions are supplied by ‘Captain Howdy,’ Regan unconsciously refers to her father (Blatty’s novel makes this explicit by naming him Howard), and her question, ‘Do you think my mom’s pretty?’ receives no answer – highlighting the sexual tension and animosity between her mother (Chris) and father. This theme is developed when Regan morosely overhears a phonecall in which a near-hysterical Chris tries to contact Howard and shouts religious and sexual obscenities into the phone (‘I’ve been on this fucking line for twenty minutes! Jesus Christ!’), which clearly condition the nature of Regan’s subsequent atrocities. Therefore, whether Regan’s disorder is supernaturally or psychologically derived, the film holds this absence of paternal discipline accountable for it. Either it has left the family open to the Devil’s influence, or it has deranged her to the point of madness. The point is that all would have been well if only Regan had received the proper discipline from a male authority figure.

The broken family is doubly condemned for the implications it has for society. Chris’s phonecall is juxtaposed with a bar scene in which Karras confesses he is losing his faith.4 Thus, the film very precisely links the decay of family values with the spiritual decline of society. What is more disturbing is the way in which aberrant women are implicated in this decline. Karras’s debilitating guilt arises from his obligation to his aged mother. But at the same time, his mother stubbornly refuses to leave her home and submit to his authority. Her independence is seen to jeopardise Karras’s spiritual commitment, and is therefore regarded as aberrant. This is resolved in a strikingly anti-Feminist way: Karras reconciles himself with the church and sacrifices his mother, who dies alone. Similarly, Chris - an actress - is first seen studying a script, thereby asserting her independence. Since this is the source of her broken marriage (Howard resented her success), Chris’s independence is gradually stripped away from her. She hands over control to Karras and Merrin, and is finally reduced to a servile position, doing no more than acquiescing to the priests. The film suggests that these independent women, by denying their designated social roles, are rebelling against patriarchal authority, and thus hastening the catastrophic spiritual and familial decline of society.

Were it not for this obsession with social decay, The Exorcist could almost be regarded as a Feminist text. Creed has written that it ‘suggests that the family home, bastion of all the right virtues and laudable moral values, is built on a foundation of repressed sexual desires.’5 But while it is true that Regan successfully challenges the hypocritical laws of the patriarchal family and gives expression to these repressed desires, this behaviour is consistently defined as monstrous. Creed’s statement inadvertently implies that the film implicates the repressive family in Regan’s disorder, but it is actually the broken family that is held responsible – specifically because it fails to fulfil this repressive function. Acknowledging that the family is founded upon repressed desires, The Exorcist nevertheless argues that paternal authority could successfully and necessarily repress them. This is because the repressed is regarded as evil and abject, and those who serve as a vessel for it as evil personified – the Devil Incarnate.

What exactly, then, has the MacNeil family failed to repress? The film defines as abject the female body, female sexuality and all behaviour that transgresses conventional gender roles. Barbara Creed demonstrates that in infantile development, the abject is repressed by the rules and laws of the paternal symbolic order during the construction of the ‘clean and proper self.’6 It includes all bodily excretions, behaviour, modes of being etc. that are opposed to the paternal symbolic and must be expelled in the construction of that self. Since it is traditionally the mother who carries out ‘the mapping of the self’s clean and proper body,’ involving the exclusion of these elements, the abject is associated with the female.7

The theme of abjection is introduced with the witch-like figures who plague Merrin in Iraq, and it is reinforced by the recurring image of Chris covering Regan’s body – on three occasions when she enters Regan’s bedroom and finds the sheets drawn back. This censorial attitude to the female body is the major prohibition violated by Regan, and throughout the film we are presented with graphic images of her body and its excretions – including projectile vomiting, urine, bile, and menstrual blood – all of which are presented as repulsive through their enforced contact with priests, polite guests, and religious artefacts. A corollary of these horrors is the scene in which Karras discovers the words ‘Help me’ emerging from Regan’s skin. This indicates that Regan is ‘a prisoner of her own carnality’8 – she is trapped inside the abject female body. Abjection is extended into the assertive female sexuality demonstrated by Regan, which is doubly abject since she is practically still a child. The film makes it painfully clear that the Devil possesses Regan in a parody of the Virgin Birth: she is subjected to a horrifically violent rape. Her own sexuality is subsequently manifested when she exposes her genitals and screams ‘Fuck me!’ at her male doctors, one of whom she tries to castrate, and later when she masturbates with a crucifix and tries to force a sexual encounter with her mother. The essential horror of these sequences lies in Regan’s exposure of the female body, and her denial of the passivity and dependence assigned to women by society.

Regardless of the possession theme, Regan is implicated in each of these acts by her name. Regan’s namesake is King Lear’s monstrous daughter,9 who was associated with the snake – ‘Christian symbol of woman’s disobedience, unbridled sexual appetite, and treachery.’10 An omitted scene known as the ‘spiderwalk’ would have made this connection more apparent: Regan descends the stairs on her hands and feet with ‘her tongue flicking rapidly in and out of her mouth like a snake.’11 Thus, the film makes it impossible to view the demon as the sole source of evil and Regan as an innocent victim. The eruption of evil in The Exorcist is inextricably linked to the female body and sexuality, which must be repressed by the paternal order (male priests) so that good can prevail. By invoking the concept of abjection, the film achieves its major male/female opposition. A crude equation between the female and evil allows The Exorcist to present itself as a theological struggle, but its real project is to dramatise the conflict between male and female, between the paternal symbolic and the abject.

Crucial here is the concept of the Other, articulated by Robin Wood in his theory of the American horror film. Wood demonstrates that the Other, as well as being external to the self or one’s society, has a psychological function: one projects what cannot be tolerated in the self onto another in order to disown it.12 This process is vital to The Exorcist, where the Other is clearly defined as female, and has a dual function. Firstly, the exorcism allows personal anxieties to be expelled: Regan becomes a scapegoat for the priests who confront her. Throughout the exorcism, she accosts them with a torrent of abuse that makes their repressed desires explicit, seizing particularly on Karras’s suppressed homosexuality (more evident in the novel) and his guilty resentment of his mother. By expelling the demon, Merrin and Karras disown these repressed desires through a symbolic sacrifice of the female Other.

Secondly, all women become scapegoats for the collective anxieties of society. The film portrays 1970s society as a promiscuous, aspiritual, moral wasteland in which family values have disintegrated. It also perceives that patriarchal authority is being challenged by Feminism, which gained support during this era. This is the source of Regan’s portrayal as a monstrous female, asserting her sexuality, castrating men, and refusing sexual guilt. The film diffuses this threat by the annihilation - symbolic and literal - of Chris and Mrs. Karras respectively. An irrational fear of homosexuals, exacerbated by the rise of Gay Liberation, is the motive behind the ceremonial expulsion of homosexuality enacted by the priests. Similarly, there is an evident fear of youth, leading Mark Kermode to describe the film as a ‘paedophobic tract.’13 Chris is working on a film about student insurrection. She is reluctant to let Regan grow up, disliking a picture of her because she looks ‘so mature.’ Rebellious youth is everywhere evident in the streets and campuses of the film. These aspects culminate in the presentation of Regan as a ‘devil-child,’14 an image that achieved common currency in contemporary cinema (Rosemary’s Baby [1968], The Omen [1976] and its sequels). As Andrew Britton has demonstrated, this tendency is the result of widespread anxiety over the Freudian theory of infantile sexuality (which undermined the cherished concept of childhood innocence), and the Children’s Liberation movement that was fostered by Feminism.15

The theme of possession itself is part of the film’s engagement with contemporary issues. Possession allows the boundary between the self and the Other to be transgressed.16 All sense of self is replaced by vulnerability, helplessness, and alienation. It is hard to not to see this as a comment on political developments in the 1970s. America could do nothing but watch as it was led into a futile war in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal revealed corruption at the highest level of government. Both events promoted a sense of ineffectuality, a loss of faith in decisive action and individual effort. It is no accident that Blatty located his nightmare of possession in Washington D.C.

According to Wood, 1970s Hollywood horror films typically end with the survival of the monster17 (e.g. The Omen). In this context, The Exorcist is atypical: it suggests that evil can finally be destroyed and traditional values reaffirmed. This reactionary and reassuring ideology contributed to the vast commercial success of The Exorcist, unprecedented for a film in its genre.

A final ambiguity revolves around the film’s psychoanalytic content. Abjection in the portrayal of Regan has already been discussed, but Creed demonstrates that it also informs the mother/daughter relationship, the changing nature of which is the main organising principle behind the narrative. Early scenes depict an unusually close relationship between Chris and Regan, often presented in sexualised terms through holding and caressing.18 This is interrupted by the presence of Burke Dennings, Chris’s director, whom Regan perceives as a prospective boyfriend for Chris. The close bond begins to disintegrate when Regan slyly and jealously suggests a sexual relationship between Burke and Chris, and once possessed, Regan murders him to ensure that she remains bound to her mother. Following this, Regan’s feelings become ‘perverse and crudely sexual,’19 culminating in her attempt to force sexual contact with Chris.

The significance of this in Creed’s analysis is that it demonstrates Regan’s desire to remain bonded to the maternal body. As discussed previously, it is the mother who carries out the mapping of the clean and proper self. This process is ‘semiotic’ because it is analogous to that of acquiring language. It involves the repression of the semiotic chora that is the pre-condition of language – i.e. that is pre-Oedipal.20 Since the mother becomes associated with the abject, the process also demands that maternal authority be repressed: ‘The mother is gradually rejected because she comes to represent, to signify, the period of the semiotic which the paternal symbolic constructs as abject.’21 Regan refuses to make this transition into the paternal symbolic; she reverts to the pre-Oedipal semiotic chora and the abject body. This is a major source of horror in The Exorcist: the possessed female refuses to submit to paternal authority, and rejects her proper role in the symbolic (as well as the social) order. Creed remarks that ritual, in this case exorcism, must be performed in order to ensure the separation of mother and daughter.22

Since Creed’s project is to supersede the phallocentric Freudian theory that informs most analyses of the horror film, she neglects another crucial aspect of The Exorcist: its reliance upon the Oedipal narrative. This would appear to contradict Creed’s pre-Oedipal reading, but actually the two are complementary, due once again to the ambiguity inherent in the film. The Exorcist deals with a fear of female sexuality, but this is presented in almost entirely masculine terms. The statue of Pazuzu associates the demonic with sexuality, signified by its immense phallus. It is clear that the phallus is what Regan acquires in becoming possessed. The statue of the Virgin desecrated by Regan is endowed with a phallus, and becomes an image of the Devil as phallic woman. Subsequently, Regan presents a parody of assertive male sexuality, including ‘bass voice, violence, sexual aggressiveness, unladylike language.’23 But this is not to say that Regan is viewed as innocent because she is possessed by a male devil: Karras’s test with the Holy Water implies that she is not possessed at all. Furthermore, the demonic voice used by Regan is not masculine (which would confirm the presence of a male demon), but was supplied by actress Mercedes MacCambridge. Therefore, the film preserves a core of ambiguity in order to efface the boundary between the Oedipal and pre-Oedipal narratives, allowing them to co-exist without too many obvious contradictions. As a result, Regan’s sexual desire for her mother could be applied to either reading. Her murder of Burke both ensures that her bond to the maternal is not compromised, and that the symbolic father is disposed of, to be replaced by Regan herself, allowing her to become her mother’s lover. Regan’s phallic status does not contradict the film’s fear of female sexuality, it merely indicates that the film cannot conceive of female sexuality in anything but male terms, and in this sense The Exorcist can be regarded as doubly sexist.

Much of the film involves a struggle for potency between Karras and Regan as each tries to complete the Oedipal project. Just as Regan acquires a phallus, Karras is marked by his impotence. This initial ineffectuality is produced by devotion to his mother and his desire to reject the church (God the Father). In this, he partially mirrors Regan’s reversion to a pre-Oedipal state. In the climatic sequence, Regan rises from her bed and levitates with her body perfectly rigid. This is clearly a state of erection,24 indicating that Regan has almost displaced the symbolic father. At this point, however, Merrin and Karras repeatedly shout ‘The power of Christ compels you!’ thereby reasserting the law of the father. A strip of flesh is torn from Regan’s leg, suggesting that she has been re-castrated – she has lost the phallus acquired during possession. Her levitation/erection subsides. The final stage of the exorcism demands that Merrin die, in order to resolve Karras’s Oedipal conflict. Finding that Regan has killed Merrin, Karras attacks her. His brutal punching of Regan is a final rejection of his mother (whom he has just hallucinated in place of Regan). Thus, Karras announces his separation from the maternal, from the pre-Oedipal state. His cry of ‘Take me!’ invites possession, but it also asserts his newly acquired potency, made possible by Merrin’s death. Karras has driven the Oedipal narrative to its conclusion: he has become the symbolic father. In a last effort to save Regan (now only a tearful victim reliant on male heroism), Karras suppresses the demon and leaps through the window to his death. He becomes a martyr and, in doing so, re-establishes his faith, and the authority of religion, masculinity and the paternal symbolic.

In the last scene, a docile Chris and Regan have been returned to their ‘proper’ social roles – dependent, passive, unthreatening. The film indicates that the separation of the self from the abject has finally been achieved. Father Dyer (Karras’s friend) reappears as a substitute father figure, suggesting that the MacNeil family now acknowledges the need for paternal authority. Although Regan has never met Dyer, she kisses him. The reason is that she has noticed his dog collar: even though she remembers nothing about the exorcism, she recognises that the church is something she should be grateful for.

In conclusion, I would argue that The Exorcist must ultimately be regarded as anti-Feminist. Through graphic spectacle and subtle insinuation it suggests that women are fundamentally monstrous. The female is defined as Other, and due to the association between the maternal and the abject, the female body/sexuality is regarded as repulsive, abject and monstrous. Psychological repression, signified by the ritual of exorcism, is required to suppress the abject female and allow entry into the paternal symbolic order. On a wider social level, women become monstrous when they challenge male authority by refusing their designated social roles, and as a solution the film argues that paternal discipline, administered through the institutions of family and religion, must oppress the female into a compliant, non-threatening position. Therefore, even though the film admits that society is founded upon the repression and oppression of women, it views this as entirely necessary – the survival of patriarchal society depends upon the ritual sacrifice of the female Other. For this reason, The Exorcist absolves its patriarchal institutions, and resubmits its monstrous women to their unquestionable authority.

REFERENCES

1. Robin Wood, Hollywood form Vietnam to Reagan

2. Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis p31

3. Ibid. p37

4. Mark Kermode, The Exorcist p36

5. Creed, op cit. p35

6. Julia Kristeva, quoted ibid. p37

7. Creed, op cit. p38

8. Ibid. p41

9. Ibid. p33

10. Ibid. p33

11. William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist and Legion, p67

12. Robin Wood, op cit. p73

13. Mark Kermode, op cit. p27

14. Robin Wood, op cit. p88

15. Andrew Britton, ‘American Cinema in the 70s: The Exorcist’ p17

16. Creed, op cit. p32

17. Robin Wood, op cit. p87

18. Creed, op cit. p40

19. Ibid. p39

20. Ibid. p38

21. Ibid. p38

22. Ibid. p38

23. Andrew Britton, op cit. p17

24. Ibid. p19

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blatty, William Peter – The Exorcist (Corgi, London, 1972)

Blatty, William Peter - The Exorcist and Legion (Faber & Faber Limited, London, 1998)

Britton, Andrew - ‘American Cinema in the 70s: The Exorcist’ in Movie volume 25, December 1977 p16-20

Creed, Barbara - The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (Routledge, London, 1993)

Jancovich, Mark – Horror (BT Batsford Ltd, London, 1992)

Kermode, Mark - The Exorcist (British Film Institute Publishing, London, 1998)

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Comments (25)
Martin Dansky

good research done on this

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Thank you. It's based on one of my undergraduate essays, so it might be a bit naive, but I'm glad some of it holds up.

Great insights about the Exorcist. Gives me a whole new way to look at the film.

Ranked #13 in Popular Culture

Very interesting

great film of its time!

You certainly did your research Michael. Excellent analysis, indepth! I'm not sure why females would consider this as an attack against them but I don't believe it was. It was one of the horror greats and originally based on a true documented story, I suppose in some ways that is why it is so scary. In one point I can see how feminists could think something of it as it was originally a boy in the true story and it was changed to a girl. Very interesting read as always!

Michael, it is a great analysis, as Tanya says. I, too, don't consider this as an attack against feminists; sometimes I think oversensitive feminists get too riled up over things. It is a horror movie - and having seen and having feministic traits myself, I never gave it one thought as being 'against' my gender. If I can take the role as a devil's advocate (no pun intended), it either had to be a woman or a man who was in the devil's clutches in The Exorcist and either one could be analyzed infinitely. I propose Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who gave creation to a murderous and vindicative monster and can be analyzed as well. Will men bemoan Shelley's creation that she is a misandrist (a person who hates persons of the male sex) by transferring monster, vindicative, and murderous traits to men? Some opines call Frankenstein a transsexual or a homosexual - are they misandrists? I bet the Bride of Frankenstein could shed some light on that....She did some happy singing in that movie, i recall. An interesting read, as usual. Thanks. :)

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Thanks for your comments. Tanya, I see you you know about the 1949 Mount Rainier case that inspired William Peter Blatty - thanks for highlighting this. Marie, thanks again for your insight. The Bride of Frankenstein does indeed manifest themes of homosexuality. It was made by a gay director, James Whale, and stars two gay actors, Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Ernest Thessiger as the magnificently camp Dr. Pretorius. Similarly, the monster's relationship with the hermit has been interpreted as a 'gay marriage', while Frankenstein and Pretorius's attempt to create life without a female presence can be seen as an attempt at homosexual union. I believe that all cultural products can meaningfully be subjected to academic analysis. Horror films in particular are laden with assumptions about gender and sexuality, many of which are imparted unconsciously. Gender is a cultural construction, albeit one based on biological difference, and gender relations are formed from our exposure to cultural products such as advertising, film, TV etc. It is always important to question these representations.

This is a very insightful and well thought out article. There are so many elements that go into that film. Regan is female, she is a naive child, and there are just so many angles that can be taken and so many views, but I tend to agree with you here.

That's an excellent review full of insights.

I watched this movie... and it scared the living daylights out of me.. it was soooo real! I also read the book. It's so hard to believe that it is just acting and there are cameras there and directors.. it just seems like it is real and I was there to witness it.. I loved the movie.. but it isn't anything I want to see again... once was enough.. it still scares me to see the photos! :)

Michael this was truly fascinating, I never sat down to analysis the exorcist, and I would have to read your analysis several time to understand your stance. I do see the objectification of women, I am a feminist, I see a continuation of the role of women through out history, the temptress Eve, Deliah, the sirens, the uglyness of medusa. the evilness of Isis, Durga, and so on. What I am having trouble with is the Oedipus, I do not see it, first of all taking it literally according to Freud is a son in love with his mother and kills the father, I do not see Regan in love with her mother. I do see a mother fighting for her daughter's life, the eternal mother the nurturer, other earth if you will but Oedipus, I just don't see it.

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Carol, thanks for the comment. On reflection, I feel I haven't explained it very clearly - as I said, this was an undergraduate essay! Regan has been abandoned by her father Howard. She then creates an imaginary friend 'Captain Howdy' - the similarity in the name suggesting that she is trying to recapture her absent father. Then the symptoms of possession start to appear and Regan attributes these to Captain Howdy. Regan acquires certain 'male' characteristics as Captain Howdy begins to take over - bass voice, sexual aggression, physical strength. This suggests that Regan is trying to usurp the paternal role i.e. symbolically kill the father. She becomes phallically empowered, and this echoes an earlier scene in which Regan has desecrated a statue of Mary by equipping it with an immense phallus. Likewise, the demon Pazzuzu is depicted as a phallic being during the Iraq prologue. As for sexual longing for the mother, Regan does exhibit this immiedately after abusing the crucifix. I won't go into detail, but she does try to force a sexual encounter with her mother. You're perfectly right to say that Chris MacNeil is a mother trying to protect her daughter, but this is precisely why Regan's behaviour is so shocking; it perverts the relationship between mother and daughter.

okay I see your point now, I am going by memory of the movie as well and I saw it 30 years ago, the captain howdy character I did not remember.

my initial reaction to the movie and the desecration of religious symbols, I guess was more superficial, I just saw it as the typical good versus evil theme. The mockery of the church also showing the disassociation of the church with contemporary society.

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Thank you Carol, but re-reading it today, I do think I could have explained it better. Thanks for pointing out the ambiguities - constructive comments are always helpful.

I also just took it at face value upon first seeing it, I was very young.

The movie was very frightening. I have never read a better in depth analysis of this or any movie. Excellent work.

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Susan, thank you, that's such a nice comment.

Wendy Tan

I did consider the fact that the movie contained misogynistic undertones and more, it's always been of particular interest to me to analyse films and fictional work that strike me as misogynistic as I'm a literature student and consider myself a feminist. You've done a excellent job here in my opinion, and I enjoyed reading your article, it was quite illuminating, thank you. :)

Wendy Tan

"Horror films in particular are laden with assumptions about gender and sexuality, many of which are imparted unconsciously. Gender is a cultural construction, albeit one based on biological difference, and gender relations are formed from our exposure to cultural products such as advertising, film, TV etc. It is always important to question these representations."

I totally agree with you on that Michael, once again, an insightful article.

Matthew Houts

You definately had an agenda in writing this and I think you get out of The Exorcist what you bring to it. If you believe in a patriarchy quashing feminine liberation , thats what you probably will see in the film. It is ultimately about the mystery of faith and absolutely selfless heroic good in the face of total evil. I don't believe the movie would be as shocking with a 13 year old boy as the possessed (like the event this is based on). I do think many of your points about sexuality would certainly be vaild if Regan was older. The shock is seeing such a young girl exhibit that behavior. Would a 18-19 year old screaming "fuck me!" be as shocking? No. Referring to a 12-13 year old "refusing to accept sexual guilt" just sounds simply ridculous.

I am not a church goer, and I was very touched by the film. First by Miller's performance as Karras, and when I became a parent, of Chris MacNeil's distress.

I always thought the abscence of Regan's father was a red herring (like her/Pazuzu's reaction to tap water).

I thought it was curious that you claim Karras had his faith as he leaped out the window. His faith was reestablished after Merrin banished him downstairs. He sits there exhausted, realizing what better way for God to make his prescence known than to show the Devil/demon? When Chris tearfully asks if her daughter will die, Karras snaps out of his reflection and gives a determined "No", and ascends the stairs a different man. In later versions of the film many superflous scenes were added, but a short discussion between Merrin and Karras when they take a break during the exorcism, in my opinion, crystallizes the point of the film. Karras askes "Why this girl? It doesn't make sense". Merrin replies that he thinks it is to make us despair. Why Friedkin didn't include this profound exchange in the original cut, I'll never know.

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Friedkin omitted that scene because he felt it made the film's intentions too overt and prevented the audience from drawing their own conclusions. As you say, part of the film's power is due to the fact that it can be interpreted in various ways. I believe that Friedkin wanted to keep certain aspects ambiguous and open to interpretation. I completely agree that Karras reacquires his faith downstairs - what I meant was that jumping out of the window is a symbolic gesture of his faith, since it echoes Christ's sacrifice. I love The Exorcist and none of my points are meant to suggest that it's a bad film. On the contrary, I think it's the best horror film ever made. When one analyses a film like this, one is often accused of reading too much into it, but as I said in a previous comment, horror films frequently deal with anxieties about gender and sexuality, many of which are imparted unconsciously. That fact that a filmmaker may not have anticipated certain readings, doesn't mean they have no validity.

justsomeguy

or maybe she was just possessed by the devil...over-analyzing something to this degree means you cannot enjoy entertainment for what it is; entertainment. That a man wrote this tells me that there is a guilt component within your own sexuality that is"excorcised" by this vaginized pap. That you continually refer to the hate literature and mindset of a rabid feminist confirms this. Do you not have your own opinions? As a man? As a person, free of gender? Clearly, you wrote this to get some ass. Like teenaged boys that form a band to get girls, or worse, desecrate their flesh with tattos, piercings and/or branding, because they want to "express their individualism" which is ridiculous because all it does is make them look like every other jackass that thinks the way to remove self-repressions i.e. "I am not good looking enough/interesting enough" is by committing to self-harm or to remake oneself in some caricature image. Re-write this in it's entirety, substituting every male reference with a female one and vice-versa and see how it stands up. Omit every single reference to the works of others, especially in regard to Blatty and Friedkin. Then ask yourself this; was the devil, since the book and movie were based on true events, snubbing his nose at women and feminism because he possessed a pre-pubescent girl? What if he possessed a boy and instead of male priests, it was a pair of nuns that performed the rites? Perhaps feminism is a tool of the devil, ever consider that? Re-write this whole thing using a gender-role-reversal mindset. Years and maturity often allow one to see the mistakes made in earlier works.

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As I said above, this was written in response to an essay question when I was at university. It's not unusual to write an in depth analysis of a film or novel and to use academic writing to help interpret it.

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