Everything in The Exorcist is brave and scary … but the ending is calm. Why?
There are only a few films that I think are "scary". Sure, there is gruesome horror and I keep jumping, but when it comes to real fear I find it hard to think of something that actually gets under my skin and makes it crawl like the exorcist.
Maybe it's 12 years of Catholic school or William Friedkin's championship, but this 1973 classic is a film that left a strong mark on me. It was the first horror movie I saw with amazing character development and a real arc for the people involved.
It was a film about clashes between progressive and family values, between science and religion, and between atheism and belief.
This film was important to Hollywood, the country, and the world.
But one thing that makes The Exorcist's ending perfectly clear is where the movie's own politics stand. Check out this video essay by The Take and explore the deeper messages and themes of the ending of The Exorcist and how you can still appreciate this film if you disagree with its values.
Why does the exorcist have such a conservative ending?
Just looking at this essay scared me into bed tonight, and I checked it out at ten in the morning. I want to get into our bigger discussion about the ending of the movie. But first let's talk about the actual film and its plot.
The Exorcist, released in 1973, is a supernatural horror film. It was directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the 1971 novel on which it is based. Movie stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller and Linda Blair play a 12-year-old girl who is demon-possessed.
At the end of the film, Father Karras asks the demon to leave Reagan and enter him. In this case, he throws himself out the window and dies to save Reagan from the demon. When he lands, Father Dyer administers his final rites and the demon is defeated.
A few days later, Reagan, who is now back to normal, is preparing to leave los Angeles with her mother. She has no memory of what she owned, but the sight of Dyer still moves her Office collars and kisses his cheek. As the car pulls away, her mother tells the driver to stop, and she gives Dyer a locket that belongs to Karras. After they drive off, Dyer pauses at the top of the stone stairs before turning and walking away.
After such a batshit movie, it was actually a pretty quiet ending.
Recognition: Warner Bros.
Well the answer lies in the moral of the film. When we look back on the film, it can be seen as a condemnation of female sexuality, the single parent home, science versus religion, and the importance of a father in your life. While some of these notions felt out of date, they were prevalent in the 1970s, pushing back on the free love generation and moral upheaval of the 1960s.
In fact, the book on which the film is based was written for the sole purpose of driving people back to church and encouraging them to choose what the author viewed as "moral life."
At the end of the film, we see Reagan refusing to become a woman. Instead, she becomes a meek child who chooses religion. She also gets a father figure in God and the priests. And, like Jesus, our priests make the ultimate sacrifice to save their souls.
It's funny that that was the intent because when the film was released it was thrown back by parent groups, church sects, and much of the public, despite being accepted by Hollywood and nominated for multiple Academy Awards.
I think the central questions of this film are why it stands the test of time. Even if the "morals" may be out of date or skewed in one direction, the entertainment value is so good. We have the fight in the foreground of the conversation and it informs every scene we see.
What do you think of this exorcist reading?
Let us know in the comments.
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