The Exorcist & The Power of Faith
Over the years, many people (namely my Christian peeps) have asked me how and/or why The Exorcist is my favorite "Christian" movie. For me, the answer is pretty simple. The book and the movie both are a story, not about the power of evil, but the power of faith and personal sacrifice while journeying through the grievous process of deconstruction.
The Exorcist is known for its reputation of having people pass out in the theater or throw up or even have miscarriages. The making of the movie itself was said to be cursed due to death and sickness that seemed to plague the cast and crew. Some people may say it's pretty obvious why this movie shouldn't have been made and that a demon was attached to the making of the movie because it shouldn't have been made in the first place. But I would offer a different explanation. Perhaps, there was so much adversity to not making this movie, not because God didn't want it to be made, but because the enemy didn't. We have an unseen enemy that lives in shadow and feeds off of the darkness and it thrives in the secret place and wishes to stay there.
C.S. Lewis said "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." I truly believe that this film is in direct defiance of the first error spoken of by Lewis and not the second. This movie does not glorify possession in any way. On the contrary, it shows the pain and suffering of a young girl and her mother as they are victims of this diabolical evil. A diabolical evil that we face as well day in and day out.
The Exorcist does not sugarcoat anything. It's not family-friendly nor does it have a particularly happy ending. And that's the brilliance of it. It's a perfect example of what Greg Boyd calls the "warfare worldview". It reminds us that this world in which we live is a warzone filled with a real enemy and real stakes. Many of us live as though life is a sunny beach on a summer holiday, while in reality, that beach is Normandy, on June 6th, 1944. This film shows us a reality that we don't want to face nor do we want to even acknowledge its existence. But we must. Especially if we are followers of God.
But even though this film brings the reality of a war-torn existence to the forefront, what drives the story is not the evil, but the struggling faith of a priest. Damien Karass is someone we can all relate to, especially those of us who have or are currently going through a state of deconstruction in our faith. He is caught between being expected to have all the answers and leading people in a strong belief in God and wondering if he even believes these things to be true, including the existence of God himself. And as the movie continues and he is faced with the loss of his mother and ultimately this possession which he believes to be just an extreme case of psychosis, his faith is not buttoned up and reconstructed in a nice, neat, orderly fashion either. Even during the film's climactic exorcism Karass proves to be weak in his faith and resolve, being kicked out of the exorcism for not being able to properly interact with the demon. His character is one of the most honest representations of a struggling Christian I have ever seen on screen. Possibly the most honest of all. And yet, despite all of that, it's his faith that wins the day.
As Karass sits in the parlor of the MacNeil home with Regan's mother, Chris, she asks him if her daughter is going to die. At this moment you can see something change in him. His entire demeanor changes from broken and defeated to determined and courageous. He confidently looks at Chris and answers her with a definitive, "No." he then stands up and walks back up the stairs to Regan's room to face this evil once and for all, not knowing what will happen, not having a clear end goal, but to face the evil nonetheless. In this moment, he believes. He no longer thinks this is just a form of psychosis, but an actual evil presence that has invaded this warm and loving home.
In the end, Karass gives his life up for a girl he doesn't know. His faith is restored, yet you don't know to what degree or how he truly feels toward God. There's no conversation or monologue to explain how his faith journey ends or how he has reconstructed what he believes. There's simply sacrifice. In a moment of pure (arguably righteous) rage, he commands the demon to come into him and upon doing so, he leaps out of the window of Regan's bedroom, and down the long flight of concrete steps to his death below, saving Regan and presumably removing a host for the demonic presence. Many have said that the demon won the day, but Karass acknowledging the last rites performed by his dear friend, Father Dyer convinces me otherwise (ignoring the plot of The Exorcist III).
In the end, faith wins the day although it comes with a heavy weight that brings sorrow in this life. I think more than anything else this movie shows us that life, faith, and the existence of God and evil aren't as black and white as we want them to be. The war between good and evil isn't as clear-cut as we think and what makes someone a believer may not be either. We don't know what exactly happened in the heart of Damien Karass at the end of this movie, but we can be sure that whatever it was, it gave him the strength to save a little girl from the darkest malevolence he had ever faced, even if it meant killing himself to do so.
I think we can all learn something very valuable from his story. We can learn that real faith is a journey of struggle and confusion that may not have a black-and-white answer. We may live our entire lives and not definitively find the answers we seek, in fact, we can probably count on that not happening. But in the end, we can still look at this world and understand that there is something very wrong with it. Something goes far beyond the natural understanding of things and we can choose to walk in the light and stand against the darkness that threatens us all. We can choose to love those we do not know and sacrifice our ideals, preferences, and prejudices for the betterment of those around us (our neighbors). And we can do so knowing that God is at work in these moments of faith. He is here, he is with us, and even though we do not fully understand how, nor may it look like we think, He will win the day.