Wondering why a rainy St. Patrick’s Day evening prompted me think about The Exorcist, I nearly wrote “Lord only knows.” Then I realized how that statement, in the context of this movie, might imply more than it meant. But that’s where my mind ended up tonight.
I probably think about this movie more than most people. To me, it’s not just a horror flick; it’s also one of the most pro-religious, pro-God movies I’ve ever seen, and if that statement seems surprising, you should give the movie another go with an eye toward its endgame and not all the blasphemy. However, it’s not just a film about God’s eventual triumph over evil. It has bits and pieces that don’t quite add up, and I’m posting them here, hoping of getting a response from some of the film-savvy regulars on this blog but more realistically imagining that other weirdos considering these matters will Google their way here and at least tell me that I’m not the only one wondering.
Burke Dennings. He’s the director friend of Chris MacNeil’s who gets tossed down the steps leading up to the apartment. He’s the first casualty of little Regan’s “troubles.” Before he dies, he’s depicted as an outgoing kook — the kind who makes parties fun but who maybe isn’t the type a woman would trust with her kid. Chris McNeil does anyway, and Dennings winds up dead as a result of his one-on-one time. Is there some kind of implied impropriety in his interactions with Regan? Specifically one that may have gotten him killed? Or am I just mapping Roman Polanski-ness onto the character? And yes, I’m aware that The Exorcist preceded Polanski’s sexual assault arrest by several years.
Sharon Spencer. In a similar sense, what motivates Chris’s assistant, the woman played by Kitty Winn? She sticks by Chris through all manner of badness. I mean, most people would consider a Satan infestation grounds for quitting. What’s her devotion all about?
Father Dyer. Now this is the weird one — the one that seems a lot less under-the-radar than the other two. Am I the only one who reads this guy as a gay character? No, no I’m not. But isn’t it strange that a film that ultimately delivers such a conservative meaning would prominently feature a Jesuit priest who speaks the line, “My idea of heaven is a solid white nightclub with me as a headliner for all eternity, and they love me”? I’m not sure that coding the character as gay is progressive or just bizarre, but it’s especially notable that this gay-seeming character was played by the Reverend William O’Malley, an actual Jesuit priest who also served as William Friedkin’s technical advisor on the set of The Exorcist. That said, according to a few online sources, he’s also famous for directing drama productions at the various schools he’s taught at. Which, well…
Am I overreaching? Maybe. But a movie that makes a character do that with a crucifix isn’t exactly daring viewers to reject sexual readings of the film.
One more bit before I’m done: There’s a surprising connection between The Exorcist and Groucho Marx.