Saturday, March 17, 2012

Your Mother Sews Socks That Smell! (Three Questions About The Exorcist)

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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm inclined to belive you're spot on with the Burke Dennings theory. Whether intentional or not, I think is the question. The vibe is there, but is that coming from the actor, or the direction? I think the character itself is the archetypal Cassandra, fervently warning of doom that slays them first, and before hand no one believes.

    the occupation of Sharon Spencer is not something analogous today by-and-large. occupation then was generally a life's work, more so in the highly social sphere of domestic work.

    Today work is the overarching torrent that we hop on & off with the same will and abandon as it will eventually dispatch us. From what I garnered the female domestic worker & lady of the house will often develop a companionship. That the valet (lady-maid/man servant) was a relationship of trust. Trust being a bond beyond employ, in spite inherent divisions of hierarchy. Sociability and trust being a prerequisite for domestic employment, leaving in a time of need would mean difficulty finding gainful employment.

    Whenever I've seen a representation, I feel the same "something's going on there." I think because it's inherently adulterous in the sense you're brining nonfamily, into the familial scocial-dynamic. Being only odd to me because we don't live in that complex, socially dependent society anymore. The only thing similar today would be what you find with the home health nurse. Whom a family takes on full-time, to care for a relative.

    I've always thought Father Dyer seemed gay, and it did seem more overt than other subtext-component.


    How do these components change the narrative?

    let's say the director intentionally molded these characters to tell another story.

    we have a secular family afflicted by supernatural evil. a child neglected that lead to possible abuse. the old guard dying trying to exercise it. showing the frailty of the system and corruption given that the child molester was a part. The seemingly pure(because of these human-secular aspects): gay, and sometimes doubting prest of the new guard? overcoming it. I suppose it's a critique on the failings caused by the division of spiritual and human endeavors.

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