The Exorcist- Film Response# 1

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The Exorcist (1973) is directed by William Friedkin and its screenwriter William Peter Platty adapted the novel The Exorcist, which is also written by him, to the film. At the beginning of the film, Friedkin stands in front of the camera and talks about his ideas for the film. He says that The Exorcist is about the mystery of faith and the human’s values system. Friedkin believes that a film should give audiences an emotional experience and a horror film should be filled with inexplicable events, so that it can provoke, inspire and reflect something to audiences and make them think. The film is about an actress’s (Chris MacNeil) sweet and innocent daughter (Regan) is possessed by an evil and thus Regan has acted in a different way both physically and mentally. After Mrs. MacNeil has taken Regan to hospitals and let doctors examine Regan, she has started to look for a priest who can do an exorcism for Regan.

The film starts with playing exotic music, introducing to audiences that the first scene is going to be in a foreign place. With the sound of people digging in an archaeological site, it is obviously that The Exorcist is shot and recorded sound on location. With a scene that Mrs. MacNeil and Regan are in the shaking bed and suddenly the scene jumps to Father Dyer walking out from a door, that cut disturbed the continuality of the previous scene and suddenly jump to another location is known as ‘elliptical editing’. The film also used non-diegetic sound and fast-pace music to create dark and scary atmosphere. Besides those new filming techniques, many artistic and unexpectable ways are used for introducing the evilness and creating a sense of horror: using darkness as a transition to jump to another scene and letting the lighting on and off to make people feel scary. More than those creative editing methods, the idea of ‘uncanny’ as Regan becomes someone different also has a great influence on audiences. Apart from those brilliant filming techniques and well created horror atmosphere, the film also brings messages to audiences, which are the relationship between family members, moral values and the doubt of faith.  With using cuts that Father Karras dreams of him running to his mother who is continuously going up and down in the subways and Mrs. MacNeil talking with Regan, the film brings out the message of family relationship, that is, the love from children to parents and the love form parents to children are quite similar—they both will try to do anything they could to save/comfort their parents/children. Mrs. MacNeil loves Regan so much but ironically, she does not know that her daughter has a faith; Father Karras loves his mother but he has started to doubt his faith after his mother died of terminal illness. Both of these two plots bring out the idea of lack of sufficient communication between family members and the message of doubting faith.

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The Exorcist is considered as a New Hollywood film because it has abandoned the old traditions. For example, it violated the Production Code, which was used as a censorship of movies before 1960s. There are lots of uses of profane and impolite expressions: the possessed Regan holding a cross and screaming ‘let Jesus f- you’ while stabbing her private area to bleed with the cross. It would certainly be forbidden before the fall of the Production Code. The other reasons why The Exorcist is considered as a New Hollywood film are its use of portable camera, mise-en-scène, direct sound and elliptical editing. After going through a fear of Communism and being influenced by the French New Wave, New Hollywood filmmakers tend to express their political values in their films. For example, there is a scene that students protesting against the government for tearing down some buildings of the college. Though it may seems that it is simply just a plot more than it has something to do with politics, an interview with William Friedkin, ‘Police Oscar: The French Connection’ written by Michael Shedlin stated ‘…while the filmmaker may not deliberately set out to make an explicit political statement, he or she will select countless situations, settings, and visual details which point out the surrounding social context…’ (2) and ’…it is not necessarily the explicit or easily recognizable elements of a film that produce the strongest effect on the consciousness of the viewer…’ (2).

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In conclusion, despite the fact that The Exorcist showed the darkness of evilness, it also indicated the elements of the French New Wave and the New Hollywood in both implicit and explicit ways.

Shedlin, Micheal. “Police Oscar: The French Connection.” Film Quarterly 25. 4 (summer, 1972): 2-9.  JSTOR. Web. 22 Feb 2011.

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1 Response to The Exorcist- Film Response# 1

  1. Juan Monroy says:

    Outstanding! The film does indeed rip apart the Production Code to bring us one of the most terrifying films ever made.

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