Mon 31 Aug 2009
The movie Exorcist 2: The Heretic has been soundly trashed as one of the most awful movies of all time. I’ve seen awful movies and this one doesn’t even come close. I’m not a fan of the original, as it seems to me to be more about the disruption of the conventional as a result of people’s messed up expectations than about actual possession, which is a genuine problem today.
I am a fan of Exorcist 3, which truly is a sequel to the original. It deals more with issues of disbelief and unredeemed longing than possession, but it does so dramatically and with narrative wholeness. We are answered, by a self that is both guide and daemonic adversary.
Exorcist 2 is a development on the ideas of the first film, yet it stands on it’s own. It actually deals with issues of possession, using the locust swarm as a metaphor for the outbreaks of collective insanity in our world. Issues of obsession and willful denial make appearances in the plot, as expressed through the priest’s search for meaning and the doctor’s attempt to hide from the supernatural.
Linda Blair plays a more mature, post-exorcist girl named Regan who remembers everything of her horrific ordeal, and appears to be dealing with it quite well. Her ordeal isn’t over, but it’s obvious she has healed way ahead of anyone’s mundane views of her. In fact, she’s taking the next step in discovering that her experience has given her the ability to rescue those still in darkness.
I hesitate to support the narrative premise of “the way for women to gain power is to get jacked first.” That position too often leads to stories where heroines are violated as a means for them to move forward. But I don’t want to shy away from reality with rose-tinted glasses either.
Maybe the heroine’s journey that begins with a sparagmos (a crucifixion or tearing apart by the darkness) is the archetype we still need to come to terms with through a certain base popular culture. I’m just keeping an eye on what I think is a little too much of one thing to be balanced.
Here, in this movie, it’s what Regan is dealing with; she’s working stuff out and not flinching. And this is some dangerous psychic material she’s working with, totally radioactive stuff that messes up the people around her. The main character is meant to be the priest, but his journey is our journey of getting on board with the real deal: A young woman’s coming to terms with how she has changed as a result of her possession.
The film is far from perfect—Richard Burton delivers solid actingas the priest at times, but for much of the film he’s off his game. The film suffers from an undeveloped script, offering scant answers at times when a fuller revelation would have resonance. The timing on many actions is poor. There are moments when a hesitation or a cutting of scene time might have made things more clear.
However, there are ideas here that need worth thinking about. The main idea is that people who have been tainted by evil and have recovered can help other people who are possessed. There is the larger theme of how nature is working towards creating people (known as “good locusts”) who have the power to lead the rest of us out of confusion and back to harmony again. A constant theme is the interconnectedness of all things, the connection we all share unconsciously, and the forces of evil, which are both guides and adversaries.
There’s ambiguity, the hybrid effect of the individuated being, in all the characters. Regan wears white, is attracted to dove symbolism, and is sweetly friendly. Yet she has a knowing resolve, a crazy element to her that no one understands, and there’s the wicked side of her drawn out by contact with the demon. The demon itself is dangerously harmful and disruptive, yet also an instrument of destiny, with parts that can be understood and even assimilated into ourselves.
This dichotomy extends to the other characters as well, good and evil being relative, but still both aspects that can’t be ignored. The lines between science and mysticism are blurred.
At the end of the movie, surrounded by the collapse of the world, Regan discovers her true calling and completes herself, stilling the world back into harmony. The other characters still lack a complete picture, but they’re learning. Scarred, looking for the puzzle piece they have yet to find in themselves. But Regan stands out as an example of how we can find the good locust in all of us. The harvest of our lives and of others can still be saved and the hidden violence in our nature redeemed.
Like all good fairy tales (and the better Terry Gilliam films) we are brought back into the world to regard what we have witnessed. The flash of the synchronizer upon the doctor’s face as the movie fades to black leaves us with the knowledge that the struggle continues; even as nature creates a garden we have yet to notice. Given that at this point time and space are fluid, the doctor’s point of view becomes a remembering (with who as witness and/or participant?) of the last time she saw Regan and the priest.
Is the doctor showing us what she has witnessed? Are we the subject sitting on the other side of the synchronizer, descending into the earth of the unconscious so she might show us what she knows and feels first hand? The movie itself might be seen as our own “going deeper” via the synchronizer; to see how things are working out in other people’s lives, the present examining the past while the future watches the present. The connection crosses all time-space barriers because it is irrational.
The disease of possession might be something our bodies are adapting to, building up a psychic immunity, or rather more properly forcing the phenomenon to reckon with us as an evolving organism and establish ties with.
The hybrid, the cyborg, the tainted angel. Crossing boundaries and making us whole in all times and spaces.