The Exorcist
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Exorcist can be found here.

When 12-year old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) begins exhibiting violent changes in her behavior, and neither doctors, drugs, medical tests, nor psychiatrists can determine what is wrong, Regan's mother, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), turns to exorcism as a last ditch attempt to help her daughter. Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller), a priest and psychiatrist who just lost his mother, and Father Lancaster Merrin (Max von Sydow), an ailing priest who has just returned from an arcaeological dig in Iraq, are selected by the Church to perform the exorcism.

Yes. The Exorcist is a 1971 novel by American author William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the film adaptation. The movie spawned four sequels: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Exorcist III (1990), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005).

The book by William Peter Blatty was inspired by an actual event, the supposed exorcism of a demon from a 14 year old boy living in Mount Rainier, Maryland, USA. Blatty had read a news report concerning the boy, whose family had called in a priest after conventional medicine had failed to relieve him of various symptoms, including violent episodes and outbursts of foul language. The priest spent two months with the boy, during which he claims to have witnessed him speaking Latin (a language the boy had no knowledge of) and moving across the room on his bed whilst sleeping. However, investigative journalist Mark Opsasnick researched the story after the film was released and could not find any record of a boy having lived in the house stated in the original news article in The Washington Post on August 20th 1949. There had been a case in Cottage City, Maryland of an exorcism being performed on a boy who allegedly would spit involuntarily, growl when angered, and whose bed shook from time to time. Opsasnick concluded that this was the case which Blatty had read about and that the Mount Rainier piece was a fabrication. Interestingly, while Opsasnick had sought to prove the possession was real, the evidence he uncovered forced him to conclude that the boy was only mentally ill, and the possession story was the result of the boy's religious mother and grandmother, a credulous priest, and sensationalistic media. Another priest present at the exorcism has stated that he never witnessed any of the behaviour the character in the book/film exhibited and that some of the behaviour he did see could have been explained in other ways, e.g. while the boy in fact did speak some Latin on a couple of occasions, he seemed to be repeating phrases the exorcising priest was reciting from the religious manual. Opsasnick's investigation is regarded as the final word on the case; he went more in-depth into the story than any other journalist before.

Father Merrin finds an idol during the excavation that represents an ancient demon. It is clear from his look of recognition that he has seen this image before. Later in the movie, it is confirmed that, years before, Merrin had indeed encountered this demon (Pazuzu, though the demon is never named in the movie) and exorcized it from a young boy (as detailed in the sequel and in the two prequels). Merrin also finds a Christian medallion together with the idol. According to director William Friedkin's commentary on the dvd/BluRay editions of the movie, Merrin realizes that the presence of these two objects cannot be coincidence, and sees this as a direct omen, an 'announcement' that the demon will again manifest itself and that he will need to face it again. With that conviction, Merrin says goodbye to his colleagues and sets off to the United States, knowing that his presence and experience will soon be needed there. In order to show he is ready to face his enemy, before he leaves for the US, he visits a larger statue of the demon and confronts it, already feeling the demon's evil influence in two nearby dogs fighting each other.

The novel upon which the film is based makes it clear that Regan is possessed by Pazuzu, a demon referenced in Syrian and Babylonian texts as being the "demon of the wind." In the film itself, the possession is never detailed other than "the devil (in lowercase initial letter, according to shooting script) has possessed her." While playing with the Ouija board, it's hinted that a self-imposed name of the devil in question is "Captain Howdy." The specific name of the entity who possessed Regan was never addressed in the script nor any scene of the film, leaving to the audience to believe it was either Satan himself or a lesser demon. However, Father Karras takes issue with Regan claiming to be "the Devil himself", suggesting that it is unlikely that Regan is, in fact, possessed by the Devil. During the exorcism, Father Merrin makes an oblique reference to "the noonday devil".

In a scene deleted from the theatrical release, but re-inserted into the "Producer's Cut, "Father Merrin and Father Karras have a brief discussion during a break in the exorcism of why the devil/demon would choose, of all people, to possess a 12 year old girl. The priests come to the conclusion that, rather than physical destruction being the devil/demon's motive, it is in fact attempting to wreak spiritual havoc by causing people to doubt God.

This is from the Wikipedia entry for Demonic Possession: (1) The ability to curse/blaspheme/speak in languages unknown to the person, (2) the ability to find secret things, read the mind, and divine future happenings, (3) the ability to make physical efforts abnormal for that person, and (4) the act of spitting or vomiting every object the demons would have made the person swallow. For most of the movie, Father Karras is not completely convinced the possession is genuine and even states so at one point. For a portion of the movie, the girl's mother also attributes a lot of the behaviour to the girl and not a possessing influence. The only reference by either priest to symptoms is "speaking in a language she never learnt." Much of this behaviour is shown onscreen, with the unspoken implication that it is the result of the possession; none of the behaviour exhibited is directly and specifically attributed to the demon.

There is no clear reason given for this. One interpretation is that the Demon wished for an encounter with Merrin in the form of a confrontational exorcism. In order to do so, the Demon would do anything to make this a reality. It didn't know that the water wasn't blessed, but reacted as though it was in order to convince Karras of possession. This analysis presents some conflicting issues, though. Another interpretation would be to confuse Karras and validate his impression that Reagan was not possessed. The demon didn't want Karras to perform the exorcism (though it taunts him to do so, knowing full well he doesn't want to perform it, therefore traumatizing Karras for his lack of faith), but wanted Merrin to arrive for the fateful confrontation. The demon seemed to know a lot, including Karras' mother recently passing away and his recent contact with a nameless homeless man ("Can you spare some change for an old altar boy?"). According to Father Merrin, "It will mix lies with the truth in order to confuse us with a powerful psychological attack". Uncertainty is the premise of the entire movie, and so is the question of faith, so it would seem that the reaction to the tap water is an (albeit clumsy) attempt by director Friedkin to further the confusion.

The devil and/or other demon cohorts. Many demonologists believe in three observed stages of demonic attack. First, Infestation brought on by calling upon demonic forces, whether intentional or not. Initially a demon may only scratch at walls, so as to mostly go undetected. Secondly, oppression, in which demons systematically oppress humans, often those who are the most emotionally troubled. Finally, if a demon has not been exorcised and its victim has been thoroughly tormented to the point where all their mental barriers against it have collapsed, the demon may execute full-fledged possession. None of this is detailed in the movie. The noises in the attic, among other things, go unexplained.

The 'spider walk' was a scene originally intended to be in the film. It showed Regan walking backwards down the stairs of the family home like a spider. The scene was supposed to be immediately after Chris receives word that Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran) is dead. Director William Friedkin felt that the message about Dennings was the climax of the scene, and therefore it would be difficult to add in the spider walk as this would create a double climax. Friedkin never filmed any reaction shots from Chris and her personal assistant Sharon (Kitty Winn), both of whom were in the hall as Regan came down the stairs. The scene was eventually inserted back into the film for the Extended Edition and the Director's Cut. The inclusion of the scene was not unanimously supported by the film's fans, some of whom pointed out that this is the only time that the possessed Regan comes out from the bedroom. Regan's confinement allows the viewer to concentrate on dialogue and action outside the room without wondering whether she will emerge and attack someone. Friedkin also planned for a scene showing a possessed Regan crawling over the living room floor, thereby terribly upsetting several house guests with her obscene tongue gestures; the scene was cut because the original negative was lost. The inclusion of the spider walk scene, for better or worse, establishes that she can and will emerge from the bedroom at any point. It is also one of only two concrete 'explanations' as to why Regan spends the rest of the movie physically restrained.

The movie does not even attempt to answer that question, and it is barely mentioned afterwards (only twice in one conversation between Karras and Kinderman, and then mostly to invoke potential satanic elements in the death of Dennings). In the novel, however, Lt. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) scratched off some of the paint from one of Regan's sculptures and compared it with the same paint used in the church desecrations. It matched, implying that, in Regan's possessed state, she was the one vandalizing the church. This was made more certain when he found that the blasphemous Latin altar card was typed on the MacNeil typewriter.

That question is never answered in the movie. However, author Blatty revealed in an interview (no quote available) that Karl (Rudolf Schündler) put the crucifix under the pillow because he is Catholic. Its appearance seems to be little more than a MacGuffin, escalating the demonic (read: blasphemous) behaviour of Regan and create in the plot a seemingly legitimate reason to bring the priests into the main plot: Chris MacNeil had been hitherto reluctant to turn to religion to help Regan.

In the first half of the film, the demonic voice that comes from the possessed Regan is mostly Linda Blair's own voice, albeit heavily distorted. Actress Mercedes McCambridge also provides some lines, while most of the vocal effects and a few extra lines are done by Ron Faber. After the crucifix masturbation scene, Regan is voiced entirely by McCambridge until she is freed from her possession at the end of the movie. It was initially intended for Blair to provide the demon's voice all the way through, but after some testing, Friedkin felt that the adolescent Blair did not have enough power or depth in her voice, so McCambridge was brought in. Warner Bros initially kept McCambridge's involvement quiet, for no clear reason.

No. The physicians initially diagnosed a "disorder of the nerves", which quickly changed to a diagnosis of "a lesion ... on the temporal lobe of the brain" after further assessment of her behaviour. When nothing showed up on the following x-rays and arteriograms of Regan's brain, she was referred to a psychiatrist. A group of them diagnosed the condition as "somnabuliform possession" and recommended that Chris seek out an exorcist; the reason they gave was that believing oneself to be possessed can sometimes be cured by believing that exorcism works. What was actually going on inside Regan was left open to the reader to decide (in the novel), although it was for the most part suggested that she was possessed. On the other hand, the film makes it clear that she is actually possessed by showing such humanly impossible things as a head that can turn itself in a complete 360 degree rotation, levitating bed and - later - body, sliding armoires, slamming doors, etc. But most important of all, the demon is seen to exchange bodies, leaping into Damien Karras at his commanded request. While possessed, Damien's irises turn a yellowish green, just as Regan's had while possessed.

The alternate question is "Did the devil force Karras to jump out the window?" This is a subject that depends on how the audience interprets the argument: in a traditional cinematic way or a theological explanation.

Theory 1: Viewers who have seen the movie generally agree that it was Karras' intent to jump from the window. He dragged the devil from Regan's body into his own, but then his hands headed for Regan's throat. At that split second, he did what he felt he had to do, which was leap to certain death. This is supported visually in the movie: when the devil takes possession of Karras, his irises turn the demonic yellow that we had seen in Regan; an internal struggle ensues, which Karras appears to win - his irises return to normal, and he THEN utters the "No!" and throws himself from the window. Rather than call it "suicide," which would contradict the director's intention of Karras' renewed faith, viewers tend to think of it more like "demonicide" (note: Roman Catholic theology that previously stated the souls of those who commit suicide were doomed to hell was changed during the Second Vatican Council due to a better and more modern understanding of mental illness. The film takes place after the reforms of the Council was enacted). Karras rediscovers his faith at the moment he has the confidence to say, "You son of a bitch!" Clearly, he's no longer talking to Regan, but to the demon inside her. Until then, Karras as a psychiatrist could have thought he was dealing with a rare form of mental illness combined with paranormal phenomena. But when the demon mocks the death of Fr. Merrin, something 'clicks' inside of Karras, and he sees the demon's - and God's - reality in one flash. He wins the battle by giving up his own life as opposed to letting the devil take Reagan's life. In other words, Karras did not commit suicide, no more than did Jesus in his self-sacrifice on the cross or a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades.

Theory 2: This scene is meant to be a parallel with an exorcism found in the Bible (Mark 5:1-20), where Jesus drags a "Legion" of demons out of a man. Then, the "Legion" begged to Jesus so they could possess any body instead of that man's, so Jesus allowed them to enter the bodies of 2000 pigs (unclean animals according to the Kosher rules), but the pigs then ran off of a cliff, to die by drowning in the sea. Note that Father Karras repeatedly says he's a faithless man guided by science, giving him a sort-of "unclean" status before God. He's symbolically speaking as a "pig" willingly to receive a devil as a desperate act of obedience to God. Given this, when the devil goes out of Regan, it enters in Karras, who in the same fashion of the pigs in the biblical account, (a) prefers to die atoning for his own disbelief rather to let a devil enter inside to destroy him or any other person, or (b) the devil indeed wanted to destroy life, regardless of "clean" or "unclean." Some knowledge of the Bible would be required to substantiate this interpretation, and thus it seems less likely than Theory 1.

Theory 3: Karras takes the demon from Regan, expels it, but is thrown out of Regan's window during the struggle. Karras's eyes turn color, like Regan's, to indicate the demon is inside him but just before he goes through the window they change back to their normal color, leaving us to wonder if the demon left his body just as quickly as the demon came into it. Seemingly Karras's intention of throwing himself out the window was to bring the devil with him to his death, but perhaps he was too late and the devil went back into Regan or into thin air and seemingly, somewhere, into another person. Perhaps Karras's eyes turn back to normal to indicate Karras has the power to temporarily suppress the devil inside him and thus is successful at killing the devil. Also, Karras is still barely alive as Father Dyer comes to him on the sidewalk, the demon seemingly gone from his body. Could the demon have passed into Dyer? During the process, Karras seems to float effortlessly in the air, something he would be incapable of doing on his own so it could be construed the devil is taking Karras's life, having no intention of remaining inside Karras. This interpretation, however, is invalidated by Blatty's sequel, Legion (filmed as Exorcist III: Legion), which shows Karras in a mental institution years later, still very much alive, and still possessed by the demon (as well as by at least one more persona, an executed serial killer).

How does the movie end?

Fathers Merrin and Karras try to drive the spirit from Regan. The demon threatens and taunts both priests, both physically and verbally (including the demon using the voice of Father Karras' mother). Father Merrin excuses the younger priest and begins the exorcism, once more on his own. Father Karras returns to find Father Merrin has suffered a fatal heart attack. He attempts to perform CPR to no avail, while Regan giggles. Father Karras strikes her and chokes her, challenging the demon to leave Regan and enter him. The demon does so, whereupon the priest regains enough control and throws himself through Regan's bedroom window and falls down the steps outside. At the bottom, a devastated Father Joe Dyer administers last rites as Father Karras dies. Regan is restored to health and does not appear to remember her ordeal. Chris and Regan leave Georgetown and their trauma behind. They return Father Karras' silver medallion to Father Dyer (in the extended cut, Dyer gives the medaillon back to Chris, saying she should keep it). Father Dyer takes one final look down the steps behind the house and departs. In the extended cut, he then meets Lt. Kinderman, who wanted to say goodbye to Chris and Regan but just missed them. Kinderman invites Dyer for a movie for which he has tickets; when Dyer declines (with a joke echoing one made by Karras earlier in the movie), Kinderman invites him for lunch instead.

There were nine deaths associated with the film, among them were actor Jack McGowran (who played Burke Dennings), Max von Sydow's brother, Linda Blair's grandfather, and a nightwatchman working on the set. However, the sheer number of people involved in the making of this film and the length of time it took to complete it made it more likely that some people connected with the film, however loosely, would die during its filming.

The Music?

Opening Credits: String Quartet No. 1 by Krzysztof Penderecki.

Closing Credits: Fantasia for Strings by Hans Werner Henze and Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.

For the Director's Cut Blu-ray release - and probably for the simultaneously released new DVD edition - some shots showing the face of the demon or the demon himself that were reintegrated for the Director's Cut back in 2000 were removed. A detailed comparison between both versions with pictures can be found here.

Back in 2001, an extended cut (later retitled Extended Director's Cut) of Friedkin's cult movie was release that features nearly 10 minutes of new and extended footage, like the examination scene at the doctor's office or the famous "spiderwalk" sequence. Besides these newly integrated scenes, digital effects, e.g. the demon's face that appears in some scenes, were added as well and a newly composed score was used, too. A detailed comparison between both versions with pictures can be found here. Three scenes intended for inclusion in the Director's Cut were left out at the last minute due to lost prints/tracks: 1) A scene in which Chris MacNeil takes Regan on the promised tour of the city was left out when the soundtrack couldn't be found. 2) Another scene showing possessed Regan out her room, this time scurrying about on all fours licking peoples' ankles, was left out when the original negative couldn't be found. 3) An extension to the final scene, a continuation of the conversation between Kinderman and Dyer involving more movie references, was left off due to passing traffic in the background making the dialogue unrecoverable.

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