Sunday, February 5, 2012

Women in Horror: The Exorcist

The Exorcist is one of the most infamous and well known horror films ever made. It tells the story of Regan, a girl who suddenly exhibits strange and violent behavior. Medicine and psychiatry fail to cure her of her odd behavior after she endures test after test. Then supernatural occurrences surround Regan, including objects moving by themselves. Her mother, in desperation, asks Catholic priests for help. They believe she is possessed by the devil and decide to perform an exorcism to free her. The question is if it will actually get exorcise the demon and if so, how many of them will be alive by the end.

Regan is a 12 year old girl, on the cusp of womanhood. She’s portrayed at first as a normal, innocent girl. After she is possessed, obscenities spew from her mouth as freely as her infamous green vomit and she is shown is obscenely sexual. If she had been much younger, I would have figured it was simply meant to disturb the audience by oversexualizing her in a disturbing manner and thought nothing more of it. Her age leads me to believe that Regan’s budding sexuality is being repressed through this story of possession. Even her mother suspected her new behavior had something to do with puberty. When possessed, the language she uses and her attitude towards religion and society is subversive and rebellious. Regan’s behavior is extreme, but teenagers are typically rebellious and push boundaries. Her sexuality is also grotesquely portrayed, directed at taboo targets, such as her own mother and the adult men who try to save her (namely doctors and priests). She maims her own body in a horrible parody of masturbation and continually hurts herself physically in other ways. This shows that her natural sexuality is something horrific and harmful for herself and everyone around her. The goal of the film is to transform Regan back into her pure, virginal state to reinstate the status quo. The patriarchal society sees female sexuality as threatening and dangerous, something to be suppressed.

Even Regan’s mother, who seems strong and successful, is undermined through the course of the film. At the beginning of the film, she is a world famous actress who successful raised her child on her own. However, she falls to pieces in the end, powerless to save her daughter. She turns to the Catholic Church, an institution that only imbues men with power, despite being an atheist. Despite her role as a powerful woman, she can do absolutely nothing to help her daughter.

Despite my misogynistic interpretation of the film, I did enjoy the film. The acting is impeccable from the entire cast, but especially in Linda Blair as Regan. I don’t think anyone who watches the film can sit undisturbed as her condition worsens and she appears as evil as the demon inside her. The effects are amazing and don’t lose much of their effect even today. The makeup on Regan is incredibly creepy even though relatively small changes are made to her face. The director and actors went to great lengths and were even injured on the set in order to create real emotional responses and realistic supernatural effects. The musical score is made up of eerie modern classical music by Penderecki and portions of George Crumb’s string quartet Black Angels. This music has a way of getting under your skin and enhancing the unease the film already elicits.

The Exorcist could be seen just as a good vs. evil, demonic possession film or one about forcing women to suppress their sexuality in favor of a domineering religious patriarchy. Either way, it’s a very well-known and often times feared film that will live on in infamy.

My rating: 7/10 fishmuffins  

1 comment:

Niala Wesley said...

I never thought of the feminist or misogynist underpinnings of The exorcist until you brought it up. I always saw it as shedding light on a subject (possession) largely forgotten and making priests look really badass.

I can see in some moments how the way you interpreted the movie is the way it probably was. Such as that line "your mother sucks cocks in hell". I mean, it wasn't "your mother is being tortured in Hell" or "your mother is in Hell becoming twisted into a demon". It was purely sexual and showed that the worst they could imagine experiencing in HELL is giving blowjobs, which are performed by women and gay men.

I took the masturbatory scene to mean more "fuck your religion, fuck your God" since the demon in her was doing it with a cross. But it could be seen as "religion mutilates a female's womanhood" or "religion tries to invade or impose on a woman's sexuality".