Monday, February 24, 2014

Women in Horror: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

* spoilers *

Emily Rose is a normal girl from a religious household. She receives a full ride to a university and is nothing but ecstatic. While there, she starts to have terrifying fits of violence, speaking in tongues, and other bizarre behavior. After being prescribed a drug to combat epilepsy, which her doctor believed was her affliction, the fits continued. She and her family decided that medicine failed them and that it was a spiritual sickness, opting for an exorcism rather than conventional treatments. Emily Rose died from starvation and her self inflicted wounds. Father Richard Moore, the exorcist, is on trial for negligent homicide, defended by Erin Bruner, a woman unsure of her beliefs. She has her work cut out for her as Moore wants to share Emily's story and refuses to do anything but argue that the exorcism was necessary and demons possessed her.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a mix of courtroom drama and exorcism horror film. As the trial goes on, Emily's story is filled in piece by piece. Sometimes scenes would be shown with the religious explanation and the again with the science explanation with changes to accommodate the view. This way of showing the story prevents any one side from being seen as more legitimate than the other. At the beginning, the trial was pretty even in the way the story was told, keeping uncertainty intact and presenting each side. Unfortunately, this didn't continue for the entire film. About halfway through, the religious side is presented as more sympathetic and plausible. Erin Bruner, played by Laura Linney, is seen as more appealing than the prosecutor. The prosecutor is more abrasive and lacks respect for Father Moore, his religion, and his entire defense, which I think is completely warranted. Most of the audience holds some sort of religious belief, so most would take offense to his approach. Unfortunately, even though he has more credible witnesses and explanations, the audience will sympathize with Erin because they relate to her. Erin, on the other hand, brings in dubious witnesses such as an anthropologist and psychiatrist with expertise in different culture's spiritual beliefs. Her arguments boil down to pseudoscience and logical fallacies. She also finds herself the victim of cheesy spiritual attacks, making the debate between religion and science completely moot since the film acknowledges demons and their attacks as fact.

Emily Rose comes from a conservative and very religious family that live in a rural area. She is nineteen years old and goes to college to advance her life beyond what she would have had if she stayed at home. College is a place of self discovery, experimentation, and, of course, learning. Shortly before the possession starts, she wrote a letter to her doctor (odd) that she met a boy named Jason and went to a dance with him. She didn't want to tell her mother because she disapproved of dances and warned her about boys. Repression of anything resembling sexuality is pretty run of the mill for the devoutly religious, so it isn't a coincidence when her possession starts in Jason's presence. Like most exorcism stories, it boils down to the male religious leaders oppressing and hurting young women because of their burgeoning sexuality. This one is simply more subtle in its delivery because of the faith vs. science debate and added courtroom drama.

The ending of the film is particularly infuriating. Father Moore is found guilty, but also goes free. This makes the sentencing completely meaningless. A girl starved to death under his care. It takes a while to starve to death and is completely preventable. I don't understand how anyone could sympathize with this priest when he stood by with plenty of resources available to help her and allowed her to starve to death. He claimed she wouldn't eat, but then you take to a hospital where they have alternate ways of feeding her. Her self inflicted wounds weren't even attempted to be treated even as a doctor stood by. The entire situation is supremely fucked up and calls to mind situations where people allow faith to justify horrific acts. The case this is based on is that of Anneliese Michel, who went through 10 months of voluntary exorcisms and eventually died of an eating disorder, weighing 68 pounds. The two priests and her parents were convicted of negligence with the causes being misidentification of a mental disorder, religious hysteria, and abuse. It's disgusting that this film takes a tragic case of abuse, lessens the unpalatable details, and twists it into pro-religious propaganda.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a disappointing film due to the mutilation of the original story and its misogynistic message. The film isn't all bad since the performances were quite solid, especially Jennifer Carpenter's. The faces she makes are insane and add to the creepy atmosphere. Some scenes deliver good scares, but the courtroom scenes interrupt the building suspense. Overall, it's a well made, but very problematic film.

My rating: 2/10 fishmuffins


Niala Wesley said...

I'm conflicted on stories like this because I believe possession is very real. I definitely don't think that every single case is a real possession but same goes for the opposite side, some cases that doctors say are mental disorders probably are really paranormal in nature.

I just think it's really complicated. Many women and people in general have been ostracized, mutilated, tortured, and murdered because of negative superstitions/beliefs. I have nothing but sympathy for the women in Africa that had to flee their communities because they were accused of being witches or for the albinos that were butchered because some witch doctor said their body parts can be used in herbal remedies, etc. We do need to save people that are the victims of other's religions/faiths. But at the same time there are a lot of people that suffer because they aren't believed when they say something paranormal is going on in their lives. Those that have lived in haunted houses (ghosts are just humans no longer in a meatsuit that didn't go to the afterlife) or been abducted by aliens (extraterrestrials are just people born outside of earth, this galaxy is just one in over 100 billion), etc.

It's just a really fine line sometimes between physiological/psychiatric conditions and actual paranormal phenomena. The people in my immediate family believe in both biology based disorders and otherworldly based problems. Everyone in my family has seen ghosts, my mom has seen a possession, my biological father said he's seen fairies, and sometime we can sense the negative energy attached to objects or places or people.

I have seen xenophobia and prejudice get mixed up with faith among my family. I'm bisexual, vegan, pagan while my parents are carnivore, more than slightly homophobic Christian/Catholic.

Niala Wesley said...

I hope that if I was possessed the people that loved me would do what needed to be done (call in priests and parapsychologists, perform exorcism) but at the same time I hope that the women that aren't really possessed don't have to go through that and that they get the medical help that they need.