A couple nights ago, following a lovely dinner out to celebrate the return of my fella after three months of long distance we decided to finish off the romantic evening by settling in, cozying up, and watching The Exorcist. I’ve never been that good with scary/horror movies. Psychological thrillers are usually okay but any other well done ‘scary’ movie and I’m relegated to a state of irrational fear that was much more suiting to my 7 year old self than the 27 year old me. (Spoiler alert – if you haven’t and want to see The Exorcist stop reading NOW).
I had hopes that I would do better with this movie than I’ve done with scary movies in the past. Of late, some movies that would have left me a mess even 10 years ago I’ve watched with relative calm, and appropriate interest. There was something about The Exorcist, however, that prevented that possibility. And I’m pretty sure I know exactly what that something was – the link to deep seated fears that, in my mind, have the possibility of occurring, and occurring to me.
If the possession had been by aliens, for example, I feel certain my fear would have been very surface, an entertaining fear, rather than the kind that crawled deep inside me and made me nervous that what I was seeing and hearing would plague my mental life for days. You see, although I certainly believe in the possibility of aliens that belief is only recent, and I have no reason to fear them anyways. Demons on the other hand, are entities I’ve believed in from my earliest days. Growing up with a belief in God and angels, it kind of came hand in hand that I had to believe in the devil and demons as well. With this belief, comes the belief of possession, and the belief, in turn, that I could possibly be possessed.
It’s a belief that I’m sure the majority of the Western audience, when the movie first came out, also held – and that I’m sure many people still hold today. And that’s where the intense fear comes in. Yes, it’s possible that an alien or some crazed axe killer could enter the realm of my existence and terrorize me, but really? Not likely. Now, I’m not saying it’s likely that I would ever be possessed by a demon but the possibility is so much more open. There aren’t the same boundaries to cross, everyone has a spirit, and so no one (with the exception of those who believe they are protected by the power of Christ) is really safe, and in general demon possession (or the accounts of it-both in fiction and ‘life’) don’t seem to be overly discerning – evidenced in the movie by a sweet, delightful young girl being the host.
Now what’s the point of all this? Well, it got me thinking about the mind of the writer – the wisdom in writing a book/screenplay that would draw people in, reach them on a level that pulls them away from the safe stance of mere reader/viewer and into the story; that makes the character’s fears become the viewer’s own. That skill is often the the difference between a mere book, and a book that changes you in some way, or makes you reassess your life or your view of life. Now when a story does this through fear it’s perhaps more obviously effective than when it’s done through other human emotions, but the idea is the same. Create characters, and a situation, that the majority of your audience can not escape from. Make them vulnerable with the knowledge that the situation could and may happen to them – have them need to continue the story, because if they don’t get that closure they know that the story may never end for them.
That’s exactly what happened to me. Part of me wanted to stop watching but I knew if I didn’t my own imagination would take things to a far worse state. As it turned out I think the ending was a lazy cop-out, which is probably why I wasn’t kept up in fear that night and terrorized in my dreams, but the story in it self was still powerful enough that the next night when awakened by an odd occurrence it took some intense mental energy to direct my thoughts away from the ideas and images the movie left me with.
I’m not sure if I’d watch the movie again but it was an education – it reminded me of the power of the mind to take power over those other parts of our mind that speak reasonably and try to tell us there is no need to fear. It also reminded me of the importance of creating characters and situations that are universal or can ignite universal and base emotions – now the task is just to be able to actually succeed at that creation!