Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Exorcist:: A Different View

I came across an interesting take on the Exorcist. Its considered a review/analysis of the film. This piece is by Rob Ager. First a little bit about Rob Ager. He is 36 yrs. old and he studies various forms of psychology, which he combines with his hobby of film making. He feels this enables him to write his detailed and some what unusual film analysis. Rob Ager took alot of shit for his review/analysis of the EXORCIST. Which i will also post that to. I have to say its a very interesting take on the Exorcist. Its one i have never heard of before and it also inspired me to take another interest in the film for the film has always intrigued me for various number of reasons.


© by Rob Ager 2007 (last updated 25/10/07)

Note: The first video version of this review received almost 100,000 viewings before my youtube account was suspended. Most of the feedback was positive, at least in respect that it made people consider the film in a different light (well, a much darker one actually). A great deal of debating went on in the comments section of the video with people fighting for both sides of the argument. Some details of the review I have corrected in response to these debates as I always welcome and respond to feedback.

However, a handful of about eight or ten people were persistently aggressive in their comments for weeks and a few even resorted to calling me a "paedophile, pervert, asshole, idiot, retard, etc" for having written the review. I found it fascinating and amusing that people would lower themselves to such tactics over differences of opinion about a fictional film. Often, I would ask these hostile respondents what they thought of my other film reviews, but they would always avoid answering the question because that would mean admitting that some of my reviews were well-written (which wouldn't support their name calling claims). I also explained to these people that having worked with both victims and perpetrators of abuse in real life, I may have been in an easier position to recognise a sexual abuse sub-theme in The Exorcist. Equally, that line of work could have made me see a sub-theme that wasn't intended.

One conclusion I'm certain of is that the question of whether Regan's behaviour was a metaphor for reaction to sexual abuse is an issue that some members of the public are not emotionally ready to debate. The concept disturbs them so much that they will fight tooth and nail to deny such a possibility and they will sometimes resort to aggressive attempts at character assassination against the messenger - which of course is not going to work.

So as a brief warning, yes this review details my contention that The Exorcist carries a subliminal theme of Regan reacting to some form of sexual abuse. If you feel angry and repulsed at the idea already then go no further. This review is written for open-minded people who are willing to explore even the darkest corners of the human mind.

Aside from its obvious horror genre appeals, much has been made of The Exorcist’s narrative themes of good versus evil, science versus superstition and psychiatry versus faith. It is full of signs and symbols that let us know there is much more going on than the dialogue is telling us and we are left with lots of unanswered questions even as the closing credits appear.

A curious aspect of the story is the death of the film director Burke Dennings. We do not see Burke’s death, but we know that his head was twisted around and he was then thrown from Regan’s window. This is told to us in exposition and as the story unfolds we discover that the possessed daughter Regan was more than likely the murderer. A friend of mine, after viewing the film, asked the insightful question “When Burke Dennings was killed, what was he doing in Regan’s bedroom?”

This question fired my interest so I decided to re-watch The Exorcist with the issue in mind. Some interesting factors then came to my attention.

The behaviour of Denning’s is very suspect. He is close friend’s with Regan’s Mother and, as we learn in Regan’s bedtime discussion with her Mother, is “lonely” and “don’t got nothin’ to do”. It is made obvious that Denning’s is attracted to Chris McNeil, but the desire is not mutual … “we’re just friends”. She may have even openly rejected his sexual advances.

So at Chris McNeil’s house party we witness Dennings as the drunken disorderly of the occasion. His hostile attitude and bullying of a servant demonstrates that he has an emotional axe to grind. When leaving the party he gives Chris McNeil an uncomfortable embrace then gestures as if about to say something of importance. He decides against it, says “fuck it” and walks away. There are definitely unspoken issues between Dennings and McNeil.

It is almost immediately after Dennings leaves the house that Regan appears in the lounge in a trance-like state, utters the line “you’re gonna die up there” and urinates on the carpet. It has been widely accepted that Regan was talking to the astronaut (the man with the grey hair). But being that Dennings is the character who later ‘dies up there’, Regan’s threat could have been directed at Dennings and not the other guests. She is not even looking at the astronaut or anyone else for that matter. Burke Dennings has only just exited the house and in his absence Regan issues the threat with a glazed look … perhaps as if Denning’s is still at the party. This is not necessarily conclusive though. Karras and Merrin also die up there, so the statement could equally have been about either of them and remember that the demons purpose seems to be to face and kill Merrin (in the shot of Merrin walking up the hill, which dissolves to a close up of Regan's eyes, she whispers his name as if summoning him for a duel).

More possibilities of Dennings influence can be found elsewhere in the film. During the scenes of Regan’s clinical observations some attention is given to her newfound sexually offensive vocabulary. The question is raised as to how she learned this foul language. The answer may not be as mysterious as it first seems. Aside from the demonically possessed Regan, the outstanding purveyor of foul language in the story is Burke Dennings. During the house party, he taunts the servant with swear words and insults just as Regan later taunts the priests during the exorcism. He calls the servant a “cunting hun”. Regan, sat on the bed with her head twisted around, mimics Burke Dennings voice “Do you know what she did? Your cunting daughter.” It's possible that Regan picked up her foul mouthed habits from Dennings. If this was the case then Dennings and Regan would have to have spent periods of time alone for her to pick up his swearing habits.

This brings us full circle and back to our original question “When Burke Dennings was killed, what was he doing in Regan’s bedroom?” At the time of his death Burke had been left alone in the house to look after her. After this mysterious event and the subsequent visit to the house by Detective Kinderman, Chris McNeil hears chaos upstairs. It sounds like a physical conflict is going on. Among the distorted voices we hear what sounds like Burke Denning’s voice saying “Do it, you bitch!” If you have the DVD then listen carefully to this piece of dialogue. The words ".. you bitch!", though slightly masked over by a fumbling noise from upstairs, are spoken by Dennings voice. Taking these elements into account, we are faced with a possibility that is as dark and terrifying as any of the films other themes - the possibility that Burke Dennings was killed in the act of sexually abusing Regan. The noise and dialogue coming from Regan’s bedroom might very well be a manifestation of what happened when Dennings and Regan were left alone in the house.

Chris McNeil possibly even knew this was a risk to begin with. She strongly disapproved when told by her housekeeper that Dennings had been left alone to look after Regan. This is before she even learns of Dennings death. On what basis did she not want Dennings left alone with her daughter? Perhaps she instinctively knew she couldn’t trust him with Regan.

If Dennings had abused Regan it may have been going on for some time, perhaps only in the mere grooming stages. In the extended version of The Exorcist Regan talks to her doctors as if expecting to be molested “keep your fingers away from my cunt”. She violently fights the doctor’s attempts to examine her as if she is resisting a violation. The shaking of Regan’s bed also becomes a sinister metaphor when considered in the context of abuse.

More supporting evidence can be gleaned by further examination of Burke Dennings behaviour. In the house party, sat with two other guests, he speaks two very bizarre lines of dialogue … “there seems to be an alien pubic hair in my gin,” followed by “never seen her before in my life. Have you?” This kind of innuendo dialogue is not written by accident. As a side-note, the DVD subtitles describe this line as "never seen it before in my life", though subtitles in DVD's often alter dialogue slightly either by misinterpreataion or for streamlining to make it quicker to read. The book may answer this little riddle, though I haven't read it for many years.

The death of Burke Dennings is the key event that flips Regan over the edge. Up until this point she has mainly displayed abhorrent behaviour that is very much like that of sexually abused children – she has become over-sexualised, hostile, violent, distrusting, insomniac, depressed, a self harmer, a liar and possibly a bed-wetter. Whatever she endured on the night of Dennings death literally turns her into a monster for the rest of the film. Ironically, from here until the near-end of the story she remains strapped to the bed.

The deleted spider-walk scene supports the connection between Dennings death and Regan’s horrific transformation. Chris McNeil is given the news that Dennings has just been found dead. She turns and sees Regan spider-walking down the stairs. Regan’s tongue protrudes lizard-like and she crawls not toward her Mother, but toward Sharon. This is the only scene of the Exorcist where Sharon is a direct target of Regan’s obscene behaviour. Why? Perhaps because it was Sharon who left Dennings alone in the house to abuse Regan. And why is Regan’s tongue flailing around as she scrambles toward Sharon? It could have been intended as a demonic serpent metaphor, though the answer may also be found in reference to Regan pushing her Mother’s face between her legs and shouting “lick me!!”, which is undeniably a form of sexual abuse.

In the updated cut of The Exorcist we have a different version of the spider-walk scene. This time Regan spider-walks halfway down the stairs with blood pouring out of her mouth. During interviews scriptwriter Blatty and director Friedkin expressed that quickly cutting away from the spider-walk scene would make it work better in terms of Chris McNeil’s reaction, but this doesn’t explain why we now see blood pouring from Regan’s mouth. It has been claimed that the bleeding mouth was to disguise the face of the woman doubling for Regan in the shot, but this seems an extreme measure to take. With the right lighting Regan's face could have been silhouetted to achieve the same intention. Perhaps even a tinge of CGI could have made the stand-in look more like Regan (they used CGI to add a demonic look to Regan during the hypnosis scene in the new cut of the film). However, if interpreted from the viewpoint that Regan had just endured a sexual attack by Burke Dennings, this bizarre spider-walk pose and blood stained orifice could be a visual metaphor – as if Regan has come running down the stairs, bleeding sexually, to show her Mother what she has just endured. It may also be acting as a subliminal setup for the crucifix masturbation scene.

Some of these sexual abuse interpretations I have offered may seem like clutching at straws, but they do make sense of seemingly random parts of the story. The Exorcist was one of the most sexually offensive films of all time to begin with. Regan spouts endless sexual dialogue to the exorcist priests. She makes obscene sexual poses to her doctors, molests her own Mother and she even rolls her tongue out sexually to Father Karras.

A very strong piece of support for an abuse subtext is when Regan is hypnotised in her Mother's armchair. The Doctor asks for the person inside Regan to come forward and answer. Regan responds by painfully grabbing his groin - by sexually abusing him.

Another potential piece of supporting evidence, which could also just be the demon Pazuzu playing mind games with Karras, is when the tape recording of Regan's voice is played backward. She says "I am no one, fear the priest." Why is the "demon" claiming to be "no one"? Is Regan actually possessed or are we watching her condition as seen through the eyes of people who are imposing their supernatural beliefs upon what could simply be a case of post-abuse trauma?

In the original case, from which Blatty was inspired to write the story, sexual abuse was apparently strongly suspected. Though it's also worth noting that the mainstream media evidence pertaining to the original case may have been a gross exaggeration to support the films marketing, just as was admittedly done decades later in the build up to release of The Blair Witch Project.

Overall, it is extremely difficult to deny that the perversion of sexuality is a key element of this film. The number of parallels with abuse are too numerous and visceral to be written off as an accidental theme. Ritual desecration and supernatural powers may be historically recurring themes of posession in various cultures, but sexual perversion as a factor in spiritual possession is not. It's presence and exaggeration has been introduced specifically in The Exorcist.

This was also not the first time that spiritual possession and sexual abuse had been fused together in a horror film. Back in 1962 director Jack Claytons film The Innocents covered the same ground. It depicted two children who had been abused by two servants of the family mansion (who were lovers) only to be possessed by their spirits later. The McNeil family of The Exorcist film also employ two servants, though this could just be co-incidence. Overall, the allusions to molestation in The Innocents were much easier to identify than in The Exorcist because we were not presented with multiple narratives such as priests losing their faith.

So we seem to have an ongoing sexual abuse theme in The Exorcist, which mimics the story of a young girl possessed. How much of this hidden theme was intended by writer William Peter Blatty is a total mystery because it is very rarely talked about or even suspected. However, when the video version of this review was available on youtube I received several emails from people who already suspected Dennings had attempted to abuse Regan. Those emails were usually from female viewers of the film.

A very strange factor in all this is that the possibility of Regan having suffered sexual abuse is not even considered by the characters of the film. Her mother, the priests, the doctors, the psychiatrists – they explore every possible avenue, even turning to ancient religious cures, but not one mention of possible sexual abuse – even though Regan manifests virtually all of the major symptoms !!!

Sexual tension was already present simply by the fact of Regan’s pubescent age. She is neither child nor adult. She is at the age at which many parents find themselves deeply uncomfortable with their children’s early manifestations of sexual awareness. She is at the age where natural changes in behaviour are sometimes perceived by adults as mischievous, devious and monstrous.

So on the one hand The Exorcist is a dark religious film that uses the context of demonic possession to explore good and evil. And on the other hand we have an equally dark story of a young girl whose growth into womanhood is perverted by some form of sexual abuse, with Dennings the primary suspect. Just like in real life, the inability of surrounding adults to recognise this abuse could be part of what escalates Regan’s behaviour. When considered in this light The Exorcist is treading some very dark waters, which if openly described to the media, could have caused an even greater backlash of outrage than the one received from religious groups.

There are some other curious observations I would like to offer about this film. A particular area is the theme of witchcraft. Burke Dennings, while directing on location answers Chris McNeil’s script enquiry with the reply “Shall we summon the writer?” In a different scene Regan shows her mother the Ouija board, which is used to "summon" spirits, such as Captain Howdy. How did this Ouija board get into the house in the first place and how much experimenting has Regan done with it?

Detective Kinderman seems to have the idea that an occult sect is at work in Georgetown that could be responsible for both the desecration of the church and Dennings death. He finds something stuffed at the bottom of the steps where Dennings body was found. Was it witchcraft related? Who put it there? Some have noted that the object is similar to the clay mouldings, made by Regan, that Kinderman picks up in the house while chatting to Chris.

The desecration of the Virgin Mary statue bears strong visual resemblance to Regan’s crucifix masturbation scene. Regan, like the statue, is dressed in white and both of their hands and sexual regions are covered in blood. Regan, at least up until the time of Dennings death, was also a virgin.

The culprit of the desecration is never explained in the film, though Regan’s clay moulding of a winged creature has a protruding beak. The desecration also seems to have similar mouldings protruding from it – a very strange image. One shot of Chris in the basement chatting to Father Karras, shows this clay creature standing in front of her on the table, the beak emerging from her phallic region just like on the statue. Did Regan commit the desecration or was Kinderman right when he believed that an occultist sect was at work? And if a sect was responsible then how does this impact on the rest of the story? Was it an occult sect that brought the demon to Georgetown and induced its possession of Regan? Who are the members of this sect and do we actually see them in the film? Could Burke Dennings have anything to do with them?

At Chris McNiel’s party a pale faced woman with black hair is present. She looks a little creepy, like the white Pazuzu demon face, which briefly shows up in Father Karras’ dream and other scenes. In the updated edit this face flashes to the right of Chris as the lights flicker on and off in her kitchen.

In another scene C hris catches her daughter in bed with a magazine, upon which if you freeze frame the shot, shows a creepy picture of Regan with her Mother next to her, eyes hidden behind dark shades as we will see her later in the story. The caption reads “Big trouble in the McNeil family” and the magazine is called photoplay. Within five minutes of this scene, Chris is awakened by her telephone ringing. She flicks on her table lamp and we are faced with a scary photo of Regan on the bedside table. Regan has her hands clasped in front of her mouth for some reason, staring at us – photoplay indeed. In both of these images Regan looks not demonically posessed, but merely deviant.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the strange death of Father Karras. After being taunted by Burke Dennings, the servant Carl, attacks Burke and tries to choke him. Karras, after being taunted by Regan, tries to choke her. The fact that he dies in a similar way to Dennings could be implying that the resolution to Regan's condition was not Exorcism, but a revelation of what happened when Burke was in the bedroom. Afterall, the Exorcism doesn't even work! Merrin is killed and Karras leaps to his death without taking the demon with him - his face changes back to normal before he jumps. So why did the demon then not just take over Regan again? Perhaps the concept of demonic possession died along with the superstitious priests.

Somehow the pendant, which Father Merrin holds in his hand before seeing a clock stop in the opening Iraq section of the film, shows up in Father Karras nightmare about his mother. It is later pulled from his neck by Regan before he is possessed by the demon. How did the pendant make its way from Merrin to Karras in the first place and what is it symbolizing in the story?

Who placed the cross under Regan’s pillow and why? And, an even creepier question ... after Chris took the cross downstairs while she had tea with Kinderman, how did it make it's way back up to Regan's bedroom for the crucific masturbation, which happened immediately after Kinderman walked out the door ??? The idea of Regan sneaking down to get the cross while her Mother and Kinderman drank tea sends shivers down my spine.

And another very important question in my mind is "What incites Kinderman to show up at the McNeil house almost at the very moment of Merrin’s death?"

There are so many questions to ask about The Exorcist. It is a complex and multi-layered classic, and on that basis, will continue to play on the minds of its audiences for years to come.


  1. Wow. Thats all I can say after reading this. i am off to watch it again now.

  2. I highly doubt that Burke Dennings molested Regan. He seemed more interested in pursuing something with Chris. If anything, I believe Burke was the one that tucked the crucifix underneath her pillow. He was shown to be a sweet man, only unreasonable whilst drunk. It's not unfathomable that he'd be concerned about the daughter of a close friend. He went up, tucked the crucifix under her pillow (As a comfort), and was attacked by the demonic entity inside Regan, further amplified by her own fear he might 'marry' her mother and displace her father Howard.

    1. Dennings is Jewish. It's unlikely he'd place a crucifix under the pillow. Also, his inner personality comes out when drunk, hardly mirroring the sweet man you appear to see somewhere. He suspects Karl to be a Nazi laying low in the U.S. post W.W.II, showing his Jewish reverence for holocaust victims. He's a film director. 99 out of every 100 are Jewish.

  3. After Dennings taunts the waiter he says "what's for dessert" then the film cuts to Regan in bed

  4. I think you're looking too much into it, but amazing analysis!

  5. "I am no one" is explained in The Exorcist III as a biblical quote. "I am no one, for we are many" is the answer the demon possessed man gave Jesus when He asked the man the same question, Who are you?

  6. Wild theory, but totally plausible. .

  7. Amazing analysis, totally believable.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. The pendant that Pazuzu rips from Fr. Karrass's neck is called a Saint Benedict Medal. In the Roman Catholic Church (yet weirdly not the Eastern Orthodox) it is said to have the ability to ward off evil and prevent or reverse demonic oppression/obsession/possession. The fact that Fr. Merrin died leaving this in the room where Fr. Karrass left it is explanation enough- Karrass took his purple stole as well. I find it interesting that Blatty had the St. Benedict removed JUST before Karrass is possessed.

  10. The pendant that Pazuzu rips from Fr. Karrass's neck is called a Saint Benedict Medal. In the Roman Catholic Church (yet weirdly not the Eastern Orthodox) it is said to have the ability to ward off evil and prevent or reverse demonic oppression/obsession/possession. The fact that Fr. Merrin died leaving this in the room where Fr. Karrass left it is explanation enough- Karrass took his purple stole as well. I find it interesting that Blatty had the St. Benedict removed JUST before Karrass is possessed.

  11. The "version you've never seen before" ends with the priest who was with Karras as he died. I believe they suggest the demon moves from Karras to him , as evidenced by the priest REPEATING lines from Lee J Cobb's earlier discussions with Karras about the movies.Much like the bum in the subway. Now follow the final exchange with the St Christophers medal.

  12. Very interesting. It was my own questions about Dennings that lead me to this site. I feel validated.

  13. Psychiatrist: "Do you have someone inside you Reagan?"... Reagan: "Sometimes".

  14. your analysis is excellent and thought-provoking. i may have seen the exorcist uncut, but i have blocked much of it out. i usually don't agree with movie ratings, but i think it is unhealthy for a twelve year old to view the exorcist. at least it was in my case. that being said, i have met some demonic people in my life and they seem to fly below the radar of any exorcisms or holy water.

    i am a little shocked at the vitriol and abuse directed at you concerning the theory of possible sexual molestation in the exorcist. reagan is molested by the demon more than once as she shouts to her mother: make him take it out. it's burning, it's burning. it seems unfathomable that people believe that children can be raped by supernatural demons, but that they can't be raped by grown men. few movies lack a subtext and it makes sense that sexual molestation could be an unexplored subtext in the exorcist. i can't think of many movies from the late 60s or early 70s that dealt frankly with child sexual abuse. even in the 21st century, it's rare to find a mainstream movie that deals with male rape or sexual abuse outside of a prison or detention setting.

  15. Pazuzu was the Assyrian protector of preyed upon children.

    Given Merrin had several encounters with it in the past, might this suggest he was likewise an abuser of children and this is why Pazuzu had such a mad-on for their duel?