Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Rather than being simply another exorcism movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose puts a unique twist on the story by marrying it to a courtroom drama. The story actually begins immediately following Emily Rose's death, at which point the priest who administered the failed exorcism, Father Moore, is charged with negligent homicide (not an unbelievable outcome, considering modern attitudes toward demonic possession). The story then follows the court case, as the truth behind Emily's ordeal is told, one piece at a time.

I enjoy a good exorcism story, and I think this was a very clever way of presenting the story from a new perspective, without changing the basic formula. However, where this film stumbles is in its attempt to enact a war of facts vs. beliefs in the courtroom. Instead of a situation of "was this girl really possessed or not?", it's more "can we convince the jury that this girl was really possessed or not?", because the narrative unambiguously takes the side of the defense. We, the viewer, are shown all the supernatural goings on that the jury is not privy to. And if there's one thing that corroborates the supernatural explanation, it's that the phenomenon seems to follow those that get involved in the case, rather than sticking to the [potentially psychologically deluded] possessee.

There's a great story to be told here (closer to the true story the film was based on) about the damage that dangerous religious beliefs can cause - essentially, the prosecution's argument, which seeks to charge the priest with negligent homicide, for emphasizing spiritual over medical treatment for the girl's condition (a theme that The Last Exorcism touches on, though it ultimately has a different purpose) - but this film shies away from that in favor of telling a traditional supernatural exorcism story. Thus, it manages to be entertaining, but misses an opportunity to be truly groundbreaking. There was, however, another film based on those true events - a film called Requiem - and I am going to have to try to get my hands on it.

(And now for some spoiler stuff, for those who have seen the movie:)

When the evidence comes out that Emily Rose saw her experience as an opportunity (with help from Father Moore's testimony) to give the world evidence of the spiritual realm (with the Virgin Mary's blessing), I think the case lost a lot of credibility. For one thing, it showed that Emily had a motive to convince people that her demonic possession was real - thus presenting the possibility that she may have been willing to fake it. Also, if we are to take her written statement at face value, it begs the question of why Mary would be willing to have an innocent, faithful girl suffer when there are much better, less sacrificial ways to convince the mortal world that the spirit realm exists.

I also wonder at how when the devil tends to meddle in the affairs of men, there's plenty of evidence, whereas God's touch is so subtle as to be imperceptible. Of course, believers arguments' tend toward the thought that proof of the existence of the devil will imply existence of God - but still, why the hell does God not just provide some evidence himself? And anyway, the whole ordeal is moot, because in the end, not even the agnostic defense attorney manages to be convinced in her faith by the end of the movie. I have to believe that there are far more effective methods at God's disposal to convince people of his existence...

(end spoilers)

I'd like also to mention that it didn't skip my notice that the prosecution emphasizes that the victim, Emily Rose, was a "young girl", as is often the case with exorcism episodes. However, the fact is, she was a young woman - a university student. Of course, emphasizing her innocence and vulnerability plays into the prosecution's hand, given that they're trying to convict the man allegedly responsible for letting her die. And I certainly couldn't fault the devil for choosing to pick on such helpless, sympathetic victims - but I think he, at least, would have the ability to see through man's self-deception with regards to treating young adults as if they were still children.

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