THE MANICHEAN EXORCIST
As part of our annual Halloween film festival, my wife and I screened the recently released Blu-Ray transfer of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. I hadn’t see the thing since its premiere, and I’d forgotten what a nightmare it is—not in the Gothic sense, but in the sense that the movie seems engineered to give bad dreams to anyone who appreciates the virtues of Western rationality.
From the first frame to the last, The Exorcist serves up a feckless Manichean attack on the Enlightenment, rigging the discourse at every turn. On one side we have the forces of darkness: clueless physicians in lab coats, blinded by their materialism, blithely torturing a demonically possessed child with their diagnostic instruments. (Okay, perhaps Torquemada went a bit too far, but when it comes to violating innocent flesh, the Inquisition can’t hold a candle to modern scientific medicine.) On the other side we have the avatars of the angels: Father Karras (an anguished Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (a bored Max Von Sydow), correctly interpreting Regan’s lurid symptoms, setting her mother—and the audience—straight about how the universe really works, and rehabilitating the child through consecrated inanities. Can the “Roman Ritual” really be that vapid? I can’t imagine it curing an upper respiratory infection, much less exorcising a demon.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this is Glenn Beck’s favorite film. We already know it occupies a warm place in Clarence Thomas’s heart—more on that in a moment.
THE BANALITY OF BLATTY’S EVIL
What I find most exasperating about this movie, and the novel before it, is Blatty and Friedkin’s stupefyingly unimaginative notion of radical evil. You know, radical evil, that phenomenon we secular humanists are continually told we fail to appreciate. In the world of The Exorcist, the Devil’s agenda comes down to one thing and one thing only: the sex act. For Friedkin and Blatty, human reproductive organs are the sine qua non of chaos, depravity, and filth.
You might think that a self-respecting demon would have something on his mind besides cocks and cunts. But no. Not one of the “obscene” utterances spewed forth by Pazuzu touches on historical or social evils. Pazuzu files no briefs on behalf of war, slavery, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia, or pedophilia. Can it be a coincidence that, at certain points in its ragged history, the Catholic Church has acquiesced to all six of those institutions? I only ask. I do not know.
My wife noticed that the movie is devoid of even one satisfying sexual relationship: straight, gay, lesbian, or bi. (I cannot speak for Pazuzu’s bloody bond with the child’s crucifix.) Regan’s mother is divorced and not remotely interested in romance. The two principal male characters are Catholic priests. The wife of the police inspector, played by Lee C. Cobb, no longer enjoys watching movies with him—get it? When The Exorcist isn’t busy wagging its index finger at secular reason, it gives its middle digit to anyone who would presume to find redemption in the erotic.
OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICES AND PUBIC HAIRS
In recent weeks The Exorcist has made an oblique return to the headlines—the connection being a memoir penned by Judge Lillian McEwen, who seems to be emerging as a worthy thorn in the side of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Recall, if you will, Thomas’s notorious 1991 Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings. As a connoisseur of pornography, a misogynist prince of lies, and a past master of sexual harassment, Thomas can evidently give Pazuzu a run for his money—a fact that the courageous Anita Hill logically decided to share with the U.S. Senate.
For her trouble, Ms. Hill was excoriated by the self-righteous likes of Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter. According to her testimony, among the many unsavory particulars of Thomas’s modus operandi was the following great pick-up line: “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?” When Senator Hatch, sly littérateur that he is, recognized this bit of pseudo-wit as a paraphrase of a remark made by the movie director in Blatty’s The Exorcist—“There seems to be an alien pubic hair in my gin”—he leaped to the unwarranted assumption that Hill was lying. (The speech can also be heard in the screen adaptation, indifferently articulated by a soused Jack MacGowran.) The far more plausible explanation, of course, was that Thomas had taken time out from Debbie Does Dallas to read Blatty’s novel—or watch a VHS transfer of the Friedkin movie—and, being a man of sophisticated taste, recognized a line worth appropriating. Far from being a liar, Hill’s only failing in this case was insufficient familiarity with a dubious piece of popular culture.
Judge McEwen’s memoir evidently provides about as much corroboration of Anita Hill’s testimony as one might wish. I hope she finds a good publisher posthaste, sells a million copies, and—hey, Christmas is coming, so allow me to wish on a large scale—triggers the long-overdue impeachment of Clarence Thomas.