Because I’ve seen the film so many times, it’s hard for me not to compare the book and the film. But that’s okay, because out of all the books that have been adapted for the big screen, this is one of the best.
For me, what’s scary about The Exorcist is not the possession, but the utter helplessness the characters feel at the situation. How a person feels about the possession itself is probably go to be tied in with their own belief system.
I once had a friend tell me possession films held a particular chill for his because he was raised to believe that demonic possession was absolutely possible. Though his rational mind told his it wasn’t, those old childhood feelings hung on in the back of his mind.
I was not raised with such beliefs so for me the demonic possession is a device designed to evoke terror – no different then Freddy Kruger or the Boogey Man.
In the context of Blatty’s The Exorcist, I see the possession as a metaphor for a mother’s fear of puberty. It’s no accident that Regan is celebrating her 12th birthday in this story. On the one hand she still likes to play games and make her mom silly bird statues, but her mother knows those days are numbered.
Regan quite literally becomes a different person shortly after turning twelve. She is a monster, she is out of control and there are plenty of sexual overtones.
Regan’s mother Chris is helpless to stop this unyielding change in her daughter. She consults doctors, psychiatrists and finally the churth – though she is a non-believer. We certainly can’t ignore the not so subtle message that faith is only thing that can control this demon that has awakened in Regan.
The most interesting character in the story is the beleaguered Father Damien. Damien both doubts his faith and clings to it. I love that we come to realize that Damien is not simply doubting his faith, but he is doubting himself. Is he a good clergman, a good son, a good person? He does’t seem to know or even think so.
Like most of us, he is searching for his purpose and he finds it in his determination to rid Regan of the demon. He was always the one I was rooting for in this story. Not just to beat the demon, but to discover his own self worth.
Let’s do a quick film and book comparison. I love the way the film captures the essence of these characters, particularly Father Damien (Jason Miller in an excellent performance). The story follows pretty closely to the book, though I surprised to find in the book that the housekeepers, who lived with Chris and Regan, played a larger role in the book. Regan’s nanny Sharon also figured in more prominently to the story.
I’m not surprised these elements were left out of the movie. While I liked the housekeeper story line throughout, it turned out to be pretty much a red herring in terms of the outcome. While it added some texture, the story would have been basically the same without it.
In my mind both the book and film are excellent. I recommend both. It’s one of the few times where I’ll say the film has just as much to offer as the book.