Pondering Stuff While Watching The Exorcist

Better start looking for a different lucky charm, Pal.
I am currently rewatching The Exorcist for the 20th time or so. Oddly enough, after a decade-long break since my last screening, I feel like I'm watching an entirely different movie. This movie that I long thought was about a possessed girl and the battle to win back her soul has somehow morphed into so much more: good versus evil, single motherhood, medicine versus religion, taking care of an aging parent, and, yes, the elusive and slippery nature of faith. But if the movie is exactly the same, then that only leaves one logical option:  it is me, the viewer, that has changed over the years. Given that I noticed this difference right away (during the opening credits in Northern Iraq), I became overwhelmed with trying to figure out why it seemed like such a different movie to me.  That being said, this isn't an analytical review. It's more of an observation and reflection, really.

I first saw The Exorcist when I was around 10 years old. I recall being bored (e.g., having no idea what they were talking about) until the pea soup starting spewing and then I was just terrified by all of the yelling, flailing, and demonic acrobatics. I wasn't Catholic - nor had I ever really believed in God - so the whole religion/faith thing was lost on me.  I wasn't a child living alone with my mother. I had never experienced any real "evil" in the world, so the whole existential good versus evil theme also fell on immature ears.  But I was a young girl.  Two years Regan's junior, actually, and that meant that if it happened to her, then it could definitely happen to me, right? Well, that's what I thought anyway and the fear that movie drop kicked within my psyche included a lifelong fear of MRI machines, needles, doctors, and hospitals.

Oddly enough, I am now more familiar with MRI machines, needles, doctors, and hospitals (I WORK within a hospital) than Young Me would or could have ever imagined.  These things don't frighten me nearly as much these days.  I mean, there's the occasional anxiety associated with having fibromyalgia, a chronic "invisible" disease. You don't just go in and get diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  It's much more about playing a long game consisting of a variety of tests, needles, the slow elimination of the really scary options, and being left with no clear indication of what actually ails you. Once everyone agrees that there's nothing like MS or cancer staring you down, then you just get meds thrown at you, grab a walking device of choice, and just learn to live with "the bad days" and appreciate "the good days."

But, overall, I'm a big girl and I'm now 30 years older than Regan. Even my kid is a few years older than Regan was when she first started flipping her sheets! When I started rewatching the movie last night I noticed right away the dreadful feeling that Max Von  Sydow's Father Merrin begins carrying around with him once he discovers the shrunken Pazuzu head. It's not a lucky rabbit's foot. It's an indication that evil has been around far longer than man and, like a stubborn cockroach, just keeps chugging along no matter what else evolves around it.  When we see Merrin standing in the dessert shoulder-to-shoulder with a demon statue (Pazuzu), we see religion facing it's own history intermingled with human suffering, pedophilia, torture, and even crusades of death.  He might as well be standing in the grocery store flipping through a tabloid magazine: Death! Despair! Deception!

And then there are other scary themes that I noticed this time around.  It never really donned on me that this movie is not so much about a 12-year-old girl turning into a grotesque marionette of the devil, as it is about the people who surround her.  Her SINGLE mother (an actress with little time at home), Father Karras, who makes lots of noise about losing his faith and replacing it with guilt when his ailing mother died, and even the doctors who, when faced with no clear options, turn to psychiatrists. Is it no wonder Chris says, "You want me to send my daughter to a witch doctor?!"

Now I'm the mother. I'm not the girl.  I see things or think thoughts that scare me everyday. What if my kid gets sick? What if he gets in trouble?  What if? WHAT IF?  But what if I walked into his room and heard noises emanating from the ceiling while he's sitting there spouting off and spewing soup?  My first step would probably be to take him to a doctor.  To find a "health care team".  It would take forever.  Would I eventually believe a story of possession?  Would it be explained away by psychiatry? Would it involve medications or surgeries?  Witch doctors?  Oh, the very thought is so much more horrific than anything I ever thought of as a child.

I plan on watching the rest tonight.  I watched last night right up until they initiated the exorcism.  I was watching it with different eyes.  It's a fun experiment.  I wonder what I'll be scared of when I close my eyes tonight!

What's the scariest movie you've ever watched?


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