Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Exorcist: Blog Therapy Session

exorcist poster
I guess I was about 10 or 12 when I first "saw" The Exorcist. Maybe younger. It was going to be on TV and my parents made a big deal about how they were going to see it. I'd heard the stories about my aunt sneaking in my cousins to see it in the theater years before and even back then, without the Internets, I was still pretty aware of pop culture so I kind of knew what it was about and that it was supposed to be fucked up. So I was anxious for a few days in anticipation. Finally when it aired, I really only got glimpses of it from behind my mom on the couch, but I certainly heard the whole thing. And since I wasn't really an atheist at the time, it certainly freaked me out. Plus the glimpses I did catch were seared into my brain for all eternity.

Anyway, flash forward a few years later when I was 17 (it wasn't a very good year) and Exorcist III is coming out. My friend wanted to see it but had never seen the first one. Somehow I agreed to watch it with him, but the condition was that it would be during the day (as it if that would matter). This time I actually watched the whole thing beginning to end. We had to take about 5 breaks during this viewing and were left disturbed for weeks. I haven't seen it since and have never planned to. Seeing images of the movie online is sometimes enough to give me nightmares.

I have a pretty good idea why this movie still haunts me. I may not believe in actual, literal demonic possession, but the idea of losing your mind or watching someone else change before your eyes like that is very real and that is a major nightmare for me. But I'll skip going into depth on this analysis for now. This post is going to be a journey. One that I feel I have to take if not for me, then for the sake of my daughters. I try to help them face their fears as they arise, with as much understanding as possible but I feel like in order to keep doing this, especially as they get older, I need to be able to honestly say I faced mine. So, today, I will be watching The Exorcist, alone, and writing my thoughts down. I am guessing this post will be long, so strap in.

Been anxious all morning for this. It's now 10:55 am, everyone's off to Disney on Ice so here goes. I grabbed a big glass of water and we begin. . .

watching exorcist
My view. 
20 minutes in: So far, nothing has happened. I feel tense but only because I am not quite sure when the first disturbance will happen, because I don't remember these details. All in all, without knowing anything this seems like a pretty boring movie so far. Oh fuck, a Ouija board just appeared. . . .

28 minutes: "My bed was shaking, I can't get to sleep." I remember this line. Noises in the attic. Mom's gonna go check. Don't do it! Don't! Damn, that's a big ass attic. No rats.

33 minutes: Church desecration. This likely would have scared me if I still believed in that stuff. I'm pretty sure I was frightened by the idea of blasphemy as a kid, even though we were never really religious or anything. And here's the tie in to mental illness as Father Karras visits his mother in the mental hospital. This sort of thing has always gotten to me. I might have seen that infamous Geraldo expose of Willowbrook at a young age too.

38 minutes: "You're gonna die up there" and peeing on the carpet. And now "Mother, what's wrong with me?" Right after the mental illness stuff. See, I'm not imagining this connection and I think this is what really gets me about this movie. Fuck, the bed is shaking. FUCK. THAT. SHIT. I remember that shit vividly. 

42 minutes: This shit is ramping up from all sides. Karras has a creepy dream. Reagan is going through doctors and shit. I'm in it now. Science trying to explain the bed shaking. Maybe subliminally the fact that there would be no scientific explanation for something like that scared me. Being older and wiser and knowing that there would be a scientific explanation helps. But then applying reality to fiction is a mistake. That paradox is probably what makes this so disturbing since the film is very subdued and matter of fact to make it seem very real. Oh, body horror medical procedure. Needle to the neck. Machines. Brain scans. 

49 minutes: FUCK THIS SHIT! Doctor house calls. FUCK! She's thrashing on the bed. The throat expands and the eyes go white. FUUUUUUUUUCCKKK!  The voice. FUCKFUCK. I'm fairly certain this is the point I hid behind my mom in a cold sweat. I need a break.

fear sweat
Fuck. . .
So, while I take this break, let me think about this. The whole point is to get over the fear, so this is a good time. Unfortunately, I already see another dimension of fear to this as a father and looking at this as a mental illness thing. It was hard enough watching my dad fade away to Alzheimer's, so I can't imagine what it might be like to watch your child suffer like this and not be able to do anything about it. Has this experiment backfired on me? Is this going to haunt me for a whole other set of reasons now? Fuck, I hope not. You know what, fuck it, let's dive back in. I already know it's about to get worse but now, I'm more anxious to get it over with than anything else. Stopping is not an option.

50 minutes: Doctors are still trying to explain this shit away with "pathological states" and "temporal lobe." The thing is, that is not any less scary than demonic possession. In many ways, that would actually be more scary. 

57 minutes: Hypnotized Reagan. It's the subtle looks from Linda Blair that unnerve more than anything. Also, a detective is following up on the death of Burke, the director, with Father Karras. He brings up witchcraft and the church desecration. This stuff seems a bit silly. Like it's from a different movie, really. 

65 minutes: The doctors suggest exorcism. It's thought that if the patient believes they are possessed, then the solution is to play along in a way. More to add to the mental illness fears.

74 minutes: "Let Jesus fuck you." Yeah, not as disturbing as I remember this part. I think maybe when it goes too far from being on the edge of reality, of being a more subtle thing about mental illness, and into full on supernatural shock horror, it loses something. The head spinning around is a bit much. Maybe. I don't know. I'm not feeling as anxious. 

80 minutes: Karras has come over to visit. Full on face and voice now. It's a little scary, but I'm not overwhelmed by fear. Although, gross as fuck with the throw up. Still on the mental illness thing as Karras insists that's what is wrong with her. 

85 minutes: Ok, fuck, I'm sweating again. It's the quiet conversations he has with her that I remember most from when I was a kid. I remember it all aurally more then visually so those stand out. And the layered voices.  So now the whole thing with the tape recording and the backwards shit. That's a strong memory. A strong memory of fuck.

92 minutes: "Help me" pops up on her stomach. I remember that as being one of the glimpses I got. Not as unnerving now. 

94 minutes: Merrin (Merlin?) arrives. The priests prepare, almost like a Rambo suiting up type sequence. Gotta find the humor in this before the intensity kicks up, I guess. But I'm beginning to think the worst, for me, is already passed. Then again, the noises. Fuck the noises.

97 minutes: Karras looks like he might shit himself. Fuck the voices and the noises. This is the evil side of how sound affects me. The bed is floating. Karras is shitting himself. The fucking sounds. Crap. Yet, something comforting in Merrin's confidence. In his faith. Odd for me to say that, but it's giving me something to grasp here, even as she floats towards the ceiling. "The power of Christ compels you!" Merrin is a fucking warrior. He doesn't fucking blink. In a sense, I guess this is the comfort of religion. A comfort I can't accept in any way, but I understand. Karras needs a change of underwear, though. 

107 minute: Karras goes in alone and sees his mother. Merrin is kicking him out. Karras is weak. He's human. Merrin is going it alone. It's clear to me he will win, one way or another. I'm not really scared but then this has gone way beyond the subtlety.

111 minutes: Fuck. Merrin is dead! I didn't remember this shit. Karras has to step up. Beating a 12 year old girl will solve it. Way to go.  So Karras sacrifices himself. Not sure what to make of that. But then the plot was never what I got into this for. This is over and done. I'm not even that sweaty.

inside out
Sometimes you do have to let this guy drive, though. 
So what did I learn from this? I don't know. Clearly the movie wasn't as scary as I remembered it, but there were some very disturbing concepts involved with the mental illness angle. Once it goes over the top in full on possession, it does lose the edge of ambiguity. But, the power of childhood trauma is evident in the fact that the sounds I remember still hold a lot of power. I still get freaked out by the voice and the growling and moaning that goes on in the background a lot. It's really a testament to the sound design of the movie that they put that much attention to details that would unnerve in subtle ways.

Is it the scariest movie ever made? I think so. I'm here blogging about it and trying to come to terms with my fear of it more than 40 years after it was made. That says something. Of course, it also says something about how we push our kids into ignoring their fears rather than facing them. There is a difference. My parents maybe didn't know any better than to dismiss the fact that I was hiding behind them while this played, and since they didn't speak English, they likely had no idea what was being said, but how often do we tell our kids they're being silly for being afraid of something without taking the time to talk to them about why they are afraid? Maybe if that had been done I wouldn't have been "traumatized" by this movie. And I use the term loosely because at the end of the day it was clearly not a paralyzing fear, one that's easy enough to avoid and I obviously play it up a bit for effect. (Hell, in college I read the novel and then the book that the novel was based on that told the story of a supposedly true possession.) But we do this all the time to kids with fear of the dark, dogs, thunder, whatever. Maybe talking to them would help eliminate part of the irrationality of fear so they don't wind up confused later on when a rational fears pop up. I don't know. All I know is now I think I'm over this one. Maybe not the sounds, but still.

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