Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ager's Analysis of "The Exorcist"



12 comments:

GimmeABreak said...

Sometimes I wonder if film analysts ever read the original materials on the films are based? William Peter Blatty (who wrote not only the screenplay but also the novel) seems to get short shrift here. Much of what Ager gives the film-maker (Friedkin) credit for was in both the novel and the script.

Also, IMHO, Ager sees things that aren't there or misinterprets them. Burke Denning always struck me as a closeted homosexual and I think he viewed Regan's mother, Chris McNeil, as a sister and a confidant rather than a potential lover. His preempted reveal wasn't that he was in love with Chris but that he gay. Remember, this was written and filmed in the early 70s when confessing same-sex attraction was still a risky bit of business.

From personal experience, I can tell you that readers/viewers often see things that weren't intended. In a college creative writing class, I sat in the back of the room while a group of students analyzed a story I wrote (they didn't know I'd written it). The symbolism and hidden meanings they saw in even the most mundane activities astounded me, not because they were so accurate but because they were so off-the-wall. I intended no deeper meanings in anything yet, when forced to analyze, the readers attached deeply personal relevances to things that barely had any surface importance.

Sorry to be such a grumpy gus. I guess the caffeine hasn't kicked in yet. It's still early.

GimmeABreak said...

A follow-up:

I just visited Ager site and he's 33 years old. He wasn't even born when this was written. He's also a Brit. How much did (does?) he know about Catholicism, Washington DC/America and the 70s? How can you analyze something without knowing the relevant conditions? I, too, have a degree in Psychology and learned early on that you can't make an informed analysis of anything related to human behavior without knowing the context (among many other things).

kjb said...

gimme -- I agree with your comments here. I've had similar experiences listening to college students analyze stories I'd written. It was amazing listening to them find meaning and symbolism in ways that had never occurred to me as I was writing.

Laura Deerfield said...

Ever heard of the fallacy of authorial intent? This was a popular phrase in poetry writing courses.

It goes well with the postmodern school of literary interpretation which claims that every meaning which ever belonged to a word is echoed in that word any time it is used. (I think this was Baudrillard, but may have been Kristeva or Deleuze and Guattari - been a long time since I was introduced to the ideas.)

While I don't buy this notion 100% (I give myself and other writers a bit more credit than that,) I do think that the author often brings things on a subconscious level which reverberate in ways they may not have consciously intended. And once I've let go of my intent with a piece, I have, more than once, found other levels of symbolism that I had not consciously inserted and re-written to strengthen them.

I would have to watch the movie again to decide about the homosexual subtext to Burke's character, but Regan is quite clearly a girl who has been abused sexually, but I would say that this was by the demon. Because this is the most horrifying thing the demon could do, to corrupt and pervert a girl in this way.

Father Damien Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Father Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as... animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

I do give the author enough credit to believe that this is the theme statement for the film. (And found myself wondering through this review whether Ager read the book, since he never mentioned it.)

Mystery Man said...

I must confess, unfortunately, I am no "Exorcist" expert. I have not read the book nor seen the movie in a while.

Always loved the movie though. And my impression of Burke had always been that he's homosexual (and I used to believe poorly used in the story). I thought this was an interesting take (and was kind of happy with the idea that his presence had more significance to the story than I had originally thought), but I'd have to see the film again.

Love a good excuse to see it again!

-MM

Mystery Man said...

Pat & Laura - Great posts. Thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

GimmeABreak said...

More on The Exorcist (from a variety of interviews with the author - the comments are Blatty's) -

(On some of the new scenes added to the rerelease) -

One of the new scenes contains the moral centre of the film. There's one line during a conversation between Father Merrin and Father Karras when Karras asks, "What's the point? Assuming the prince of darkness really does exist, what is he doing bothering with this girl?" Merrin replies "The little girl is not the target. The target is we, the observers, everyone in this house". By which he means that it's your faith that is hanging in the balance - you're the target. The point is to make us despair.

(on the restored ending) -

After the exorcism, Chris MacNeil is leaving and she gives Father Dyer a religious medal. In the original version he keeps it and she drives off. Not the way it is in the novel, or the way it is now. Now he considers it a moment and puts it in her hand, saying "Why don't you keep it?" Her acceptance means that for this atheist woman the door has been opened to the possibility of religious belief.

(on some of the highly sexual scenes in the movie and the book) -

I never attempted to put that in (the Black Mass scene). That would have been seen as pure titillation. There was some conversation at the party scene about the number of Black Masses were occurring in Paris. At that time, about 50,000 a year in the city of Paris alone. But I never attempted to put in details about what happens at a Black Mass. People could not take that on the screen. Not even today. But it was definitely the most horrifying part of the novel.
-----

I hate to harp on this but in more than a dozen interviews with Blatty, he never indicates that Regan was a victim of sexual abuse. The sexual aspects of Regan's possession were influenced by Black Mass rituals and were the most "devilish" things Blatty could think of. For Blatty, the film was about a crisis of faith, not childhood sexual abuse.

(an interesting FYI - the actor who played Burke Dennings died during the filming from the flu)

Mystery Man said...

Well, I can't argue with that. Good job, Pat. Do you think that Burke's role had any point in the story? It just never seemed to me that he served much purpose in the film. But it's been a while, too. That's just an impression I seem to recall having about him.

-MM

GimmeABreak said...

Ya know, MM, it's been 30 years since I saw the movie and 35 since I read the book. I think Burke was more of a red herring than anything else. Blatty was a devout Catholic and studied for the priesthood. Everything I've read about the story indicates that he was inspired to write it from a 1949 exorcism that was performed in Maryland on a teen-aged boy and that it reflected his own doubts about his upbringing in the church and his doubts about god.

On the other hand... he, himself, may have been molested by a priest and may have subconsciously projected his disgust onto Burke by making it look like he was homosexual on the one hand but also a potential child abuser on the other (albeit a female instead of male child).

Blatty's not quite dead yet. Maybe you could ask him?

Spanish Prisoner said...

Well, I don't know why some of you are so defensive about other peoples analysis' of your stories? That's exactly WHY I write stories and film movies!

The beauty of it is to let them find things you have done subconsciously or consciously, having an "Aha!" moment.

One of my earlier short films had a theme thoughout the story that reflected my car accident several weeks before I wrote and filmed it. I realized that only a year after finishing the movie, though it must've been too obvious. But I didn't see it.

And now I like the movie a little more then before. It has more meanign for me and I can explain the theme a lot better now.

But if you want movies to be analyzed mathematically, you can watch a Michael Bay movie and interpret the 34th explosion and the 23rd car crash.

Anonymous said...

I found Ager's analysis interesting and quite disturbing. I posted extensively about it on YouTube, but his videos have been removed. No idea why.

The original case was said to be true. It isn't: www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html debunks much of it. Other books have claimed the boy was molested by an aunt who died before he became "possessed." Who knows.

The book did answer much of Ager's claims (she was possessed). I don't recall whether Mom was upset Burke had been left alone with Regan. Some of Ager's analysis seems to be a similar twist on Mighty Mouse and Puff the Magic Dragon analyses from the late '80s: MM snorted cocaine and Puff was about drug use. Some dovetailed nicely, but I'm not sure they're true.

Stephen King wrote "The Boogeyman" in "Night Shift" years ago, and I'm curious as to Ager's analysis. Everyone in my college English class loved it until a psychology major said what it was really about, then everyone read it differently and agreed with her. Interesting, in any event.

Glenn

Mystery Man said...

These vids are no longer available?? @#$%ing @#$%! Damn YouTube.

Thanks so much, Glenn. I had never heard these thoughts before, and I'm a voracious reader, oddly enough. Thanks for the link. He took some heat here for his analysis, but I didn't mind. It was his attention to detail in the stories that I think really drew me to his analysis. I loved it. True or not, writers should aspire to those heights of craft.

-MM