William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, will be at the Dallas International Film Fest next week for a Q&A after the 40th anniversary screening of a film that profoundly fucked up my adolescence. I know, I know. It fucked up a lot of people. My mom told me that before they were married, she and my father went to see The Exorcist in the theater. On a date. My mother swears the screening still had an X rating.
My parents owned the book, penned by William Peter Blatty, the cover of which disturbed me so much I had to read it when I was in sixth or seventh grade. (I also enjoyed other uplifting titles such as Is Chelsea Going Blind? and The Girl in the Box.) A year or so later, I watched the film on TV. The book was almost scarier than the film, because I had to envision my own monster.
Also, Regan (Linda Blair) is the same age I was when I first read the book. This made waking up in the morning for Catholic school a paralyzing experience. I started carrying a rosary around, hanging out at the church after school, befriending nuns. I kept holy water by my bed. I tossed my friend's mood ring in her pool. (I thought it could be used to summon evil. Several years later, I bought one at Lollapalooza '96.)
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That shift from adolescent to teenager is a terrifying time. It is a free fall, and the religious branding worked on me. When I went to see the 2000 director's cut in the theater, I'd shifted from teenager to early 20s. I was a lapsed Catholic, but it was no longer about religion. What I gleaned was that the possession of Regan's body was tied to a fear of women's sexuality and independence, the fear of the girl on the verge of womanhood. And her working mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, was being punished for allowing it to happen. Sexuality was dangerous, and women, outside of the domestic sphere, were too. (Hilariously, last year Blatty sued his alma mater, Georgetown University, for not being "Catholic" enough after they invited birth control advocate Kathleen Sibelius to speak at the school.)
The "exorcism" movie has become an easy go-to now. The newly released (and redundant) The Last Exorcism: Part II, 2012's The Possession and 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose all focus on young women's sexuality or curiosity as invitation for evil, and they're all littered with reheated plot lines and dialogue. I was pleased to read Friedkin recently called the idea for an Exorcist TV series "bullshit," and rejected a 3-D version of it, because WHAT.
I watched The Exorcist for a third time recently, another 10 years older, and was affected very little. It now serves as a bookmark of a time, but it has not aged well as a horror film. I see the indignities imposed upon Regan's body every day on the news, in my Twitter feed, in too many different variations, and that is even more profoundly fucked up.
The movie screens 3:30 p.m. on April 13 at the Angelika, with a Q and A to follow.