THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield, Ph.D.
Better than Average
Drama, Suspense, Thriller
1 hr. 54 min.
DEMON POSSESSION AND INFLUENCE—Can Christians be demon possessed? In what ways can Satan and his demons influence believers? Answer
Is SATAN a real person that influences our world today? Is he affecting you? Answer
Demoniac (Web Bible Dictionary)
Exorcist (Web Bible Dictionary)
Satan (Web Bible Dictionary)
Demons (Web Bible Dictionary)
Miracles (Web Bible Dictionary)
Mary (Web Bible Dictionary)
Angels (Web Bible Dictionary)
Michael (Web Bible Dictionary)
DOES GOD REALLY EXIST? How can we know? If God made everything, who made God? Answer
a biblical examination of the apparitions of the “Virgin Mary” and other supernatural activity reported on the rise
Emily Rose could have been your sister, daughter or best friend. What happened to her could have happened to anyone. This is her story.
“Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) is a devout Catholic who undergoes a shocking transformation while at college. Her family asks Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) to perform an exorcism. When Emily dies, Moore is charged with criminally negligent homicide. Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, the lawyer hired to defend Moore.”
Warning: Some plot spoilers in this review.
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a film that asks its audience not to believe that Emily is possessed by demons but that it is “possible” she could be.
In her summation in defense of Father Moore, the man who presided over Emily’s exorcism, Erin Bruner says that either God exists or He does not—and either proposition can be terrifying to contemplate.
Short on plot and long on big ideas, Emily Rose complements rather than competes with “The Exorcist”, extracting its chills more from the ideas it explores than the scenes it actually depicts. Its PG-13 rating is telling; with no sex or nudity and minimal use of profane or obscene language (Moore says a demonic apparition “scared the hell” out of him), the film clearly announces its intentions to be something more (or is it less?) than a gross-out horror fest.
The plot centers less on the events leading up to Emily’s exorcism than the trial for criminally negligent homicide of the priest who presided over it. Campbell Scott plays the District Attorney, a man of faith who nevertheless argues that Emily was epileptic (and perhaps psychotic) and that Moore was responsible for keeping her from medical help that would have saved her life. Laura Linney plays Bruner as a “woman of doubt” who nevertheless asks the jury to believe that it is “possible” that Moore and Emily’s family were correct in believing an exorcism was her only hope for deliverance.
Both do a good job, but the film’s ultimate success is due to Carpenter, whose self-effacing performance proves that acting can still carry a movie in the age of special effects. Carpenter says she “trained like an athlete” for the film, and it is easy to believe it. In order to leave the question of what happened to Emily open, the film eschews the visual representations or manifestations that were a central part of “The Exorcist”. In the hands of a lesser actress, the scenes of Emily writhing and screaming might come off as tame or even silly. Carpenter is able to contort her body and modulate her voice in such a way, however, that the horror of what Emily is experiencing, whether it be a demonic possession or an epileptic fit, is never far from the audience’s mind.
That the film leaves the question open of whether Emily is actually possessed is both a selling point and, ultimately, a weakness. It is certainly understandable that the filmmakers don’t want alienate mainstream viewers with prolonged, theological discussions, but the necessity to provide credible but non-definitive theological explanations for Emily’s behavior puts a strain on the script, limiting it to pointing at important issues or questions rather than brining any insight to them.
Particularly problematic is a scene late in the film in which a possibly possessed Emily has a vision of the Virgin Mary who explains (maybe) God’s purpose in allowing her to remain possessed and offering her a choice that makes more dramatic than theological sense. Derrickson, a professing Christian, understands that this scene may be problematic for some Christian viewers, stating for the record that “I do not believe that a spirit-filled Christian can become demon possessed.” Some Christians may look at this statement in conjunction with the film’s ending and see no other plausible explanation than that Emily—as presented in the film—is not possessed. Derrickson clearly does not want viewers to read it that way, though, arguing that for “every one” of the “theological rules we like to systematically create there are often exceptions.”
I would stress that I see the film’s forced ambiguity as an artistic, not just a theological, flaw. While commercial art can and does try to remain scrupulously neutral to appeal to the widest common denominator, most great art comes from and embodies a particular perspective. Audiences may not share that perspective—it may shock, anger, or infuriate them—but they usually find something in the way that a point of view is presented in great art that provokes them to examine it rather than reject it out of hand, even when it conflicts with their own beliefs or ideas. In that sense, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a very commercial film, seeking first and foremost not to lose any potential viewers with controversial or dogmatic assertions, and only secondly asking (but not requiring) that those viewers go beyond the film to think about the ideas or subject matter embodied in it.
For some Christian viewers (and critics), asking audiences to consider the possibility that demons—and God—exist, may be enough evangelical prodding for the film to justify itself. Others may wonder whether or not the film ultimately hurts itself by diluting its subject matter in order to make it more palatable to a mass audience.
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a film that is just good enough to make me hope that Derrickson eventually gets (and takes) the opportunity to make a more personal film, one that probes issues of faith in greater depth, presenting the audience not just with tentative “possibilities” (a favored word in the film) but with penetrating insights into faith or some element of the human condition.
To be great, a film about ideas needn’t be dogmatic, but I don’t think it can be neutral.
My Grade: B-
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
Year of Release—2005 / USA release: September 9, 2005 (wide).
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