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Film Review: "The Exorcism of Emily Rose"

February 5th, 2006 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I dare you to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose. You might not like it. It might hit a bit too close to home and it will definitely scare the dickens out of you! But, unless you are like my tender wife and have a difficult time with graphic images, you really ought to see this film because it will challenge your preconceived notions of what is fact and what is fiction at the same time as leaving you at the edge of your seat.

The film is about a priest who must stand trial for negligent homicide of a 22-year old girl he performed an exorcism on who died. She came from a good Catholic family, but began to experience demonic possession in university and suffered as she battled against the evil forces at work within her. A hotshot, agnostic lawyer comes to the aid of the priest, while an evangelical methodist is called upon by the DA to prosecute. The question comes down to whether Emily Rose actually had medical problems or if her symptoms of paranoia, seizures, muscle and joint stiffening, screaming, violence and inability to eat are not explicable on the physical, "factual" level.

The plot derives from a real life trial that occured in 1970s Bavaria with a girl named Annaliese Michel. The actual story is less inspiring and more gray than the film. You can read more about the real story of Emily Rose here.

The central idea in the film is the possibility that the demonic exists. The hotshot lawyer, played by Laura Linney, chooses the strategy of circumventing the medical evidence presented by her prosecuting counterpart by offering evidence that the demonic truly was at work - despite her own doubts - and this evidence becomes more convincing as the trial proceeds. The director of the film, Biola alumnus Scott Derrickson, does a great job in portraying those events in a believable way. Maybe I just found it believable because I already happen to believe in the demonic, but I suspect there is something less than outrageous, something that appeals to the nonphysical component of our beings that resonates with the experiences Emily Rose endures. Derrickson may have simply employed solid orthodox theology and it turned out believable, but that's probably because orthodox theology is reality (as well as we can express it) and that's where the believability factor gained its strength. It's also really scary. I don't know that I've ever seen a film before where my flesh literally crawled in the particularly suspensful parts. If there are invisible beings who can haunt our souls, this fright is quite appropriate and also adds the the realistic nature of the picture.

The best scene in the film is the exorcism itself. It goes about how one would expect an exorcism to go - it's far from normal, utterly terrifying and so sad seeing what this girl endured. I won't write aboutthe explanation for why Emily Rose, a virtuous believer, became demonized, but the answer is in the film and it might throw you for a loop. Maybe I'll write about it later after the movie has been relegated to the "old movie" shelves at the video store.
In short, this film has a message for both unbelievers and believers.

For the unbeliever it offers a real challenge: why don't you think there is a spiritual world that matters and matters deeply in everyday life? If you are willing to put away the naturalistic assumptions so entrenched in our thinking, you may see something absolutely terrifying - which may be why those naturalistic assumptions got there in the first place. And if the terrifying reality of sin and demons exists, doesn't the prospect of goodness and God exist as well? But maybe that is more terrifying still...

For the believer, this film offers an opportunity to more fully integrate faith into daily life. It's not as if we must begin suspecting everyone we meet of being demonized, but it does mean that we become aware of the spiritual reality of demons and opening our eyes. It should make us wonder why the supernatural seems to be more evident in other places in the world. Perhaps it is because those in other lands do have their eyes open and are only seeing what exists. It could also be that the demons have left us alone because we are good enough at making our own lives miserable and destructive! That, too, is battle cry for Christians to begin to shed their light all over.

So let those of us who know Him let our lights shine in the darkness in the full confidence that the Father of lights is our Guardian and protector and that our souls have their rest, peace, and security in Him.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.