Moments That Changed Me – The Exorcist

Posted on 19/03/2011

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And so, tried with the task of choosing the moments in cinema that changed him, his perspective and his view of cinema, he set off into the wilderness of his memories – be they good, bad, wondrous, horrific – and began writing them down. These are the Moments That Changed Me…

The Exorcist (1973)

 

In much the same way as we hear the name Adam Sandler and we think “comedy”, or we think Charlie Sheen and immediately  get the urge to go and buy a quarter-bag from the guy in the dark little house  in that bad neighborhood, certain films have reputation that precede them, particularly to those who have never seen them. Horror films seem to be good at it; I’d heard enough about the originals of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left that I almost didn’t need to see them (even thought I did anyway).  I’ve never seen either of them, but I’ve heard that much stuff about Fritz the Cat and Porky’s.

 

You know, the kinds of films that you have heard things about, but may have never seen.

 

So, naturally, when I was twelve, I didn’t know who William Friedkin was or what The French Connection was, I didn’t know who William Peter Blatty was and I didn’t know what exorcism was, and I certainly didn’t know about The Exorcist, but I’d heard things.

It was the kind of film that would cause my mum to change the subject or immediately say “Don’t you ever see that movie!” if it was ever discussed or brought up by somebody at the dinner table. I’d heard the stories about the adults who wound up in therapy after seeing it or the people who would run from the theater and into the nearest church, screaming at the top of their lungs, or the souvenir  “Exorcist Barf-Bags” that were introduced after all of this.

That kind of thing.

There was a mystique that surrounded the film; a sense of danger or excitement that was tantalizing to me as a twelve year old. It was like drinking or smoking: it was what the cool kids would do.

 

Then, after we’d been talking about it, somebody showed me this at school one day:

 

The face that caused many sleepless nights

… and I don’t think I slept for about a week afterward. Probably longer. Linda Blair’s eyes would watch me in my sleep whenever I turned off the lights and tried to go to bed. The kind of eyes that follow you around the room. The way that she was smiling that vicious, mocking, malevolent smile through cracked, drooping lips. The scars and the bruises, all of which looked so deep and so painful. Above all, it was the fact that through all of this, I could see a kid about my age. That scared the shit out of me.

 

It would be another two years before I would work up the courage to watch the trailer for the film, and it would be another two years on top of that that I would watch, alone and in a pitch black room, the film that had vicariously caused me considerable trauma and many a restless sleep.

 

Like confronting a childhood bully or going skydiving, there was certainly a sense of victory in achieving this feat. Never had a film caused me so much pain before I had even seen it, so this was – to me – my way of saying to the film, to that traumatizing  fucking face of Regan McNeill, to Billy Friedkin and Billy Peter Blatty, “Fuck you all, I can do this!”.

 

And so I bought “The Version You’ve Never Seen” on DVD; one of the first movies I purchased with my own money.

 

And I watched it.

 

And I have never been more psychologically challenged and scared by a film and what I thought it was doing to me.

 

It was the first time I ever thought a film was ‘dangerous’; and no, not in a sense that “Oh no, if somebody gets their hands on this and watches it, they could go do awful things” in the way that something like A Clockwork Orange is dangerous.

I just felt that the film, it’s contents and it’s subject matter, could and perhaps were harming me.

That is, of course, total nonsense, but it’s a testament to the power of the film- and the fact that it is still the most unflinching, confronting portrait of pure evil that I have ever seen – and indeed the power of cinema, that any viewing experience could have such a strong physiological effect on me as a viewer.

I understood why people were running off to therapy, and I understood why people were rushing into to the nearest church, their arms flailing as they scream for salvation after seeing it. Because the film is a totally visceral, primal viewing experience, and one that is consciously trying to let it’s evil seep into you. If you were religious or particularly sensitive, I could see why the film could harm you.

There is undoubtedly evil in the  film, and it is not exactly contained within the screen or the celluloid; it seeps out and actually attacks you. Thank God the devil didn’t win, otherwise the evil would have probably stuck with me for quite a while afterwards.

 

 

IN CLOSING:

I deem seeing The Exorcist for the first time a significant, perspective changing moment for me because never before had I seen a film that had a visceral, primal effect on me. The first time I was scared not necessarily of the content of the film, but the film itself and what it was doing to me. That, to me in hindsight, is such a testament to not only the power of a director, a writer, an everything involved in the making of a film, but also to the unbelievable power of cinema, and why movie have since become a passion.

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