Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Headcanon for Exorcist I & Exorcist III's unusual cosmology (Long)

So when I was a kid, I was always scared of scary movies. And the big bad motherfucker of a scary movie was The Exorcist. I was terrified of this movie. It had some kind of cult legacy that followed it for decades after its release, so even kids like me, born decades after it released, had some kind of unholy fascination towards it. This was scarier then Freddy or Jason. Scarier then Saw or The Ring. This was a scarier motherfucking movie.

Of course, as an adult I went back and watched it. It was great. Now that I'm older, I can appreciate these movies for other factors beyond the horror- directing, acting, cinematography. It's a little laughable nowadays. The scariest part of The Exorcist were the medical scenes! But needless to say, I enjoyed the movie immensely.

Now at the time, I didn't even really know the Exorcist has sequels. At the time, the general consensus was the Exorcist 2 and the remakes were bad. Then I heard about the Exorcist 3. I watched about halfway through the Red Letter Media review of it, stopped to avoid spoilers, got the movie, and watched it myself. It was pretty great.

But between Exorcist 1 and 3, there's this really interesting implied cosmology. Note- if there is more Exorcist deep lore I am unaware of, or if any of this has been proven or disproved by the second film, I don't really care. This isn't about the actual “lore” of the Exorcist films, this is just my headcanon from one and three. I thought this would be a fun, unusual blogpost for here. So feel free to skip if it's not your normal thing. Also will obviously contain spoilers.

The Exorcist
The first Exorcist film is pretty simple. There's this lonely girl who gets an “imaginary friend” and starts acting weird. Turns out she's possessed by a demon. The only solution is to call in an Exorcist.

Most of the supernatural events in the movie are about in line what you consider for what a “demon” could do. Objects fly around the room. Strange, impossible biological stuff (like the head spinning around thing- endlessly parodied) as well as superhuman strength, especially for a young sick girl. Levitation and demonic voices. Knowledge that a little girl shouldn't have. All of it fits well with a general “haunted house” vibe. But notice the general theme- most of the stuff is “plausible”. Or rather, while clearly supernatural, there is no instant transformation into demonic forms, no creation of matter, or no totally overpowered magical demonic stuff.

There's this great line in the movie. When the younger of the two priests (Karras) sits down, a drawer opens on its own. He tells the possessed girl to do it again, and the entity speaking through her says “in due time”. It's a great conversation, which seems almost cordial despite how clearly evil and inhuman this being is. When asked if the entity could simply make the bonds tying the girl down disappear, it replies with “that would be too vulgar a display of power, Karras.” This line is great because it implies that these entities, spirits, whatever else have to follow some kind of rules. It never implies it can't do it, but it chooses not to.

There's another element here I want to add- the good guy priests here believe in God, but God never directly manifests in this film. God never directly acts. The end of the movie is even a bit ambivalent of who “wins” in the end; any victory that happens is a human victory.

The Exorcist 3
The third Exorcist film has a great atmosphere to it. The film is mostly set in a hospital, next to/in an old folks home. The entire movie is dotted with gruesome murders, which are in line with a famous serial killer called the Gemini. The Gemini killer has been dead for fifteen years- executed.

This movie also has a great police detective story feel to it. The murders here are thought to be a copycat killer, but there are two problems. The first is that the police released the details of the Gemini killer that were false intentionally, to weed out crazy people who might claim to be the Gemini. But this killer is not performing the false version of events, but copying the actual Gemini killer. Secondly, all of the murders have been done so precisely that it seems supernatural. The exact dosage of a paralyzing drug, every single drop of blood siphoned from the corpse without a single drop spilled, and so on.

Now onto the spoilers. It turns out that Karras, the exorcist priest from the first film, is actually still alive. See, at the end of the first Exorcist, Karras told the demon to take him instead to leave Regan's body, and when it started to take over him he jumped out the window and killed himself down the long flight of spooky stairs. He's not only still alive- but his body is still possessed.

This leads a great, almost cordial conversation again. Just like in the first movie; these scenes between the detective character and the entity inside of Karras were great. I loved these scenes. There was much more madness, but this concept of being face to face, able to ask and tell anything you wish to some entity immeasurably beyond anything human is a great story beat. It's also fun to think about, a kind of interaction with stakes and danger. What would I say to it in that jail cell? Do you honestly think you could convince it to change its ways? Probably not- it's evil is a deeper evil then any human could understand. But perhaps you could trick it to reveal something useful- or would you just set it off?

It's important because these conversations between Karras and detective Kinderman reveal to us some of the most important details about the cosmology about the Exorcist universe.

Exorcist 3 Evidence
In Kinderman's talks to the demon (also Gemini killer) several facts or ideas are put forward by the being. It is important to know that this is all we go on, but obviously a demonic entity would be prone to lying. I've included paraphrased quotes. From this we gather;

  • Learned some kind of supernatural abilities from The Master- this is directly after he does a demon roar in Karras's body, not a normal human vocalization. (the Master is implied to be the demon in control of the body, who can be cruel)
  • The Gemini Killer's soul was picked up “on the outside”. “It can be cruel at there”.
  • The Master is throwing me scraps from his table, a little reward for my service.”
  • When the possessed Karras goes to sleep, the body (heartbeat, temperature, breathing) slows to a crawl. But his brainwave activity accelerates.
  • As with the above fact; at the end of the movie it is revealed how the murders are being done- the elderly patients are being possessed by the Gemini killer. This is despite the fact that his/the demon's body is locked up in a padded cell.
  • (Gemini Killer in Karras's Body) “There I was, in the void, without a body. And then came- well you know, my friend. One of them. Those others there, the cruel ones. The Master. And he thought that my work should continue- in this body. In this body in particular.”
  • The Master intentionally chose a priest's body to spread panic among the men of faith- this is directly stated by the Gemini Killer as the devil's “scheme”.
  • The Master brought the Gemini Killer's soul to Karras who was dying.
  • Karras's body after the end of the first movie was dying or dead. “His brain was jelly. It took maximum effort to get out of the coffin. So much damage to Karras's brain cells.” and “It took quite an effort to regenerate your friend's puny little brain cells- It took me fifteen years!”
  • It's not enough to be a spirit. There's no magic- in this artificial box you call a world. We cannot touch except through bodies, you understand? We operate through brains- neurological systems and your friends was nearly past resurrection!”

The Glass Box
This, in combination with factors from the Exorcist 1, have given me a rough idea of a (very interesting) cosmology for the Exorcist universe. Once again, this is entirely my opinion and an interesting potential secondary interpretation of the otherwise very played-straight religious and demonic possession themes of the Exorcist universe.

Unfortunately for diversity of potential beliefs, both movies feature Catholicism very heavily. As far as the series is concerned, the Catholic faith is the correct one for our interpretation. However, if the second movie featured say, a Baptist or Protestant priest performing the exorcism, I think the interpretation would be the same or even enhanced by it. The reason for this minor complaint is that it puts too much emphasis on religion for our interpretations.

Essentially; there is nothing supernatural in the Exorcist universe. Everything that is “supernatural” in the movies is the result of psychic powers. Yes really. The universe as presented in the Exorcist is a box- a glass box. The “spirits” that exist outside of the universe can see in, and we inside can see out. They can even communicate through the glass, but alone they are powerless.

It is for this reason they are powerless without a body to inhabit.

All that shit flying around the room in Regan's room in
The Exorcist? That's her own psychic powers, which have been magnified by the demon. I even believe psychic powers feature heavily in the second movie, which I have not seen nor care to see, so everything I'm saying here could already be established. Now I should mention here- just because humans can develop these kinds of abilities, doesn't meant they should. Think of Humans in this universe a bit like highly built, purpose crafted sports cars that demons break down for scrap parts and repurposed to cause havoc. It causes immense strain on the bodies of those they inhabit- cuts and bruises opening as the demons play with the muscles and scratch the skin- they don't know what these pain signals mean or care.

God, or the Creator in the Exorcist universe, created it to be orderly and fundamentally practical. It is a physical universe, created either for the benefit of humans, or to allow human free will. Given the presentation of the movies, we are pretty certain that this is the Christian and/or Catholic God, or at very least the Judeo-Christian God from the bible. However, I don't think this necessarily needs to be what is actually going on. For two reasons- the first is that in both movies, not all the main characters are Christian or at least aren't devout. Secondly, if you go with the psychic powers interpretation above, then God doesn't necessarily need to be the one granting the Exorcists their powers.

God in the Exorcist universe wanted humans to have free wills. The spirits outside, the cruel spirits which could be literal demons cast out of heaven OR some other fundamental and separate aspect of reality, they take over humans and make them do “fun” things, because they don't have bodies themselves. The souls of humans are inextricably tied to their bodies- as long as they are alive, they are within their own body. The demon in Exorcist 3 explicitly wants to torture Karras, who is still trapped within his body- why would God allow Karras to still be in his body for fifteen years, only to be forced to do things he doesn't want to do by an evil serial killer?
Because God can't intervene- at least not directly.

God of the Box
The same as the demons in these movies- God is outside of the glass box. Perhaps God simply doesn't want to intervene, same as the “Master” in the first movie- it would be too vulgar a display of power. I'm not a theologian nor a Christian, but I once heard a pretty good argument from one about why God doesn't show proof of his existence- it would take away the human ability of free will. Now that answer is very much an apologist answer- but I will accept it at face value. I don't think it's out of the question. God won't do anything directly in the Exorcist movies because he either chooses not to, or because he is locked out of his own universe he has created. There's no “magic” in that universe.

So whenever an Exorcism happens in the Exorcist movies- it is not God but it is the person performing the Exorcism. It is their own psychic power acting through them. This is why I complained a bit about the movies only having catholic exorcists- if we saw other faiths, we could say it was human conviction (or God just doesn't align to only one religion, which works too) that had the power in the scenario.

This is somewhat cooperated by the ending of the first film, where Karras jumps out a window as he's being possessed to kill himself. I don't know about you but that doesn't sound like a very properly Christian ending- it's more pragmatic. It's more human. That's why Exorcism is a battle, it's not a one sided show where God steps through his servant to crush the Devil. It's a battle of minds, where the priests channel their own faith and hope against a spirit who has puppet-mastered another human into being the opposite- an instrument of negative emotions and evil.

Therefore my secondary interpretation of the movies is one of a more pragmatic, human, universal take on the Exorcist genre. I don't claim that this is the REAL goings on behind the scenes in the movies, nor do I think this has any basis in real religious beliefs. I just wanted to share a weird headcanon that I hope you enjoy- or get something out of it.

1 comment:

  1. Glass box is an evocative phrase. Perhaps one of the reasons the demons don't display direct powers is because they don't want to shatter their toy...