I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose yesterday, and I was very impressed with how the movie handled the issues of demons, scientific naturalism, and Catholicism. Certainly, I had some exceptions to the specific theology behind the exorcism (namely, the belief that demonic possession can happen to a believer as well as some specifically Catholic elements throughout the film), but, on the whole, I was pleased. I would highly recommend the movie to anyone who would not be adversely affected by the dark depictions of demonic possession in the movie (certain scenes seem very much like a horror movie).
Based on the real-life attempted exorcism of Anneliese Michel, the movie is a courtroom drama where an agnostic is left defending a priest who had attempted to exorcise demons from Emily in the belief that medical science could have done her no good. For the prosecution, a “Christian” argues that Emily’s condition was wholly medical in nature, and characterizes the defense’s arguments as “ridiculous.” It is fascinating how the filmmakers pit the agnostic’s growing belief in the spiritual realm against the shallowness of the prosecutor’s “faith.”
Without going into spoilers, I had two big thoughts concerning the movie. The first was a realization that I don’t, practically speaking, believe in demonic or angelic powers. Certainly, my theology includes a belief in the existence of such beings; however, I don’t know that I often think much of the fact that they are always around, always trying to turn me away from God. The prosecuting attorney in the movie professed to be a Christian, but he rejected from the beginning the possibility that Emily might have actually been possessed.
Certainly, an acknowledgment of the demonic can go too far. C. S. Lewis wrote of two ways demons can “win” in their struggles against humans. The first would be to get us to deny their existence, either theoretically or practically; the second would be to develop an obsession with seeing their work behind absolutely everything. In actuality, Christians must always be wary of the tactics of the evil one, but we must temper that wariness with an understanding of my second thought.
Partially to reflect a more Catholic theology (and, to be fair to Catholics, it was a decidedly Hollywood version of Catholicism) and partially to sell a movie, the film seemed to play up a dualism where evil was almost, if not virtually, as strong as God. The priest prayed more often to the archangel Michael and to the Virgin Mary than he did to God. My second thought, then, dealt with the way to temper a morbid fear of the occult: having an even greater appreciation for the work of Christ on the cross. As Jesus said on his way to his death, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Christ certainly did die, but he then rose victorious over all sin, death, and demonic power.
This, of course, could not have happened if the eternal Son of God had not entered this world as a human, gaining the ability to mediate between God and man, to the infinite benefit of humanity and the infinite glory of God. Christmas–what a wonderful time to watch a film about an exorcism! (Okay, that last statement might be a bit of a stretch, but the Incarnation is fundamental to virtually everything we gain in Christ. We do not meditate enough on it–especially at Christmastime.)