The Exorcist: Repression And The Meltdown Of The Family
Tony Williams describes the undercurrent in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist by writing, “In an era of recession, oil embargoes, the debilitating effects of Vietnam, and crisis of confidence in presidential leadership, cinema provides an ideological answer by invoking a traditional enemy - Satan (107).” Everything terrible that occurs in our lives, by Christian standards is the work of the devil. It is never the work of humankind, we could never be that horrible, it must be the devil working through us. Human’s represent a duality between good and evil, if we can recognize something to be good or an action that we have to be right than we must have known wrong or evil within our lives. We are light and dark, we are the shadow and the ego, we are the id and the superego, we are heaven and hell, yet we cannot admit to this.
The Exorcist can be interpreted as a lashing out on the family structure. Ragan played by Linda Blair has no father and an actress mother who is sleeping with a crude film director. Ragan is being raised by a mother who is never there, physically and emotionally. This causes problems within every teenager. To some extent Ragan’s actions are validated by the fact that she lacks attention and does whatever she can to receive it. Ragan makes a spectacle of herself while her mother is entertaining, which any kid would do, when they feel the lack of a loving parent. The Exorcist works socially as a wake up call to parents who put their careers ahead of their family, put into any other context and this film could be considered a family drama. Instead of being possessed by the Pazuzu demon, Ragan is possessed with teen angst. It is realistic in this respect. Even when she is possessed, she still reflects her reality before the demon entered her. Ragan resents her mother’s relationship with director Burk Dennings played by Jack McGowran. Burk is a foul-mouthed, crude, and perverted, which Ragan later emulates when she rotates her head. She speaks in Burk’s voice, showing her resentment and her influence from her mother’s lover. Ragan has no outlet for her rage and inner chaos, but it manifests itself in the form of a demon. The Pazuzu demon doesn’t possess Ragan, her id does.
“The seemingly endless variations on terror we can imagine for ourselves all spring from a common source: the mind that seeks metaphoric outlets for its imploding anxieties, the mind that must give symbolic form to repressed desires that would destroy its rational adjustment to society, the mind of lightness and darkness (American Horrors:130).”