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View Full Version : "The Exorcist": What was the point of the prologue?


BrainGlutton
01-23-2005, 04:40 PM
The Exorcist (1973) opens with the elderly Father Merrin at an archaeological dig in Iraq. He finds a small coinlike object which another archaeologist tells him is "not of the same period" of other stuff they're finding (it's never seen or mentioned again). Then he comes across a small figurine-head, the size of a golf ball, with a snarling, demonic face. This disturbs him for no adequately explained reason. Next scene he's in the office of a local scholar, who says of the head, "evil against evil." Then the clock stops, which seems to frighten Merrin. Next scene, Merrin confronts an ancient human-sized statue, out in the desert, of a four-winged god or demon with the paws of a wildcat and a face identical to the figurine-head found earlier.

All this is apparently unconnected to the rest of the story, except that Merrin is the priest who will later be called in to perform an exorcism in Washington, DC.

What is the point of this prologue? How does it relate to the rest of the story? Has digging up the figurine-head somehow liberated the demon it represents to go and possess a young girl on the other side or the world? Or is its discovery some kind of portent of what's to come? Or what?

JohnT
01-23-2005, 05:34 PM
Has digging up the figurine-head somehow liberated the demon it represents to go and possess a young girl on the other side or the world?

That's it, pretty much. Merrin knew that the demon was released, and that he released it, when he saw the figurine. The book goes on a bit to explain that Merrin left the dig site because he knew his exorcism services would be needed soon.

This point is made much clearer in the book, btw. In the movie you're left guessing "wtf was that about" until you see, towards the end of the exorcism, the silhoutte (sp!) of the demon above Regan's bed.

BrainGlutton
01-23-2005, 06:22 PM
BTW, I'm still watching the film and it just got to the point where the bishop and another priest are discussing who to appoint as exorcist. One of them mentions Father Merrin's name, and the other says he thought Merrin was on a dig in Iraq, "near Nineveh." So the artifact discovered in the prologue is probably Assyrian, as opposed to, say, Sumerian, Babylonian, or Persian.

MidnightRadio
01-23-2005, 07:35 PM
I never got the impression that Merrin released the demon, but that the possesion of the girl was completely random. In fact, I think the book says as much, but it's been several years since I've read it. I do remember, though, that the large demonic statue that we see at the end of the prologue is Pazuzu, the demon that possesses Regan.

JohnT
01-23-2005, 08:05 PM
It's been several years (actually, decades) since I read it as well, but I do remember that the dig somehow "released" the demon.

But yes - who was possessed was random, but the fact that somebody was going to get possessed was known by Merrin.

delphica
01-23-2005, 09:04 PM
I always thought it was #1 to establish the demon as ancient, and #2 and thus Regan's possession was random (as has been mentioned) -- she didn't do anything to deserve Mr. Demon taking up residence in her body, which twists the knife a little bit for the priests, they're fighting what seems to be a losing battle for an innocent.

Also, in a weird way, I felt like there's also a #3 -- by showing that the demon is both ancient and random, the author created a decent window for a sequel or a prequel ... which now seems like it's happening, although I believe Ira Levin didn't do any of the writing for the current film.

BrainGlutton
01-23-2005, 09:42 PM
. . . although I believe Ira Levin didn't do any of the writing for the current film.

You mean William Peter Blatty. Levin wrote Rosemary's Baby. Easy to get them confused.

Walloon
01-23-2005, 10:45 PM
Two meanings of the clock stopping in the Iraqi scholar's office while Father Merrin is visiting:
1. Father Merrin's time on this earth is almost up. He is living on borrowed time.
2. The demon, and thus evil, exists outside of time.

In contrast: Regan's mother Chris MacNeil is an actress, a woman who takes on and acts out different personae upon command. She makes movies, in which time is cut up in fragments.

Number
01-24-2005, 08:03 AM
So the artifact discovered in the prologue is probably Assyrian, as opposed to, say, Sumerian, Babylonian, or Persian.Winston: Hey, wait a minute. Hey hey hey hey hey. Hold it. Now are we actually gonna go before a federal judge and tell him that some moldy Babylonian god is going to drop in on Washington DC and start tearing up the city?

Egon: Assyrian, not Babylonian.

Peter: Yeah. Big difference.

Winston: No offense, guys, but I've gotta get my own lawyer.

delphica
01-24-2005, 08:17 AM
You mean William Peter Blatty. Levin wrote Rosemary's Baby. Easy to get them confused.

:smack:

Thanks for the catch! I'm particularly disgruntled because I checked the IMDB to look at the release date of the original film, and still didn't notice Blatty vs. Levin. I'm going to chalk this up to the fact that I read both of these authors as an impressionable young person, under the covers with a flashlight, and seem to have sustained a horror-novel trauma.

JohnT
01-24-2005, 09:05 AM
...she didn't do anything to deserve Mr. Demon taking up residence in her body, which twists the knife a little bit for the priests, they're fighting what seems to be a losing battle for an innocent.

Actually, that's incorrect. In the book, Chris's nanny/personal assistant (I can't remember her name - Sharon?) gave Regan an Ouija board, which was the conduit that Pazuzu used to possess her. No Ouija board, no possession.

Johnny L.A.
01-24-2005, 09:15 AM
the large demonic statue... is Pazuzu, the demon that possesses Regan.
'Hi, I'm Joe Pazuzu, and I used my new Pazuzu pickup truck to carry a 2,000 pund demon!'

Johnny L.A.
01-24-2005, 09:16 AM
'pound'

:smack:

Thin Ice
01-24-2005, 11:34 AM
Dimmy...Dimmy...why you do this to me, Dimmy?

jk1245
01-24-2005, 11:45 AM
Question then- Why would an Assyrian demon respond to a Christian (Roman Catholic even) exorcism ritual?

Yeah, yeah, I know it's a movie, but still shouldn't they have had to do some pagan ritual? Or, is the movie stating that Christianity overcomes all?

Hmm. Been a while, I may have to go rent it again.

Don Draper
01-24-2005, 12:16 PM
Question then- Why would an Assyrian demon respond to a Christian (Roman Catholic even) exorcism ritual?

Yeah, yeah, I know it's a movie, but still shouldn't they have had to do some pagan ritual? Or, is the movie stating that Christianity overcomes all?

The "ONE TRUE RELIGION" dispels ALL idolatrous pagan demons.

IMHO, Director William Friedkin is a devout conservative when you get down to it (all his movies - "Exorcist", and "Cruising" in particular) have arch-conservative overtones. Regan is possessed in part because she is being raised in a secular, proto-feminist environment -- Chris is a single mother, (Regan's father is not in the picture, and Regan's next closest adult role model is Sharon, another woman), she's an athiest, her role in Burke's movie is that of a University teacher who sides with countercultural anti-establishment students, and she is unfamiliar with the basic tenets of catholicism (she doesn't even know what an exorcism is).

I don't know about the book (read it once a long time ago), but the prologue in the movie seems (to me anyway) to be setting the eeire tone for the film by depicting a "godless, savage" (i.e. MUSLIM) culture. The shot of the islamics on prayer rugs bowing down to Mecca always struck me as especially revealing of the director's mindset. It's as if he's saying "Look! Those backward heathens are praying to a false god!"

The comment about "evil against evil" I always took to be foreshadowing Chris's hope to cure Regan via modern (secular) medicine.

Scumpup
01-24-2005, 12:23 PM
Question then- Why would an Assyrian demon respond to a Christian (Roman Catholic even) exorcism ritual?

Yeah, yeah, I know it's a movie, but still shouldn't they have had to do some pagan ritual? Or, is the movie stating that Christianity overcomes all?

Hmm. Been a while, I may have to go rent it again.

Why wouldn't it? AFAIAA, demons aren't denominational. They can be cast out by Catholics, Protestants, and other Xians simply by invoking Jesus...provided their belief is genuine and strong. This bit from the Acts of the Apostles illustrates what happens when the faith isn't there.

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

Blatty might have had something like this in mind when he wrote the book. Perhaps the exorcism is difficult less because of the power of the demon than because of the weakness of the priests.

PoorYorick
01-24-2005, 12:58 PM
Regan is possessed in part because she is being raised in a secular, proto-feminist environment -- Chris is a single mother, (Regan's father is not in the picture, and Regan's next closest adult role model is Sharon, another woman), she's an athiest, her role in Burke's movie is that of a University teacher who sides with countercultural anti-establishment students, and she is unfamiliar with the basic tenets of catholicism (she doesn't even know what an exorcism is).
I didn't get that at all from either the book or the movie. I saw Chris's secularism as a plot device to help suspend disbelief. A snake-worshipping fundamentalist contacting an exorcist would be no great shakes, but something pretty damned (pardon the pun) dramatic would have to happen for you or I to consider it. Also, it heightens the creepiness in that no one is protected by innocence. You don't have to believe in demons for one of them to possess you.

The is the first book that I remember reading that took the question seriously: "What if demons were real?" Satan as something other than a comic book character. (I read the Exorcist on a bus at night when I was 15, so you can imagine my state of mind when I was finished). It must have tapped into some sort of common aspect because of all the knock-offs that came after to cash in (aka "the Jaws effect").

Don Draper
01-24-2005, 01:49 PM
I didn't get that at all from either the book or the movie.

Well, as I said, this was my interpretation. But I don't think it's an accident that Regan is being raised by a single mother whose career is in the most secular profession of all (prostitution being an occasionally religious profession :)). The focal point for the drama is really Father Damian's struggle with his faith, and whether or not it's strong enough to repel the devil (or Pazuzu or whatever.) And the other major characters represent the extremes from which Damian feels he's being torn - On one hand is Father Merrin, who is extremely devout and concerned with "how things are done in olden times" (he's an archeologist), and on the other is Chris - the personification of the modern day woman.

But that's just my two cents.

ianzin
01-24-2005, 03:27 PM
I'm particularly disgruntled because I checked the IMDB to look at the release date of the original film, and still didn't notice Blatty vs. Levin.
If you haven't already, you might like Ira Levin's book 'A Kiss Before Dying'. Forget the awful movie adaptation, the book is well worth a read. The main reason why it's worth reading has something to do with a very ingenious aspect of the plotting and construction, but I can't say more without giving too much away, so I won't.

As to the OP - yep, the prologue signals in a rather oblique way that a source of evil has been unleashed, and Merrin knows it.

ryanbobo
01-24-2005, 03:32 PM
Something that's always confused me. Doesn't Regan's possessor say that he's "the devil?" I seem to remember this caused Damian to doubt the possession was real. From what I can get on the internet, Pazuzu was an evil spirit/god/whatever in Mesopotamia, but wasn't the number 1 bad guy. Is Pazuzu just screwing w/ Damian? How does a mesopotamian evil spirit become Christianity's source of all evil?

Thank you in advance.

Walloon
01-24-2005, 03:48 PM
When Father Damien starts to tell Father Merrin about the various names the demon is called, Father Merrin stops him and says no, he has one name. In other words, there is ultimately one source of evil.

PoorYorick
01-24-2005, 05:19 PM
Well, as I said, this was my interpretation.
Nah, I wasn't trying to be snarky. Your interpretation is just as valid as mine; I just didn't look at it the way you describe it when I saw it.

rowrrbazzle
01-24-2005, 05:24 PM
Well, as I said, this was my interpretation. But I don't think it's an accident that Regan is being raised by a single mother whose career is in the most secular profession of all (prostitution being an occasionally religious profession :)). But weren't actresses once considered as no better than prostitutes by "polite" society? That would support your point. Personally, I think it's a stretch.

Lamia
01-24-2005, 05:34 PM
IMHO, Director William Friedkin is a devout conservative when you get down to it (all his movies - "Exorcist", and "Cruising" in particular) have arch-conservative overtones. Regan is possessed in part because she is being raised in a secular, proto-feminist environment -- Chris is a single mother, (Regan's father is not in the picture, and Regan's next closest adult role model is Sharon, another woman)I don't know how significant the mother's occupation is, but I think it's meant to be very important that she's divorced. Early in the film there's some suggestion that Regan is hurting from lack of a father (and lack of...THE Father?) -- I can't remember the details, but she tells some story to her mother about meeting a man in the park on a horse that suggested to me that she was looking for a father figure. She also describes talking to a male spirit through the Ouija board. I think we're meant to understand that all this leaves Regan more vulnerable to possession, even though she is an innocent.

Oh, since no one has mentioned it here I guess I'm probably just misremembering, but I thought the tiny demon statue shows up later in Regan's house. Is the prologue really the only time we see it?

jk1245
01-24-2005, 05:37 PM
Good points on my question everyone. Just seemed to me like it was a blatantly pro-Christian message which I found interesting considering that the film is usually criticized by some of the more vocal Christians as anything but.

To get back to the OP, isn't it also mentioned that Merrin had previously exorcised Pazuzu from another person? He knew full well who and what the amulet represented.

Eutychus
01-24-2005, 07:14 PM
Good points on my question everyone. Just seemed to me like it was a blatantly pro-Christian message which I found interesting considering that the film is usually criticized by some of the more vocal Christians as anything but.

To get back to the OP, isn't it also mentioned that Merrin had previously exorcised Pazuzu from another person? He knew full well who and what the amulet represented.

Note also that when Lt. Kinderman is looking for evidence at the bottom of the stairs after Burke Dennings is killed, he finds the exact same statue hidden in the dirt there.

JohnT
01-24-2005, 09:11 PM
Good points on my question everyone. Just seemed to me like it was a blatantly pro-Christian message which I found interesting considering that the film is usually criticized by some of the more vocal Christians as anything but.

To get back to the OP, isn't it also mentioned that Merrin had previously exorcised Pazuzu from another person? He knew full well who and what the amulet represented.

Well, it's a very Catholic book/movie, of which some of the more... literal-minded Protestants will be glad to tell you that Catholics aren't Christians. ;)

Walloon
01-24-2005, 09:26 PM
William Peter Blatty:One of the new scenes contains the moral center of the film. There's one line during a conversation between Father Merrin and Father Karras when Karras asks, "What's the point? Assuming the prince of darkness really does exist, what is he doing bothering with this girl?" Merrin replies, "The little girl is not the target. The target is we, the observers, everyone in this house". By which he means that it's your faith that is hanging in the balance you're the target. The point is to make us despair.

Walloon
01-24-2005, 09:45 PM
Exorcist Frequently Asked Questions (http://freespace.virgin.net/justin2001.arkinson/Html/faqs.htm):[T]he model that [Lieutenant] Kinderman retracts from the ditch beside the M Street steps is not the Pazuzu amulet that Merrin found in Nineveh. It is a piece of modeling clay that Burke was carrying when pushed from the window hence Kinderman's curiosity when he's looking at the models in the MacNeil kitchen. However, the scene is constructed to emulate Merrin's discovery of the Pazuzu amulet.

BrainGlutton
01-25-2005, 11:14 AM
William Peter Blatty:

Merrin replies, "The little girl is not the target. The target is we, the observers, everyone in this house". By which he means that it's your faith that is hanging in the balance you're the target. The point is to make us despair.

That's really dumb. Chris MacNeil is an atheist or lapsed Christian. Father Damien is having a crisis of faith. What would be more certain to restore their faith in God's existence than the Devil appearing in their midst? After all, you might have God without the Devil, but you can't have the Devil without God.

Ferret Herder
01-25-2005, 11:34 AM
What would be more certain to restore their faith in God's existence than the Devil appearing in their midst? After all, you might have God without the Devil, but you can't have the Devil without God.
God's existence isn't the point; it's faith in him. With the Devil harassing this small child and God not seeming to be doing anything about it, that sounds like a pretty powerful argument against turning to God.

Mr. Goob
01-25-2005, 01:29 PM
Anybody going to rewatch the movie after seeing this, I have to recommend the extended version on DVD. It's called "The version you've never seen before" or some twaddle. The scene where she goes down the stairs is cool as hell.

Enola Straight
01-25-2005, 06:03 PM
Note also that when Lt. Kinderman is looking for evidence at the bottom of the stairs after Burke Dennings is killed, he finds the exact same statue hidden in the dirt there.
That wasn't a statue of Pazuzu, it was a clay figurine (a rather amorphous looking horse, IIRC) made by Regan...the clay of the same sort earlier found desecrating statues of the Virgin Mary and/or Jesus Christ in the church.

Though I will concede the clay figurine establishes a sub-concious connection to the demon idol shown in the prologue.

bobkitty
01-25-2005, 09:18 PM
The recently released "prequel" explains both the statuette and the necklace.

Merrin was sent to find that statue of Pazuzu in a recently unearthed church and return it to, IIRC, the Vatican. The necklace (a St. Christopher's medal) was given to his "love interest" by a drunken site supervisor; she later was revealed to be possessed by Pazuzu, and although Merrin did perform a successful exorcism, she died at the end. Both the necklace and statue were lost in a sandstorm- hence the necklace not being of the same time period. Plus the discovery of the necklace corresponded with the ripping off of Dimi's necklace (and the return by Regan to his priest friend). Of course, the prequel was set in Africa and the prologue in Iraq, but hey, who's going to pick nits?

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