I was in a conversation online a long time ago, about the movie "The Rite". Having summed up a bit about it in 140 characters I thought I'd go for a more verbose medium. Of course, it took me months to get around to blogging it, and you've probably already seen the movies, do probably never will. But here goes anyway. This post will cover the book as well. I'd warn you that this post contains spoilers for the movie, but that would imply something to spoil. OK, I'll avoid spoilers.
The book The Rite is an interesting treatment of exorcism. And who isn't fascinated by the supernatural? We all want proof of the existence of things beyond our experience. I think it is comforting in some respect to know these things exist, because it points to the existence of God, and not just any God, but a God who loves us and who is infinitely good and powerful.
In the book, Matt Baglio intertwines a biography of Fr. Gary Thomas with the history and real world experiences of exorcism. The story is not scary, although it is disturbing to think of the reality of demonic oppression and possession, and our part (or lack of it) in the spiritual battle for souls. I think most Christians, and most Catholics, are ashamed to mention exorcism, since it sounds so superstitious and "unscientific." That's what society tells us it is, and I can't help but think that in itself is a demonic influence.
If you are a Christian you have to admit the existence of demons, or deny the words of Christ himself. Although recent bible "scholars" have tried to convince us that Jesus' driving out of demons was really Him healing schizophrenia, their argument remains unconvincing. First off, we have Jesus' healing of the paralytic in Mark 2.
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”Jesus is teaching that a spiritual event can have physical consequences. I don't think that He's trying to say all physical ailments are a result of sin, because He doesn't generally heal people by saying "your sins are forgiven", but He is saying that sin is real and forgiveness from sin can cure a physical illness. Likewise when He cures the demoniacs, Jesus doesn't say "be sane" but "Go!".
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!
When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”If demons did not exist, Jesus would not have bothered to talk to them. He could have healed them of a mental illness as simply as He healed the Centurion's servant.
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
And whether or not you're a Christian, you have to admit that there are phenomenon that science can't explain. The Catholic church is very skeptical about miracles and all supernatural phenomena in general, employing investigators who are skeptics to investigate these things before arriving at the conclusion that things are beyond science. In fact, before an exorcism can be attempted it is generally necessary to find some proof that the condition isn't medical. The priest will speak to the affected person and look for signs of possession. Such signs may include knowledge of events that the person could not know, ability to speak and understand all languages, the ability to tell the difference between blessed and unblessed objects. These are abilities you don't get form a mental illness.
I found the book enlightening, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had read it in anticipation of the movie, and so when the movie came out, and was not panned, I saw it. What a huge disappointment.
If you are at all curious about the subject, rather than watching Hollywood's distorted views, I urge you to read the book. Or. if you prefer a different medium, Catholic Answers Live! also has interviews available with both Matt Baglio and Fr. Gary Thomas.
If you want to see the movie be advised that other than titles and names very little is like the book. The protagonist (Michael Kovak, played by Colin O'Donoghue) is not a priest, he's a seminarian who's dropping out because he doesn't believe God exists. Despite this, a priest looks on as the seminarian gives last rites to a woman. Of course, the priest should have been doing himself, since a seminarian cannot validly give last rites or forgiven sins - or perform an exorcism for that matter (but I get ahead of myself). This scene, early in the film, looks like the setup for something deep, but it is just a random event not referred to again.
Of course there has to be a woman involved, in this case a secular journalist (Angeline, played by Alice Braga) who's trying to get an interview with the very priest (Fr. Lucas, played by Anthony Hopkins) that the seminarian is assigned to study under. The whole thing is bad theologically, and as a movie completely predictable and relies on cheap tricks like a cat jumping at you to try to be scary. The makeup and special effects are so overdone as to detract from the story rather than enhance it. Even Hopkins (whom I usually like) doesn't seem to be able to do anything with this movie.
The climax is, like the rest, predictable and bad. I wish I could tell you what it is so you could grimace, but I did say I'd leave out spoilers.
Oh, and there's one scene in which I think Fr. Lucas makes the sign of the cross incorrectly. I'm not sure and I don't have the desire to see it again just to make sure, but it looked like it to me when I saw it.
Of course my views of the movie are partially based on my disappointment at it not being the book. And it wasn't totally bad. On the plus side, there is a scene involving a frog that I thought was very well done. And as much as I didn't like this movie I must admit that it's better than "The Exorcist" sequels. If you like exorcism films, I think the best one I've seen is "The Exorcism of Emily Rose".
Just to prove I'm not nuts here's another review that runs along the lines of this one (but contains spoilers).