Two years ago, Hollywood convinced us we wanted to see The Exorcist. This was a whole new direction, it said. The ads were understated: you saw the silhouette of a solitary man in a homburg, casting an ominous shadow. You did not know who he was. He looked very much like an approaching strangler or medium, and the darker side of your imagination stirred in anticipation. As it happened, he was a priest, and a saintly one at that. He was the exorcist.
Now, most cinema-goers had never, Hollywood knew, come across exorcism. So it all had to be explained. The film did an excellent job of corralling everyone into this dark and straitened defile, and by the time the action got round to the exorcism itself, you knew what was going on. You knew that this was something more thrilling than counseling or surgery or psychoanalysis. When you were up against the wall, and the situation defied all the craft of science, you turned to the Church and her ancient wisdom and powers.
The shrewd thing about The Exorcist was that it didn’t turn to witchcraft or necromancy or any other form of the occult for its thrills. It used rare stuffs that lie, not in the dens of the warlocks, but in the sacristies of the Church. It was not heterodoxy you saw but orthodoxy, all splayed out across the bloody screen.
The confusing and horrifying thing about the film to the orthodox imagination was, of course, that it was Hollywood that was doing this. The entertainment industry had reached its long hairy arm into the sacristy and had pulled out the most recondite things it could find. It had no more idea about the taboos that surround the use of these things than it had about the splendors of the City of God. It was like a baboon that had found communion wafers ...1
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