The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – Proving the Absurd

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson) opened to a negative response in 2005. Quite contrary, what impressed me was the baffling concept of demons and Satan reaching the court of law to prove or rather disprove whether Emily was indeed possessed, or her state was a case of neuropsychological disorder. It does sound strange that a fact-based institution would accept a case on spirits and ether.

It happens, and apparently, it is based on true events about a parish priest exorcising a possessed teenager when medical science was proving to be of no help. The case is of Anneliese Michel of course, a young German girl exorcised in 1976 leading to her alleged death. The date 1976 becomes important because we’re looking back at medical science 40 years ago. Surely, not as sophisticated.

The irony in this courtroom drama lies in our two lawyers, an agnostic as the defendant and a man of faith in the opposition – proving how demons don’t exist and what Emily experienced was, “merely,” psychosomatic.

The two attorneys go back and forth with Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) trying to prove the silliness of the case and Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) trying to prove how supernatural forces did have a say in Emily’s death (played by Jennifer Carpenter). Flashback sequences show the horrors Emily passed through – her physical state eerily resembling the crushing state of Regan from The Exorcist (1973). William Freidkin’s Exorcist is an explicit tale on possession where the exorcism itself is the highlight of the movie. Emily’s story focuses on the rationalizing of exorcism and the existence of demons—in the house of logic no less.

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The accused, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t concerned with his impending fate. All he wants to do is tell Emily’s story and reveal how forces beyond our understanding exist in a realm that separates this world from the ethereal world. The courtroom drama scenes, hence, are tight and tense. They’re convincing.  The two attorneys know their trade and go back and forth to prove what they stand for as professionals. Thomas doesn’t let his faith interfere, nor does Brunner let her agnostic beliefs interfere.

The flashback scenes, although not abundant, is spooky. You wonder if these demons actually existed, we’d be in a chaotic world with such vengeful beings in control. Yet, if we take a rational standpoint and accept it all as neuropsychological hallucinations, we’d be better relieved for there are ways to control and subside these symptoms.

As a viewer, I wouldn’t be able to say which party is closer to the truth. The flashback scenes make me tilt towards the father, but how logical is the pseudoscience of possession? Occurrences that are difficult to explain seem to find solace in outright dismissals. When such a claim is disputed in court, sometimes you have to wonder – how the court could meddle with an inconceivable truth.

Despite a hot-potato issue, The Exorcism of Emily Rose makes sense and is well written, well shot, and honestly portrayed. Bravura performances from the starcast only help in convincing us that even though the tale mayn’t be true, it’s not untrue either. There is a grey area somewhere – some things aren’t tangible, but just because they aren’t, that doesn’t mean they really aren’t.

As Father Moore says, it’s not about what is true or untrue. Whether the dead really die away or Anti-Christ forces lurk in the corridor. His only mission is to tell her (Emily’s) story and through her – to warn humans that Anti-Christ forces exist, whilst also comforting people with the presence of Virgin Mary and her divinity.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose convinces because of that. The courtroom drama and procedural only give it a legitimate claim and testimonies by experts on the area pose a hypothetical scenario of the existence of a spiritual world.

The movie has its shares of thrills and scares – moments of madness and fright. It makes you think from the perspective of Emily’s family. And, asks you a question: what do you do when science fails? Do we go for suggestive therapy, as the exorcism is most likely to be? Or, do we accept defeat and let somebody close to us die away without a proper trial?

It’s an individualistic question – one that may confront us. Not in the same manner of course. However, there are many facets in our lives where we may have to abandon rational explanation and go for a route that is irrational, unseen – enamoured with consolation nonetheless.

The movie plays along these lines: trying to prove the unknowable by using logic. And, maybe in doing so, we’re giving ourselves too much credit by assuming there is a logical answer to every question.

On balance, Emily Rose is a person who degenerated into a vile object. The sequences that show her as an object are disturbing, yet compelling to watch. The courtroom exchanges between the characters are relishing, witty, and tense. Amid all of this, there is a feeling of legitimacy in the case and the unfolding doesn’t feel out of place in the court of justice.

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Ethical dilemma and morality also stand in defence. The long-debated philosophy of ethics finds ample references and lives as a character on its own. There are discussions about legality and ethics. In any profession, ethics is subjective, law imperative. Emily Rose chose an ethical path sacrificing her for the greater good, and you’d feel – ultimately, ethics does prevail over forced reinforcement of law because one is an exterior precondition, the other is an inherent choice.

You need to approach The Exorcism of Emily Rose with an open mind. If you do so, you’ll enjoy this debate on life and death, especially in a tangible stage designed for arguments. Only this time, matter seems to submerge with spirit – giving us one fine movie that engages us and makes us feel for Emily Rose.