Religion is but a medium, much like science, that exists for the unification and betterment of humankind by teaching and upholding the positive qualities and righteousness necessary for co-dependence. It is the human capacity for evil that plagues the institution irrespective of its association with logic or faith, a statement that, as a modern retelling of classic exorcism stories, “The Pope’s Exorcism” was initially aiming to preach, until the clichéd ‘Devil made me do it’ trope ate up any sort of possibility of having a meaningful conversation in that direction in the third act of the movie.
Based on “An Exorcist Tells His Story” And “An Exorcist: More Stories,” the autobiographical works of Father Gabriele Amorth, who was a renowned Catholic priest and chief exorcist appointed by the Diocese of Rome, “The Pope’s Exorcist” offers a career-first horror role to Russell Crowe as the leading man of faith. And honestly, Crowe kills it as the burly, quippy, and occasionally melancholic Father Amorth, easily becoming the highlight of the missed potential of a horror flick. Although it will seem less compelling to the viewers than the adherence the lead puts forth to compel the demons, the movie turned out to be quite better than half of the snoozefest horror releases out there, mainstream or otherwise.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’?
Before diving into the narrative, the movie opens with a quote by Father Amorth that says the Devil is happiest when we mockingly deny his existence. In 1986, shrouded in darkness, the quaint village of Tropea, Italy, awaits the arrival of Father Amorth, as he has been called to perform an exorcism. After arriving on his trusty Vespa, Amorth wastes no time getting into the primary inquiry about the afflicted young man, especially the fact that medical personnel were consulted beforehand. Knowing medical assistance has resulted in nothing, Amorth gets down to business after assuring the family to keep their faith. After a brief verbal tussle with the supposedly possessed person, Amorth manages to save him by performing the exorcism successfully.
Father Amorth is later summoned to the Vatican, as he operates directly under the Roman Diocese. Before meeting with the Roman Curia, which is the highest administrative body of Catholicism, Amorth is greeted by his friend Bishop Lumumba, who assures him of his support. The commission is led by a young Cardinal Sullivan, who questions the need for such archaic methods, which put the religion’s position in question in the age of scientific and technological advancement.
Father Amorth shares his observation that an extreme majority of the exorcism cases that he undertakes turn out to be incidents of personality disorder, psychosis, or other mental conditions like that that need medical attention instead of divine intervention. In fact, his last assignment in Italy, which according to the commission, is under scrutiny due to being conducted without higher authority approval, was not really an exorcism. Like most of the afflicted he encountered, he tried primitive psychology, theatrics, and the power of suggestion to ease his mind. However, he also remarks that the rest of the possessions he encountered were demonic; they were manifestations of evil. As Amorth tries to speculate the reason for his being summoned, he mentions a particular case involving a girl, which at once infuriates Cardinal Sullivan, who tries to reprimand Father Amorth. Amorth leaves the discussion by reminding him that he is answerable only to the Pope himself, who has appointed him as the chief exorcist.
Meanwhile, recently widowed Julia moves into her husband’s ancestral property—the abbey of San Sebastian in Castille, Spain—with her teenage daughter Amy and young son Henry. Julia’s husband left his family the abbey as their only form of inheritance; therefore, she wants to repair this centuries-old monastery and sell it to ensure her family’s financial security. The family meets with the local priest, Father Esquibel, who assures them that he will provide any sort of assistance they require.
As Henry ventures alone through the vast abbey, he comes across a hole in the wall, from which a cracked seal is visible. Later, construction workers poked the hole further and mistakenly ignited fire in front of it. The inside of the hole turns out to be a gas pocket, which causes an explosion and results in grievous burn injuries for one of the workers. The construction crew abandons their work right at the moment and leaves.
Almost at the same time, Amy notices Henry has started convulsing and getting spasms and frantically calls her mother. Henry also starts acting extremely erratic and out of character. An anxious Julia takes him to the hospital for diagnosis, but Henry’s physical or mental conditions are found to be normal. Doctors recommend that Julia provide Henry with medical assistance for psychosis and also provide her with sedatives. After returning home, Henry’s episodes worsen increasingly as he starts speaking and acting in an obscene way. A seemingly possessed Henry demands ‘the priest’ to be present, and Julia calls Father Esquibel, who tries to calm the boy, only to later get thrown out of the room himself. Henry claims that they have baptized the wrong priest, and things gradually start worsening from that point. Unable to salvage the situation himself, Esquibel contacts the higher Catholic authorities.
Amorth meets the Pope, who asks him to visit the San Sebastian Abbey as he feels the necessity of an exorcism has arisen. Pope mentions that the place has troubled the religious order previously, too, and that he can sense an ominous presence there, which might pose the toughest challenge Amorth has ever faced. Amorth checks up on the family’s medical history and visits the Vatican library to get up to speed on the abbey’s history but finds everything to have been redacted previously, and only one line mentioned as some sort of hint that the sins will seek people out.
Investigating The Evil
Adorned in his signature all-black attire, Father Amorth goes to the secluded abbey of San Sebastian and gets informed of the situation by Julia and Father Esquibel. Meeting with the bedridden Henry for the first time, Amorth soon realizes that the possession is very real and falls among the extreme minority of his cases that are infested with the true presence of evil. A possessed Henry calls Amorth by his name and remarks on particular incidents from Amorth’s past that solidify Amorth’s assessment. During his tenure in the army, Amorth was the sole survivor among his squad in the Second World War, something that has haunted him for a lifetime. Mention of this particular and personal incident shakes up Amorth, and he leaves the room to continue his discussion with the mother.
Keen to know the reason why Henry was chosen as the host (aside from the corruption of the innocence aspect mentioned by the demonic presence), Amorth questions Julia about any memorable incidents in the past. Julia mentions that Henry witnessed his father getting impaled to death during a car accident, something that shocked the little boy so much that he hadn’t spoken ever since, at least up until the possession situation. Amorth mentions that emotional suffering breeds mental vulnerability, which becomes a gateway to evil. In order to save Henry, he asks Julia to hold on to hope and her faith and says that they have to resort to prayer. Amorth prepares himself to face the evil presence once again, and Father Esquibel joins him, but the spirit taunts the novice priest about a woman who might have been associated with him in the past, causing him to snap and attack Henry. Amorth takes Esquibel outside; where he confesses about having a partner, whom he had been in love with; later, their relationship ended as Esquibel chose his faith over her. Esquibel confesses his sins to Amorth, and the duo return to Henry, who taunts Amorth with another of his incidents from the past, something that horrifies the priest. The name of the demon would give them command over him; therefore, Amorth does his desperate best to force it out of the evil presence but to no avail.
A Heinous Secret
Before entering the abbey, Amorth had noticed a sealed dry well outside, which he now decides to observe closely. Seeing a Vatican seal on top of it, Amorth pries it open and sees the inside of the well stacked with numerous skulls. Amorth brings Esquibel with him and shows him the condition, which he deduces to be remnants of the Spanish Inquisition—a horrifying historical event marked by the notoriety of the religious segregation and genocide ordained by the Catholic order during the middle ages. Investigating further, the duo discovers a catacomb by breaking through the aforementioned hole, where multiple pieces of evidence point toward the fact that the demonic presence had managed to escape from the containment that was created in the medieval period, when a number of Vatican operatives, along with a Cardinal Protector, sacrificed their lives and entombed themselves to stop the entity from venturing to the outside world.
At last, the duo descend to a point where they find the remains of Friar Alonso de Ojeda, the greatest exorcist in history, who advised Queen Isabella of Spain to conduct the atrocities in the name of the Inquisition. From the entries of the friar recovered from the journal left along with his remains, they find out that while investigating the possession of a monk in the abbey in 1475, the friar became possessed himself. Connecting the dots, Amorth deduces that the demonic presence used the friar to obey its command ever since infiltrating the Vatican. Even the Spanish Inquisition, one of the worst instances of abuse of religion conducted against humanity, was orchestrated by her presence. The friar tried to make amends for his action by returning to the abbey and entombing himself to death, thereby making an effort to cut off the presence from the outside world. Esquibel realizes the reason why the demonic spirit demanded Amorth’s presence: to claim the soul of the strongest exorcist and once again wreak havoc on humanity.
Meanwhile, the Pope tries to investigate on his own, finds a sealed letter in the directory, and realizes that Amorth has been tricked into the demon’s lair. Before he can warn them, he collapses and gets hospitalized. Cardinal Sullivan sees a bleeding image of Christ in the Vatican and nearly loses his mind. In the absence of the priests, the demonic presence inside Henry tries to kill Julia and Amy by subjecting them to vicious tortures but gets stopped in his tracks as Amorth and Esquibel find out the name of the demon from the friar’s journals: Asmodeus, the King of Hell, one of the Fallen Angels, and a close associate of the Devil himself.
‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ Ending: How Did Father Gabriel Save Henry?
Before supposedly taking their last stand against the demon Asmodeus, Father Amorth confesses his past sin to Father Esquibel, the instance where he denied his help to a suffering teenager named Rosaria, thinking that she didn’t need divine help but rather medical help, and entrusted her with other professionals. Amorth didn’t have any idea about the sexual oppression of Rosaria at the hands of other members of the religious order, and in the end, a desperate Rosaria committed suicide in front of him. Since that point, Father Amorth has been riddled with guilt as he feels the burden of the woman’s soul is on him. Amorth knows the risks of this particular exorcism, as the demon wants to claim him, and therefore he provides Esquibel with some Latin incantations he needs to recite if the situation goes south. During the rigorous, tumultuous exorcism procedure, Asmodeus gains control over both May and the witch, who almost ends Julia’s life; Henry becomes increasingly disfigured and is on the verge of death. Out of options, Amorth sacrifices his soul to the demon in exchange for the families’ lives and instructs Esquibel to safely escort them outside.
Possessed Amorth battles with himself to prevent the demon from gaining complete control and tries to take his own life, failing nevertheless. Amorth goes to Ojeda’s remains to incinerate himself by igniting the gaseous lair, but the demon gains almost complete control over the priest’s mind. Amorth is visited by an image of Mother Mary but soon discovers that she is corrupted, symbolizing his own state of mind. Esquibel returns to the abbey and goes to the lair, finding Amorth to be almost fully possessed. Esquibel verbally motivates Amorth to get out of the hold of the demon and recite the incantations previously given by Amorth. Asmodeus prepares to take them both, and the duo is faced with the manifestation of the ghosts of their past. Rosaria, in the case of Amorth, and a bloodied Adella, in the case of Esquibel, manage to confront and destroy those manifestations, finally breaking the mental hold the demon tried to obtain. Amorth and Esquibel vanquish the demon Asmodeus and banish it back to Hell by performing the final rites of the exorcism. Later, we get to know that Julia and her family returned to their home in the United States, where Henry managed to make a full recovery.
What New Mission Has Father Gabriele Been Given?
As Father Amorth returns to the Vatican, he brings Father Esquibel with him to meet the Pope, who expresses the religious order’s gratitude to both of them. After witnessing the horrifying imagery of a bleeding Christ, Cardinal Sullivan has taken a sabbatical for an indefinite period, and Bishop Lumumba, Gabriele’s friend, has been appointed as the chief of the Roman Curia in his stead. Bishop Lumumba takes the duo to the Vatican library and tells them that the abbey of San Sebastian was one of the locations where the fallen angels were banished, in this case, Asmodeus. He remarks that from Friar Ojeda’s medieval map, they have discovered the 199 locations on earth where these compatriots of Satan have fallen, and they must prepare themselves for the uprising of more of them. Amorth remarks that even a lifetime of work might not contain such a number, but now that he has the assistance of Esquibel, he is more than ready to undertake the assignments, thereby opening up the possibilities of a future sequel to the franchise. In real life also, as a chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth claimed to have conducted over a hundred thousand exorcisms in his life before he breathed his last in 2016.