There is no doubt about the fact that the impact William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) left on the horror genre was immense, so much so that critics often compare it with the influence Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey had on the science fiction landscape. Aside from being exceptional in every technical department of moviemaking, the movie dealt with a number of thought-provoking themes in a sincere manner. More than the supernatural intimidation of Pazuzu the demon, the audience found the horror in the grounded, relatable elements and characters, the conflict between reason and faith, the absolute corruption of innocence, and the true meaning of evil. The makers intended the movie to make the audience look for the horror within, and in doing so, they created an enduring legacy that inspired multitudes of horror classics like Possession (1981).
Exactly half a century later, The Exorcist: Believer, a spiritual direct sequel to the original movie, has released in theaters worldwide, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, director David Gordon Green, maintaining his new Halloween trilogy track record, has disappointed the viewers massively. However, at least in some aspects, he has somewhat conveyed his regard for the original classic, like how characterization is done in the movie in the context of a multifaceted aspect of faith. Let’s take a moment to briefly discuss how the movie achieves this feat, which added an interesting dimension to the narrative, which, to be honest, needed more exploration.
Loss Of Faith: Crisis Reveals Victor’s True Self
In The Exorcist, two leads, the celebrated actress/mother Chris MacNeil and the hardboiled realist Father Damien Karras, represented various facets of the contemporary faith system. Having an affluent and overall happy life, Chris never felt the need to get acquainted much with religious beliefs or related institutions, but situations forced her to learn about the intricacies of the faith and seek help from said institutions. Whereas, the death of his ailing, pious mother shakes the foundation of Father Karras’ belief system until he gathers himself at the time of utmost peril and eventually sacrifices his life while upholding his faith and saving the soul of the hapless victim, Regan. In Exorcist: Believer, Father Karras’ journey is emulated by the character Victor Fielding.
The beginning of the movie revolves around multiple Voodoo religious iconography as Victor and his pregnant wife Sorenne move to Haiti to spend their honeymoon. It is implied that Sorenne has returned to her birthplace, and she shares a strong belief in the native religious practices. Victor, despite not being as devout as her, respects her choice and has somewhat accepted the faith himself. However, tragedy strikes in the form of an earthquake, which results in Sorenne getting fatally injured. It is often stated that God presents us with a choice during our worst moments of crisis to test our faith. Similarly, Victor is forced to choose between saving his dying wife and their unborn child, and despite Sorenne’s request to save their child, Victor chooses her. Unfortunately, Sorenne dies, but the child Angela survives, and this marks the moment when Victor gradually loses his faith.
Through the years, Victor’s cynicism grows, not only in matters of religion but with people as well. As a single father, he becomes too overprotective and distrustful of others—an attitude that, unbeknownst to him, seeps into his relationship with his loving daughter Angela as well, to such an extent that he forbids his daughter to be associated with her mother’s memoirs—her native religious iconographies. This results in a major blowback: as Angela tries to communicate with Sorenne’s spirit without having any association with her roots, she inadvertently summons the demon Lamashtu, which possesses her and her best friend Katherine. Initially absolutely abhorred to even entertain the idea of demonic possession getting to the girls, Victor eventually decides to reach out to someone whose daughter went through a similar situation, Chris MacNeil, taking his neighbor Ann’s suggestion. But it is revealed that it wasn’t out of his suddenly reawakened faith or anything related; instead, the similarity is the physical diagnosis he was able to spot between Angela and Regan, implored him to seek Chris’ counsel.
Chris shared her experience about the universality of faith with Victor, which dictates the emphasis on people and their trust in each other; a similar sentiment is expressed by Ann as well, and Victor realizes the error in his ways. (Side note: the universalism of faith was a key aspect in the original movie as well, but it was subtly conveyed through Father Merrin’s search) Evil flourishes in negative instincts, isolation, and selfishness, all of which Victor has unwittingly welcomed since Sorenne’s demise. Now, taking Chris and Ann’s advice, he arranges for a congregation of a multiple faith system—a Hoodoo (rootwork religion) practitioner, a Baptist church pastor, and a Catholic priest—to get rid of the evil plaguing Angela and Katherine. Once again, Victor is presented with a terrible choice, which of the girls to save, this time goaded by Lamashtu the demon, but taking lessons from his past experience, he chooses neither, rather holding onto his reawakened faith. It is the moment when he gives Angela Sorenne’s scarf to strengthen her against the evil spirit when Victor truly accepts faith and becomes a believer, and as a result, he is reunited with her daughter.
The Great Deceiver: Why Did Tony And Miranda Lose Their Daughter, Katherine?
On the other side of the spectrum, Tony and Miranda are portrayed as devout Christians who adhered to the scriptures and mandates rigorously, but despite that, they lost their daughter Katherine to evil at the end. Despite her initial distrust about Victor and others, Miranda was able to overcome her negative instincts and eventually started caring about both the hapless girls similarly, but her husband’s faith wavered at the most desperate moment. Initially, Tony wasn’t able to bear the dreadful spectacle of exorcism and was the only member to make an exit from the ritual, which was an indication enough that he was succumbing to emotions. Later, when the demon presented the ultimate choice, Tony chose to save Katherine’s life—but as they say, the devil turned out to be the greatest deceiver, resulting in Katherine being the one to fall prey to its assault.
Despite other glaring shortcomings of Exorcist: Believer, the expression of faith through character arcs imbued something unique to the movie amidst dozens of other similar ventures getting released yearlong. There is a possibility of Katherine’s tragedy being followed in the upcoming sequel The Exorcist: Deceiver, and it will be intriguing to see whether it continues this particular aspect with that entry as well.