Monday, October 24, 2011

Demonology and Eschatology, Hollywood Style Part 2

The world after the turn of the century is similar in many ways to the way it was in the seventies. (See Part 1) In spite of the changes in world politics and in cinema technology, the same sorts of stories are speaking to people. In the supernatural horror genre, much of the commentary from the original “Exorcist” and “Omen” apply to their sequels and reboots. However, some of the battles against demonic evil explore some interesting ideas.

“Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” 

The story behind the making of this film is interesting in itself. The studio scrapped the film when it was almost done and started over because it “wasn’t scary enough.” When their new version flopped they let this original idea be completed. The result is less shock and more thought, though still a lot of ineffective ritual as before.

Our story opens with Father Merrin as a young priest at the end of WWII. A sadistic Nazi officer forces him to select ten people to be killed or else the entire village will die. It is a “do evil or allow a worse evil scenario.” Where is God in all of this? This event causes Merrin to lose faith and leave active priesthood in favor of archaeology in Africa.

There, the story offers up a compelling analysis of religion as an extension and institution of culture where two cultures are clashing. When some British soldiers are killed (as a result of demonic attack) the commanding officer begins to force the same sort of demand that the Nazis did in the beginning of the story. It is disturbing to see the same evil act in a context where we are more prone to understand the motivation. He is stopped by his officers before many can be killed, but not before he triggers a hatred for Christianity among the natives who had been tolerant of it before.

Ultimately, Merrin is offered the temptation of reliving the moment where he feels that God abandoned him; to be able to do something different. In this instance his action does not change anything—in fact he makes things worse. What he should have done, right at the start, was trust God. Even when it seems He is not present, faith means trusting God to take care of His will and to not engage in any evil attempting to accomplish our own idea of what that should be.

“The Rite” 

Possession films have continued to be released semi-regularly since the turn of the century. This year the possession theme was yet again addressed in “The Rite,” although from an unusual source. The Catholic Church has been rather more vocal about supernatural evil lately, especially in the voice of priests like Gabriele Amorth. When the stories began appearing in the news that the Church was seeking to increase its force of exorcists worldwide, a reporter went to Rome to take the training. The resulting book, changed a bit for dramatic impact, is the inspiration for the film.

The interesting aspect in this story is again the issue of faith. The protagonist priest -in-training is really almost an atheist. He is certainly a skeptic when it comes to supernatural evil. The actual exorcism stuff is again ritualistic hocus pocus by way of Hollywood. In the end the reality of evil and the effectiveness of faith in God are affirmed.

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