THE EXORCIST (THE VERSION YOU'VE NEVER SEEN)
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starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Wynn
screenplay by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel
directed by William Friedkin
by Walter Chaw The most visible of a spate of evil-children movies littering the cinescape in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies (remembering that even Night of the Living Dead had a baby eating her mother), William Friedkin's blockbuster The Exorcist raked in the cash even as it offered up the goods--in spades. Its "happy" ending is filthy with melancholy and menace, suggesting that whatever's been exorcised from little Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is actually free now (an idea itself exorcised by the extended version's ending)--that the solution presented in the book of Luke is as empty as its herd of pigs driven into the sea. For The Exorcist to make the money it did says a lot about what was in the water in the American '70s: partly the mainstream audience's desire to feel shitty when a movie was over that didn't reappear until The Dark Knight made a billion dollars, but mostly this idea, gaining currency in the cinema of the time (and again in ours), that individuals, confronted with a crossroads, are entirely incapable of affecting meaningful change. It's why author William Peter Blatty's choice of original ending--spliced onto the end of the 2000 re-release--is so cognitively dissonant. There's hope in The Exorcist, and it has nothing to do with the almost jovial reassurance that there's a better place after we die. Concluding this deeply spiritual film with a Christian platitude is, frankly, moronic, although the temptation to offer up succour is at least part of the picture's allure.