The Source for Youth Ministry

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The (12/20/2005)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images.

Directed by Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno)

Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott and Jennifer Carpenter

Jonathan's Rating: Theatre Worthy

“Are we alone in this life?”

“Do God and the Devil exist?”

It’s up to the courts to decide.

And that’s what Christian director Scott Derrickson leaves us to decide in the fantastic new courtroom drama and thriller, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. (Click here for Jonathan's recent interview with Scott Derrickson)

Emily Rose
is the compelling story of a young woman who becomes inexplicably ill. Emily (Jennifer Carpenter) experiences terrifying visions and endures wracking convulsions that leave her body twisted and weak. She is diagnosed as epileptic by a neurologist, but the medication he prescribes proves ineffective. Her symptoms worsen, and a second diagnosis by a psychologist is that Emily is not only epileptic, but also psychotic.

As her attacks become ever more frequent and severe, and medical treatment offers no relief, Emily, a devout Catholic, chooses to undergo an exorcism conducted by her parish priest, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson). When the young girl dies during the terrifying exorcism the priest is charged with negligent homicide.

Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), a high-profile defense lawyer reluctantly agrees to represent Father Moore in exchange for the guarantee of a partnership at her law firm. As the trial progresses, Erin’s cynicism and agnosticism are challenged by Father Moore’s unwavering faith and by the eerie, inexplicable events that surround the case.

Father Moore warns Erin that this case will be a spiritual battle and that certain forces will be battling against her.

Erin contends, “I’m an agnostic, remember?”

Father Moore replies, “Demons exist whether you believe in them or not!”

Eventually, the court must decide whether Emily’s problem was medical or spiritual. The court must decide what to believe.

And the prosecution’s closing argument was clear. “Don’t you believe it!”

But Father Moore is determined to tell Emily’s story. “People will know that demon’s are real. People think God is dead. But how can they say that if I show them the devil.”

And that’s what we’re left with.

“Are we alone in this life?”

“Is this tragedy the work of the devil?”

The devil either exists or he doesn’t. What do you believe?

Emily Rose
breaks new ground, blending suspense and/or horror with courtroom drama. I almost hesitate to use the label “horror” for this incredible film because many will automatically categorize it with films about six horny teenagers going to a cabin for a weekend only to get diced and sliced by someone who loves power tools.

Emily Rose doesn’t rely on creepy effects, spinning heads or green vomit, it holds its own with a compelling script and solid performances from an outstanding cast.

Fans of the court room drama will love this film. Scott Derrickson’s writing and directing creatively use flashbacks throughout the courtroom drama, showing us different perspectives of Emily’s story. “Akira Kurosawa is easily my favorite director,” says director/co-writer Scott Derrickson. “And his film Rashomon is, I believe, amongst the greatest of his films. I find the structure of that film fascinating and compelling. It is essentially a courtroom drama that looks back on a single event from various perspectives.”

“The benefit of being able to flashback during the courtroom scenes to varying perspectives on the possession and exorcism of Emily Rose allows the audience to make up their own mind about what they think may or may not have happened,” Derrickson continues. “My intention is to make a film that provokes people to ask themselves what they believe about evil, what they believe about the demonic. Inevitably when you ask questions like that you end up asking yourself what you think about God, what you think about morality, and what you think about the nature of memory and truth.”

And as the story unfolds to the jury, demon possession presented itself as quite a possibility. Even characters in the film who didn’t believe begin considering spiritual possibilities when they wake up to disturbing sounds and smells at exactly 3:00 a.m. several nights in a row.

I’ll be honest. The film scared me to death.

But the film’s impact was more than just fear. Everyone leaving the theatre was left with the question: Do you believe?

When your clock flips to 3:00 a.m. check your heart rate . . . and you’ll know.

If you want them to sleep in your bed with you for the next 2 years of your life, sure!

I won’t let my kids (8, 10, and 12) see it yet, it would scare them to death. As for teenagers, I guess it depends how much they dwell on the spiritual realm. The film definitely asks some great questions, but for some it may be too much. Scott Derrickson has some great comments about this in his interview with Christianity Today on 8/30/05.
    “C. S. Lewis had that very practical wisdom, well stated, in his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, when he talks about how the two great dangers, in regard to our thoughts about the demonic and the devil, are to think too much of them or too little of them. To be too afraid of them, to be too hesitant to engage in discussion or thought or art that deals with this realm, is to give in to fear; but to become fascinated with it and to indulge in the material is also very unhealthy.”

As for the film’s content. It’s very clean—it has no sex or nudity, and very little profanity. But I can’t help but laugh as I report to you about the sexual content and profanity after reading what Scott said about that subject in an article he wrote for The Christian Century a couple years ago:
    I've read many Christian periodicals that evaluate the "acceptability" of a film solely by the amount of sex, violence and profanity it contains. Those publications count the cuss words and describe the frequency and intensity of the episodes of sex and violence. I always secretly wish they would make such an "evaluation" of the Bible. If they applied their standards of acceptability to Holy Scripture, it would surely be found "unacceptable." Much of the Bible is profane, violent and lurid, yet it's a profoundly moral book. The moral quality of a movie is not determined by its MPAA rating. Of course, there is such a thing as excessive violence or gratuitous sex, but we have to become much more thoughtful about how we determine what constitutes excessiveness or unacceptability.
Food for thought.

Side Note:
As said above, we don't recommend your kids see this film. But on the occasion that they actually have already seen it, you may want to dialogue about the film with them. These questions below may be a help to you.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

  1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?

  2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?

  3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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