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Film / The Exorcism of Emily Rose

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 horror/drama film directed by Scott Derrickson that is loosely based on a Roman Catholic Church exorcism in 1976, performed on Anneliese Michel. It concerns the story of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a 19-year-old college student who suffers problems of a sufficiently ill-defined nature, that medicine and later an actual exorcism fail to cure. The movie refuses to make an explicit statement on whether the problems are psychotic or demonic, and whether the medicine and exorcism are helping or interfering with one another. Her questions unanswered, Emily eventually dies from self-injury and malnutrition.

The story is told in flashbacks after Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), the priest who performed the exorcism and oversaw Emily's care, is arrested on charges of negligent homicide. The flashbacks are told from various perspectives, each providing a spiritual or medical reason for her condition and death. In an interesting twist, Father Moore is represented by an agnostic attorney, Erin Brunner (Laura Linney), and is prosecuted by a churchgoing Methodist, Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott). Over the course of the trial, the jury and audience is asked to consider the possibility that Emily may have been possessed, and Erin is forced to confront her own beliefs regarding spirituality and morality.

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This film provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: The Bible, especially the Gospels and Acts, is quoted several times during the exorcism scene, and Emily's epitaph is a verse from Philippians.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Downplayed in that the prosecuting attorney is a devout Methodist, but the religious aspect of the story is portrayed from the perspective of Father Moore and Emily Rose, both devoutly Catholic, and makes strong use of Catholic imagery and theology.
  • Good Shepherd: Although he fails to save Emily, Father Moore is presented as a sincere and caring person who tries to help her.
  • Hollywood Exorcism: As usual the exorcism is dramatized. However, the prosecution's point of view is much less so, viewing it as a mentally unwell woman essentially being tortured.
  • Hollywood Law: With the majority of examples explained here, the general sum up is that the film gets a lot right, with a few obvious missteps:
    • While the lawyers often do object at correct times, the way they phrase their objections is often incorrect (such as Thomas objecting to "silliness" when "irrelevance" would have been the correct way to do so).
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    • The defense puts Father Moore on the stand...and then barely asks him anything until after Thomas kicks him around in cross-examination, at which point the defense asks for (and is granted) another go at questioning.
    • While sentencing is accurately shown to be scheduled for a later date, the defense requests, and gets immediate sentencing, which is very rare as sentencing is a complicated matter. The fact that the jury is immediately allowed to weigh in is also unusual, as is the judge going for their suggestion of "time served" without a second thought. (In the real case, the prosecution had recommended no one be jailed, and merely wanted the priest fined while the parents were exempted from jail time under German penal law for "suffering enough.")
  • Madness Mantra: "Onetwothreefourfivesix onetwothreefourfivesix...." In English, Latin, and Aramaic at that.
  • Many Spirits Inside of One: In one scene Emily speaks with the voices of many demons, who claim to have possessed multiple well-known criminals, murderers or traitors like Judas. One may wonder why they go after a normal girl, but the truth is different from its toned down adaptation. In Anneliese's case, demons weren't claiming they possessed those people, they claimed to be them, aside from the one who claimed to be Lucifer.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is Emily possessed or suffering from epilepsy/psychosis?
  • Posthumous Character: Emily dies before the story starts. We learn about her afterward.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Happens as the prosecuting attorney attempts to refute the fantastic claims made by the defense witnesses. To highlight this, the defense flashbacks have a horrifying and stylized look while the prosecution flashbacks have a grim, but more realistic look. Interestingly, the film's script was co-written by a Christian and an agnostic, so the two versions of the flashbacks could be said to represent the two writers' different views.
  • Religious Horror: The premise of the movie focuses on the existence of demons and Emily Rose's struggle against them, as well as incorporating issues of divine revelation, God and the battle between good and evil. Religious imagery such as the crucifix is sometimes used to evoke horror during the Exorcism scene.
  • Right on the Tick: Bad things happen at 3:00 A.M.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The real Anneliese Michel suffered from severe mental problems and epilepsy, stopped taking her medication and regularly starved herself. Her "exorcists", along with her parents, were convicted of negligent homicide after her death. Also the real story happened in Germany.

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