To slap the term “trope” onto an archetypal pattern, especially one that seeks to inspire–or even heal–the soul, degrades and cheapens the true spirit of the work. Yet, this is how we categorize stories–as tropes. The trope first exhibited in The Exorcist, mapped in near perfection onto the Silver Screen, becomes the basis for the 2005 motion picture The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Key variations in the two stories occlude the truth, but the pattern remains: Redemption via Sacrifice.
Emily Rose suffers classic possession. Further, the director establishes the possession in a brutal, obvious, and yet symbolically rich fashion. She first awakens at 3:00 AM–the Witching Hour–to discover the smell of something burning. She wanders into the hallway of her dormitory and encounters wind at the door. After she assures herself that everything’s fine, Emily Rose returns to bed. There, the preferred attack method of the demon comes close to mimicking the rape scene in the 1982 cult classic horror flick The Entity.
Immediately we can make the connection between intercourse with the devil and the time on Emily’s clock. Witches were said to couple with the devil at their sabbats which began at 3:00 AM. In some schools of psychoanalysis, the smell of burning symbolizes repressed sexual urges. The whole screams to us NOT possession but rather mental illness. And this is what the writers and director wanted us to think.
But the wind that bangs at the dormitory door suggests an outside force, an unseen presence. And so, much like Father Karras in last week’s entry, we are left both skeptical and intrigued by the possibility of a true Mystery.
The key difference between The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose involves the outcome. In both cases, the possessed die. Yet in the case of Emily Rose, her death transcends the sacrifice of Father Karras in that she will save more souls than her own. It’s the kind of one-upmanship that prevents the astute viewer from erroneously claiming the latter film a mere knock-off of the former.
Emily Rose, visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary, makes the conscious choice to suffer, to take up her own cross and follow Jesus. As a token of her selflessness, she is blessed with stigmata. Though she wastes away, her death and the subsequent trial bring renewed faith in God.
While some may argue that, as with The Exorcist, the victim of possession is a woman to signify weakness or sinfulness, in truth Emily must be the target of the demons in order for her to identify with the Virgin Mary. Emily is the vessel of the divine feminine, not merely a young woman plagued by demons. She symbolizes the spirit of the world itself–her problem is indicative of a macrocosmic spiritual cancer.
In the legend of St. Anthony and the demons in the cave, the feminine is symbolized by the cave itself, a place where Anthony is first murdered by demons, then banishes them with the aid of God (after being revived.) Otherwise, every image in the legend is masculine, the feminine is the source of evil.
In Emily Rose’s case, the demonic is clearly masculine while salvation comes in the guise of Mary. The tales are different only inasmuch as one is 1700 years old and the other much more recent. The weft is the same, but the warp varies in the two tapestries.