The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Revisiting Redemption via Sacrifice

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.


St. Anthony and the Demons



11 thoughts on “The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Revisiting Redemption via Sacrifice

  1. I love the thought-provoking nature of your reviews.

    The presence of choice for Emily Rose made for a more interesting story, even though the movie was winding down by that point. Neither she, nor Regan, seemed to have a choice regarding the possession itself, but that she could end her suffering or prolong it (for the benefit of others) made for a more satisfying conclusion–some sense of ultimate triumph, even if it looks like tragic loss. It’s not a wasted life if it’s self sacrifice for the greater good. You know, assuming that there is a greater anything, and that it ‘s not just mental illness and sensationalized reporting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Victor, very well said. I always come to your posts for an enjoyable, educated, and informed response. Haha. Anyway: I love what you said about Emily being like the Devine Female. I honestly never thought of that before, but you’re 100% right. Emily sacrificing herself for the greater good to save thousands, maybe millions, was more satisfying than Father Karris saving the life of one little girl, but both work to the same effect. The sacrifice of Jesus to save souls of everyone else. Harris saves ones, but Emily saves them all.

    I do just want to ask though, is there some kind of warehouse of stored information you keep in your head, or do you research everything before you talk about it? I ask because every time we talk, you sound so smart, and I hence feel incompetent.

    Good post though, Victor. In both cases of Emily Rose and the Exorcist, I cried like a baby. But I think it was ultimately Father Karris’s sacrifice that affected me personally more, because his was more personal. And in the end he found the faith he was looking for the entire story. Maybe that speaks to the “emo” in me as you say, lol. But it worked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Want to know what does it for me?

      1. Spock saving the Enterprise in ‘The Wrath of Khan’ and
      2. The TARDIS saying “Hello” to the Doctor in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ from “Doctor Who.”

      Either of those, I’m bawling like a tired two-year-old.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Victor, your post is a delight, as always. However I have to disagree on the whole Karras vs. Emily thing — Karras’s sacrifice was much more meaningful, I think, in that he literally took a “leap of faith” in inviting the demon into his own body. Up until almost that very moment he was clinging to his psychiatric ideas and not in any belief in God, but then he cast all his doubts away and did something preposterous — he believed he was really dealing with a demon and invited it inside to save the life of a girl, Regan. Regan is really saved, in the most important sense, by his action, and Karras is rewarded at the very end of his life with his genuine faith renewed.
    Emily, on the other hand, was always very conventionally religious – no doubts, no angst. She endures horribly, consciously, and then willingly gives up her “Get Out of Jail Free” card so that some anonymous “others” can be “saved.”
    This is where my mind rebels — Emily’s/Anneliese’s sacrifice lead to a brief, voyeuristic resurgence of fear/faith in God by a self-centered populace many years ago. The ones who were so inclined already probably clung a little tighter to their faith for a few months, and then gradually slipped back into their usual state of mind. The others, after a brief fling with God, forgot all about Anneliese/Emily. So what had Emily’s sacrifice really accomplished? To me, Emily’s “sacrifice” was nothing more than a terrible waste of a young woman’s potential for the spurious benefit of “saving” a vaguely disinterested populace’s souls.
    The whole thing feels like watching a dysfunctional couple drifting apart. The desperate one (in this case, God) does more and more outrageous things to get the other one’s (in this case, Humanity) attention. The crazy stuff does get our attention for a little while, but ultimately, we both know how it ends.
    My next rant will be about Gumballs. Thanks again for a good post, Victor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In willing to endure additional suffering, Emily becomes a martyr–a true martyr. Yes, she’s religious–and there’s a point to that: Even the good suffer evil.

      I disconnect the movie from the case it is loosely based upon. I’m also not one to discount the fact that girl who died IRL (that’s “in real life” or so the kids tell me) had parents who’d doubtless seen some very hardcore evil. Someone who (as a child or teen, mind you) saw the destruction and occupation of their home AND the complete falsification of their entire socio-political philosophy could possibly be forgiven for believing in demons and the personification of evil.

      To me, the message of the film is synonymous with a part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s Adeptus Minor Ritual. At one point, when the initiate is brought into the 7-sided vault of Christian Rosenkreuz–the famed Vault of the Adepti (if you’re into that kind of thing)–one of the officers points to the floor of the vault which is painted to depict a black, seven-headed dragon circling a Rose-Cross (the Rose Cross but not the dragon is repeated in white on the ceiling.) The officer then stomps on the dragon and informs the candidate that God can make use of evil, even the evil of Satan himself.

      But if you like the personal touch of Karras more, that’s understandable, too. Karras is a more intimate martyr.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Emily is a true martyr, I agree with that. She chose to stay in order to further God’s plan/message/agenda. And honestly, the good always suffer. My position is, God is a big boy. Why use people in his half-assed morality play to slyly make a point? And who is all this for? Who’s supposed to be watching this?
    Emily’s situation reminded me too much of Dostoyevsky’s “tortured child” question from The Brothers Karamazov — if you could build a beautiful, perfect world for all of mankind where everyone could live in peace and harmony, but all you had to do to attain this was torture just one, small child, would you do it?
    Piss on “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”!
    I say, let God fight his own battles.
    (Victor, of course NONE of this rant is directed at you. You were just the only person who responded to my post with something juicy of your own.)


    1. Yeah, let’s be wary politicizing these discussions. As far as I am concerned, if there is a God, that being is so far beyond my understanding that its motives, means, and methods I accept as equally elusive. Why writers choose to write God the way they do varies wildly…and that seems most appropriate.


  5. “She symbolizes the spirit of the world itself–her problem is indicative of a macrocosmic spiritual cancer.”

    This is a great read of the story. It harkens back to the discussion between Merrin and Karras as to why possession occurs in the first place. I also agree that this is not a hackneyed female victim story; Emily Rose is a testament of faith, and her immediate circle was privy to that. Although I don’t believe the director had an agenda other than to entertain, if I was asked “what was the point of the film/her possession?” I would respond: so that society/non-believers are confronted with faith…actual faith…and we, as a collective, must answer how to respond to the legal consequences of choice with extreme religious phenomenon.

    In rereading that it doesn’t translate like I feel it in my head. I’ll see if I can make it more eloquent with a drink or two at a later time!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good point on woman as victim. I agree that this choice is made not always because of a perceived weakness in the feminine, but because of the purity they can stand for.

    Also, I can’t stand when people confuse ‘archetype’ with ‘trope.’ Although related, they are very different.

    Fun fact, Michelangelo’s ‘St Anthony and the Demons’ is on display in Fort Worth. It was his first ever painting, he was 12 or something.

    Liked by 1 person

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