Exorcist III film, Legion novel

In my view, Wiilaim Peter Blatty’s novel Legion is at least as confused as his Exorcist III film, which is based on Legion-(cum-rewrite).

For example, the Legion novel contains page after page filled with extended internal  dialogue of police detective William Kinderman about theology, evolution, crime, evil, and various problems of life – and they slow the narrative flow to a crawl. Kinderman’s theological speculations are show-stoppers. Too much time is devoted to them, they slow down the action, and worse, the author uses them as best he can to coerce the reader into embracing an uncritical Creationist/ID position. Kinderman is revealed to be – despite his nice words about science – a closet Creationist-mystic, as well as a type of heretical quasi-Gnostic.

The Gnostic material actually does work rather well, as it dovetails somewhat with Fr. Lankester Merrin’s earlier speculations in the Exorcist novel, and it serves as a resilient springboard for Blatty’s cosmic speculations about “the Angel”; the Gemini Twins (reified in the novel as James and Thomas Vennamun); and even the “Gnostic” theme of the divine twins (the God who permits a co-eternal divine “companion” to take on a new, personal destiny in the form of the cosmos/ matter/Satan/the Angel; the intense, depressed, dying Dr. Vincent Amfortas and his wisecracking Doppelganger, and even Fr. Joe Dyer with his semi-legendary “brother Eddy”.

But the Creationist/ID material is just bombastic and embarrassing, at least to anyone who is normatively or even nominally familiar with biology, physics, and evolutionary theory. In Christian philosophy, “Evolution” as well as “Creation” must be seen to derive from the same Divine source – but from what we now know about the world, it seems obvious that evolution would in this Christian view, be seen as the material means by which “the Creator” chose to develop – to “create” – life on Earth. Thus, Kinderman’s theology is, sadly – because it opts for the pre-scientific view – stuck at a level of childish, pre-critical Creationist/ID naivete – except for the few occasions when he waxes blissful about evolutionary mystic priest Teilhard de Chardin (who formed an important basis for Blatty’s Merrin character).

Moreover, Legion seems to me to be a book written in a hurry, containing frustrating loose ends and plot quirks, for example: now, in an inexplicably updated history, Kinderman and Karras had been “best friends”; the language lab technician from the original story who discovered Regan’s “backward English” has now become a black female, etc.).

And there is a puzzlingly disturbing bit where Dr. Amfortas’ Doppelganger tells the dying doctor that the (lost by death)  love of Amfortas’ life, “Annie”, had carried on an affair with the book’s worst human villain, the malicious Dr. Temple…thus dealing the mostly sympathetic Amfortas a huge psychic wound within hours of his death – an authorial cruelty crafted for no understandable reason at all.

Another inconsistency:  Kinderman accuses Dr. Temple of deliberately hypnotising and otherwise psychologically interfering with James Vennamun – it turns out that Temple was the chief medical officer investigating Vennamun’s decades-old original crime spree, with Blatty weirdly casting Temple, years later, as a possible information-feeder to the mysterious “Patient X” (who really is James Vennamun/the Gemini Killer), which creates the bizarre effect of casting Temple as a culprit who implanted the idea of being the Gemini Killer in the patient’s mind. This is an unnecessary distraction, and it corrodes Blatty’s main point that Vennamun/the Gemini is the real serial killer, placed by the vengeful demon into Karras’ resuscitated body to create a “scandal” by which the body of the saintly priest will continue the Gemini’s murder sprees.  But of course, it is a given that the vengeful demon and the Gemini Killer do not need any oustside, suggestive help from Dr. Temple or anyone else – so to suggest such a thing may indeed have transpired – particularly so close to the story’s climax – casts doubt on Blatty’s main thesis that the vengeful demon has been the sole source of using Vennamun’s soul-in-Karras’-body to exact revenge on Karras’ old friends. Why on earth would Blatty cast this – or any – doubt in the reader’s mind (a doubt, which if true, risks invalidating the novel’s narrative flow and its very meaning) – and this so close to the story’s end?

Finally, at the graveside where Karras’ body is being re-interred, Kinderman says “goodbye to the man who might have been Damien Karras“. What a blatantly inept thing to write! Why? Because Blatty has already established via the Gemini’s dialogue that Damien Karras – consistent with the first novel’s and film’s ending – has gone on to his reward. Only his resuscitated body is present, as a vehicle for the Gemini (with the vengeful demon of course lurking close by behind the scenes).  DAMIEN KARRAS – AS KARRAS, AS THE SOUL OF KARRAS – is long gone away to Heaven. Only the reaminated shell remains, as a vehicle of incarnaton for the Gemini.

Hence, there is no room whatsoever for the notion that the re-interred corpse “might” have been Karras. It was never Karras –  the body did not hold Karras’ soul – not after Karras’ original, real death in The Exorcist and later in the Legion’s takeover by the Gemini.  The demon-manipulated Vennamun/the Gemini is the only occupant of Karras’ reanimated body (the studio rewrite would destroy and radically alter this original dynamic).

From Vennamun’s own explanations, Kinderman, by the time he is standing by Karras’ grave, should have known that the recently dead body (dead for the second time) was only a reanimated shell that contained only Vennamun, not Karras; and Blatty, by insinuating some doubt about the matter both for Kinderman and for the reader – again, within just a few pages of story’s end, after the climax – seems to have committed a really irresponsible, goofy – and even disrespectful – gaffe. There can be no doubt that the re-buried corpse, although it was Karras’ body in the story, ever held Karras’ soul, which had already passed on to its heavenly reward. The body was not animated by Damien Karras during the Georgetown crime spree and Kinderman’s involvement therein: the body was animated only by Vennamun/the Gemini Killer, with the vengeful demon from the original story pulling the strings.

And so… this long-winded post has attempted to justify why I think Legion’s pages and pages of Creationist speculation are scientifically embarrassing, as well as too lengthy and preachy; and why I think that the other listed  flaws may perhaps derive  from Blatty apparently writing the book in far too much of a hurry.

Exorcist III plot points explained

Most of this post is copied, with some revision, from a reply I made to a poster on the imdb Exorcist discussion board at

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070047/board/thread/256573859?p=2

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A surprising number of viewers seem not to make, or to understand the clear connection between Exorcist III’s demon  with that of the first film and novel (“Pazuzu”, if you will). Some express confusion about who is possessing Damien Karras’ reanimated body – is it a demon? is it Vennamun the Gemini Killer? how does this work? It turns out that, in Exorcist III, Karras’ soul is being held prisoner by The Exorcist’s one and only demon. They are identical personages – as Fr. Merrin would say, “There is only one” – and the resonance between the demonic personality in both films is easily understood when analysed step by step:

At the end of the first story, Fr. Damien Karras is free of the temporary possession he had called upon himself, he has saved Regan from the demon’s oppression and her mother Chris MacNeil from all the horror and anxiety that condition had caused… and Damien Karras is on his way to God and the Communion of Saints … BUT THEN – (and this only according to the Exorcist III plot rewrite)…

The victorious Karras’ ascending soul is somehow, through wicked supernatural mechanisms, caught by the expelled “Pazuzu” and forced back inside the priest’s nearly-dead body … THEN

The vengeful demon places, as controlling agent, the soul of recently-executed serial killer James Vennamun/the Gemini Killer, back inside Karras’ body … THEREBY CAUSING

… The tormented Karras to be trapped inside his old body (except for brief articulate moments when Vennamun and/or the demon go into a state of “dormancy” and Karras utters snatches of prayer and once calls out to police detective Kinderman), while he watches Vennamun use his body as a vehicle and sometimes as the direct tool for a carrying out a new killing spree, this time in Georgetown … THEREBY NECESSITATING

… The rescue of Karras:  The former rescuer of Regan and Chris – has now himself become the subject of rescue by a concerted effort by exorcist Fr. Paul Morning and Karras’ former acquaintance, Detective Bill Kinderman … with all this being ATTESTED TO by Vennamun himself

Vennamun, speaking with Karras’ vocal chords, informs Kinderman that Vennamun has returned precisely because the original demon, who Karras expelled via his act of self-sacrifice, wants revenge on Karras, Karras’ friends, and certain others involved in the original exorcism. Vennamun says, in words to the effect, that the demon, after “being expelled from the body of a child, was not pleased … My Master, one of those Others over there on the other side…the cruel ones” hatched this plot to create a “scandal for all men who seek faith” by returning to earth in a proxy manner through the use of Karras’ body and Vennamun’s tenancy of said body. So:

The explanation, the method, and the crisis are thus perfectly explicated in Vennamun’s dialogue.

Hence, ideally at least, there ought to be no room for confusion on the part of the attentive viewer. Blatty’s rewritten screenplay, which originally contained no Damien Karras and no exorcism, has laid out all these changes quite concisely. Listen to Vennamun’s (convincingly performed by Brad Dourif) explanation and you have the entire plot rationale. It is surprising that so many, viewers cannot, do not, or will not understand this fully explained demonic modus operandi.

[As my imdb correspondent listed, these are the demon’s main motives in this film:]

Exorcist 3:
Revenge on a dead Karras
Destroy Kinderman spiritually
Spread more general ugliness in the world

[My reply:]

I think that your comment is perceptive and true – about Karras (not to mention Dyer and others formerly involved, even tangentially, in the MacNeil case)…but especially of Kinderman.

In the beginning, Kinderman complains to Fr. Dyer about all manner of ugliness in the world, and finds it nearly impossible to find a living, responsible and responsive God behind the mess. Then, at the end, to his own horror and impotent rage, Kinderman finds that the demon has forced the aging detective to make a “statement of belief” in the demon and everything it represents (“… I… believe… in… YOU!, says the wretched Kinderman).

Kinderman’s only solace in all this consists, perhaps only in his finding, against his skeptical instincts, that the supernatural truly does exist and sometimes has commerce with earth. Like Chris MacNeil before him, Kinderman now knows that “the Devil” is real. But also like Chris, Kinderman has been given a tiny gleam of hope: he knows that he and exorcist Fr. Paul Morning have expelled both Vennamun and the demon, and finally sent the now-liberated Damien Karras home to the reward he should rightfully have received at the end of the first novel and film (and which he DID receive before studio tampering forced Blatty to re-conceive the possession method for the film).

Moreover, vis a vis the question of the reality and presence of an actively salvific deity: at the end, Blatty finally steps out from behind the veil he has created – the veil of the absent, non-intervening deity.

For the first time in Blatty’s writing, God is seen to actually intervene in the world/in the present, on behalf of the possessed and those who are trying to aid him:

Just when all looks lost, a beam of divine light shines through Vennamun’s cell window, quickening the unconscious Morning, warming and strengthening him, permitting him to grasp his crucifix and encourage Karras to overthrow the demon/Vennamun: “Fight! Fight him, Damien!”  Morning’s blessed but desperate admonition – against all logic but on behalf of all hope, finally, through God’s present intervening help – gets through to Damien, who responds to it with a strong, rebellious “NOoooo!”, thus momentarily throwing off the demon and Vennamun, giving Kinderman his chance for human intervention. And in those precious seconds, Kinderman compassionately acts on Damien’s plea: “Bill! Shoot me now, Bill – shoot now … We’ve won… now free me.” Which Kinderman does.

Thus, while the demon was partially successful in increasing ugliness and evil in the world, and for nearly psychically shattering Kinderman through that onslaught, still:  With his direct experience of Morning’s courage, Karras’ endurance, and the certain proof that both evil and holy supernatural events are absolutely real, Kinderman is left with a genuine, though battle-scarred, sense of benediction. And that provides a most fitting and moving end to this film, the only authentic Exorcist sequel.

Exorcists III’s Exorcism

Author William Peter Blatty wrote the novel Legion as a summation of his ideas for a screenplay for a sequel to his novel, The Exorcist. He filmed the story in a way that very closely paralleled the book. However, on viewing the film, the distributor, Morgan Creek Studios told Blatty that if the film was to be a real sequel to the first film and novel, it must contain an exorcist and an exorcism: they demanded a re-write. The understandably disgruntled Blatty went back to the drawing board, and crafted a new story in which the saintly soul of Fr. Damien Karras had been captured by the vengeful demon (“Pazuzu”, if you will) of the original story, and plunged back into his nearly-dead body – along with the recently-executed soul of serial murderer James Vennamun/”the Gemini Killer”. Jason Miller, who had originated the role of Damien Karras, had become available, and Blatty recast him in the role, along with Brad Dourif. The combination of the two very well presented and explicated the notion of Karras’ resuscitated body carrying both the tormented Karras and the venomous Vennamun (with the vengeful demon itself emerging during the film’s climax). All that was left was to invent an exorcism scene and cast an exorcist, who was eventually played by veteran actor Nicol Williamson in the new part of Fr. Paul Morning. The remainder of this post addresses Blatty’s choice in this matter.

By way of preface, it is of course obvious that Morgan Creek Studios should have more or less left Blatty’s version alone. But they didn’t, citing the unmarketability of a possession film – “an Exorcist film!” – without an exorcism, and Blatty dealt with it as best he could under the circumstances. In my analysis, Blatty did an admirable job, given the unpleasant new conditions under which he was forced to re-write his film.

1. It is important to consider that it was not the studio that added the character of Fr. Paul Morning – or the exorcism scene – to the script. The studio only demanded that Blatty rewrite it to include an exorcism. Morning was entirely Baltty’s own creation. And, to my way of thinking, a fine creation it was.

2. For instance, consider Blatty’s poetic, wordless introduction of Morning. First, the camera shows the Georgetown campus area where Morning is living. Doing this immediately returns us to the neighborhood of the Friedkin film, with Dahlgren Chapel (in front of which Karras and Kinderman strolled, talking murder and movies); the beautiful fountain in front of the chapel; and, viewed through Morning’s open window, the residence where Karras was living and where Kinderman parted company with him , making the “you look like Sal Mineo” joke. Thus, Blatty’s camera work deftly places us back in “Exorcist territory” in just two simple shots.

3. The camera lingers briefly on simple personal and religious objects in Morning’s room which indicate his own simplicity and piety – an immaculately kept sink, a small figurine of the angel vanquishing evil; a Rosary on a desk; a photo of what is probably an infant Morning with his parents; an injured bird on the window sill that Morning has been kindly attending to.

4. The bird’s sudden silence lures the Breviary-meditating Morning to the window. Blatty’s camera – as did Friedkin’s when following Merrin from behind as he approached the one-eyed blacksmith – also follows Morning’s shadow from behind as it reveals a wall plaque reading, What We Give To The Poor Is What We Take With Us When We Die – a reference to the original novel, where Karras carries in his wallet a “holy card” featuring the identical words. All of this has unfolded in silence, except for the birdsong, without any utterances from Morning.

5. Morning finds that the bird has gone silent – in death. No sooner does he notice this, than his crucifix falls off the wall “by itself”. Frowning, Morning approaches the crucifix, only to find it mysteriously bleeding. The the sky darkens, the room is plunged into shadow, and “the demon wind” – so familiar from the Friedkin film – begins to howl through the room. Like Merrin, Morning stands stalwart, facing this new surge of the demonic, courageous and alone. This is pure Blatty; pure “Exorcist”.

6. Later, Morning prays alone in a chapel, which includes the line, “men of violence seek my life…”  Morning simply repeats the grim phrase…“My life…” and we realize that he is certain that he, like Merrin before him, “will soon face an ancient enemy”. And the next time we see him, he enters the Gemini’s den in the violent psychopath ward, to do just that.

7. Blatty’s solution to the studio-demanded exorcism was, for many, much too over the top, but it needs to be borne in mind that his style of presentation is completely different from Friekin’s. Friedkin had an entire film to create demonic manifestations and a violent climax in which they were finally put to an end. Not so Blatty, who had to do a hurried rewrite and create his own exorcism scene – and confine it to a period of about five minutes.

As mentioned, Blatty’s style differed from Friedkin’s gritty, documentary “take”. Instead, Blatty focused on the psycho-spiritual-symbolic aspects, which is why he has lightning bolts chew up Cell Eleven’s floor, a symbolic crucified Karras surrounded by tormenting demons rising up through the shattered concrete, Morning, and then Kinderman, “crucified” repectively to the ceiling and the wall, hissing slithering venomous serpents, and hell-fire.

Taken literally, it might seem ridiculous.  But taken metaphorically but as real (real to Morning and Kinderman) visualizations of the demonic and of Karras’ torture, they function well. I suspect that most audiences – expecting a “real-world” set of physical effects – missed this allegorical-symbolic-visionary aspect and therefore found the exorcism not only unnecessary, but embarrassingly garish. However, the opposite is true when consideration is given to the fact that immediately after Karras – with Morning’s and Kinderman’s assistance – throws off the vengeful demon and the Gemini, Cell Eleven returns to normal: all the snakes, broken concrete, and pyrotechnics were real, but mental, phenomena, not physical events – which underscores their metaphoric/symbolic truth, if not their actual, “external world” factuality.

So: yes, the film should not have included Morning and the exorcism at all. But:

Fact: it does so for the simple, stark reason that the studio demanded it.

Fact: Blatty rewrote the script because he was so instructed/coerced, but I, for one, applaud his imagination in working it out on screen, and on his creation of a wonderful new exorcist-figure in the person of Fr. Paul Morning, who is a kind of “silent knight of the Cross” who gladly sacrifices his life (“My life…”) for Damien Karras.

Karras, the hero and rescuer of the first film and novel, has now become the object of rescue, and Morning and Kinderman become his rescuers. To me, that schema – although an unnecessary result of an unexpected, last-minute and perhaps unfair studio demand – falls well within the parameters of Blatty’s already well-established “demon possession and its conquest through redemptive suffering” narrative, and –  even as a post-production appendix – fulfils all requirements for belonging in the “canon”.

“The Unhindered Path” – a “must-read”

Buddhist writer and pastor  John Paraskevopoulos has done it again in this new book about Shin (Jodo Shinshu) Buddhism, in which he elucidates basic Shin teaching and links it to global panentheistic and mystical traditions. He makes a credible case not only for “belief-in” the Spiritual Transcendent; he explains how It can be immediately experienced, even in our “Samsaric” lives in this troubled world. Paraskevopoulos cites numerous sources, some scholarly, others poetic/mystical, in delineating the sacred mystery at the core of Jodo Shinshu, and he describes why and how it is meaningful for us today – and timelessly for all generations. These portions bookend his own profound insights from his pastoral counseling and interviews.

The book has recently come to Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Unhindered-Path-Ruminations-Shin-Buddhism/dp/1621381986/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470777309&sr=1-1&keywords=the+unhindered+path

… and it is the perfect companion volume to his earlier Fragrance of Light:

https://www.amazon.com/Fragrance-Light-Journey-Buddhist-Wisdom/dp/1597311456/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470777413&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fragrance+of+light

… which this blog reviewed here:

https://rennyo01.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/the-fragrance-of-light-a-great-new-book/

If you would like to experience an exciting spiritual adventure that leads straight into the heart of divine compassion through the understanding and practice of Shin Buddhism – which culminates in the experience of Amida Buddha’s unimpeded, unhindered Light – you have only to pick this book up and let it sweep you away.

 

 

“The Fragrance of Light” – a great new book

Buddhist scholar John Paraskevopoulos has just published a wonderful book of compiled-and-edited Buddhist sources, titled The Fragrance of Light.

http://www.amazon.com/Fragrance-Light-Journey-Buddhist-Wisdom/dp/1597311456/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1440486105&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fragrance+of+light

The book is a tour de force and a witness to Buddhism’s real salvific power as well as its mystical beauty. Through only a few chapters, Paraskevopoulos leads the reader from general spiritual and Buddhist ideas into Amidist/Pure Land concepts, and finally into Jodo Shinshu (Shin) Buddhology. Each chapter, regardless of one’s status or non-status in Buddhism and spirituality generally, is profoundly informative and pragmatic – while at the same time constantly appealing to the transcendent factor at the base of all religion.

One beauty of the book is that Paraskevopoulos doesn’t ask us to trust him (although he well could, based on his other excellent professional writings). Instead, he invites us to journey through chapters composed mostly of various Buddhist, religious and philosophical citations  from many places and eras. These are the testimonies of those who have been touched by the spiritual transcendent, especially in the form of Amida Buddha, and they speak for themselves with very little commentary by the author. Even the helpful footnotes are mostly taken from bona fide external sources, with the author’s own notations (also bona fide!)  being very few and far between.

If the book has a main theme, I would say that it is an invitation for us to trustingly return to the indwelling Transcendent,  an invitation supported by solid testimonies which  never become repetitious. The Appendix, Voices of Light, contains valuable, poetic testimony from assorted  practicers, and ends the book on an appropriately feeling-toned, mystical note.

The Fragrance of Light has my highest recommendation. It is made to read over and over again; to recall and return to the Source as It is mirrored in the hearts and minds of Its keepers.

“Nessie”: Not a Catfish!

Currently the news is full of Nessie “expert” Steve Feltham’s declaration that the Loch Ness creatures are a species of catfish (the Wels Catfish). He’s in like company with real expert Adrian Shine, who also claims that Nessie is no cryptoid long-necker, but rather a kind of sturgeon. He bases this on an early report that the beast’s back looked scaley-rough, like a crocodile or alligator, and since a sturgeon’s roughish dorsal portion bears a likeness to the named reptilians, then the report was probably of a large sturgeon. Of course, this puts the blame on the original reporter, who must have made a mistaken identification – a misidentification. And of course it arbitrarily eliminates all the other sightings of long necks, sheep-or-horselike heads, “horns”, long sinuous bodies,  legs, “paddles”, feet, and smooth hides, as well as the odd land sighting.

What is particularly galling about the press’s treatment of Feltham is its categorization of the contented recluse as an expert on Nessie. True experts on cryptoids are few and far between.  And Feltham’s only “expertise” is that he abandoned a relationship and city life for a cherished move to his year-long hermitage on the Loch’s shore. Feltham himself has had no sightings. He says he’s asked neighbors around the Loch about their experiences and theories. All this is a far cry from being an expert.

In short, Steve Feltham, although perhaps jealously admired by some Nessie fans who envy his chosen habitat, is no more an expert than the man/woman “on the street”. He doesn’t have Shine’s background as a naturalist, and his means of income is not science or scholarship, but the hand-crafting of miniature Nessie figures. Hardly the person the world, and particularly, the press, ought to classify as especially fit to pronounce on the existence and nature of the Loch Ness creatures.

Please see “Glasgow Boy’s” more detailed analysis at:

http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.com/

 

Sir Christopher Lee, R.I.P.

Sir Christopher Lee, famous portrayer of Dracula and many other memorable film characters, passed away on Sunday, June 7, 2015. A few words in memoriam:

Dear Sir Christopher:

Thank you for all your glorious performances and your incredible voice and narrative vocalizations.

Thank you for illuminating my youth with the thrills of your sinister characterizations, for your strikingly dark good looks, and for all your appearances in my favorite magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (and thanks, too, to the late F.J. Ackerman for that unique publication).

You will be cherished as long as film exists, and people who appreciate the very best in acting and in cultured living.

R.I.P.