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“Legion’s” Phantom Priest

In Legion’s opening credits a man dressed in a cassock (long black robe) of a Catholic priest appears twice as the camera moves down along the dark street;  the original exorcism/MacNeil house appears on the right at the end of the street?

I watched the film several times before I got oriented to the locale – I knew it was Georgetown, but then I finally noticed the MacNeil house on the right. The tree in the yard has grown bigger and there is a dark green fence around the yard, but it’s obviously “the” house, overlooking “the” steps.

Soon after that, I jumped out of my skin when I noticed a dark figure wearing a cassock darting from left to right across the street, then a little later from right to left. You have to look hard and diligently to see the figure, because the large scale “font” used for the credits is so dominating. This scene would work much better without any distracting credits at all.

The chilling thing about this scene is the basic question – here we are approaching the MacNeil house once more, after some fifteen years have elapsed from the original Exorcist novel and the Blatty-Friedkin film. What in the world is a priest doing darting back and forth on this deserted street? Only one answer suggests itself: this person can only be Damien Karras. But what is Karras doing here? Isn’t he dead? What’s going on?

My take on it is that the entire is a dream that the demonically-trapped Karras and the Gemini Killer are sharing – the Gemini’s portion are the supernatural disruptions in the empty church – the “Pazuzu wind” that tears through the church and blasts open the doors; Karras’s part is the memory of  “a rose, and a fall down a long flight of stairs”. In this dream – or psychic metaphor of Karras’s current “lost” condition –  the tormented priest is “haunting” the scene of his partial victory/partial defeat of fifteen years before.

Another interpretation might be that the “darting priest” is a nightmarish reference to the night of Karras’s death when, reanimated by the demon and the Gemini, Killer, he broke free from his cheaply constructed Jesuit coffin. Perhaps he literally – or more plausibly symbolically – “ran mad” in his resuscitated body, now animated – but only tentatively at this early juncture – by the Gemini.

Regardless of the interpretation, I invite all Legion fans who have not yet noticed the running priest to look attentively at the opening credits – you will be rewarded with yet another chilling brush stroke in Blatty’s dark filmic portrait.

(P.S. One other thing is so difficult to see I hesitate to mention it, but just before the opening credits, when the supernatural wind blows through the church, there is a shot from inside the church looking out through the open doors. On the extreme left is a figure standing stock-still that looks like a priest in a cassock. However, this only lasts a nano-second, and it might only be a lighting artifact – as I said, I hesitate to mention it because of its “iffy” quality. But if it’s really there, we can credit Blatty with still another creepy bit.)

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