April 18, 2019


William Peter Blatty on why there is good in 'The Exorcist' (William Peter Blatty, April 05, 2019, American)

For the Feb. 23, 1974, issue, the editors invited William Peter Blatty, author of the novel The Exorcist and a producer of the film, to respond to America's critics. This article has been republished as part of America's special 110th anniversary issue.   

Several years ago I set out to write a novel that would, not only excite and entertain (sermons that put one to sleep are useless), but would also make a positive statement about God, the human condition and the relationship between the two. On its crudest level it would argue for transcendence by presenting supernatural forces as real; but on the level that would stay with the reader long after he had closed the book, the theme was something other--and deeper. At the end of The Exorcist, the mother can believe in the devil because "he keeps doing all those commercials"; but Dyer responds: "Then how do you account for all of the good?" And that is the question that my novel and film implicitly ask: namely, if the universe is clockwork and man is no more than molecular structures, how is it there is love as a God would love and that a man like Jesuit Damien Karras would deliberately give up his life for a stranger, the alien corpus of Regan MacNeil? This is surely an enigma far more puzzling and far more worth pondering than the scandalous problem of evil; this is the mystery of goodness. It is the point all critics miss.

Your issue on The Exorcist was fine. Fr. Robert Boyle's insight into the fact that both novel and film derive much of their "harrowing impact from the refusal to analyze openly" is almost astounding in its penetration to the author's intent. [...]

1. The theme--the "mystery of goodness"--may fail because the ending of the novel and the film are misinterpreted (especially the film). What happens--at least as I intended it--is this: Fr. Karras invites the demon to take possession of him instead of the girl. The demon--having lost by dint of this very invitation, this act of love--accepts. Then the demon, using Fr. Karras's body, reaches out his hand to strangle the girl. Fr. Karras fights to regain control; succeeds; and in the few moments he has available before what he knows will be the inevitable and final repossession of his body by the demon, he does the only thing he can do that will save the girl's life (and the lives of everyone else in the house): he leaps from the window to the street below and certain death. How Fr. Richard Blake gets from this to his opinion that "the conclusion is a fatalistic belief in the penultimate triumph of the dark powers" is truly a mystery impervious to the powers of a Charlie Chan. No less mysterious to me as a Christian are Fr. Blake's moans at the number of deaths involved in the work and his conclusion that the deaths are a triumph of evil. I, for one, have been harboring the delusion these years that "better to lose the world" than suffer the loss of one's immortal soul. In his act of love, Fr. Karras triumphs.

Posted by at April 18, 2019 6:13 PM