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Arbogast1960's Movie Reviews (50)

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The Exorcist 
"There is only one."
4/4 stars

What if demons were real? That is the specific question animating The Exorcist. Not the devil--demons. Therein lies the key to its endurance. The devil, like God, is in some ways too big, too abstract a figure to interest; he might give the marching orders, but he is too far behind the scenes to glimpse. But his minions--these we can see and touch and feel as they carry out their missions. These infiltrate and provide evil a face.

The other element underpinning the film's greatness is its matter-of-factness. It is serious, but appropriately so. No excess earnestness or unearned austerity, no overwrought cataclysm. Demons exist, they operate in ordinary environs, and God's messengers must dispatch them. And such events exist alongside the stresses of a single mother, the difficulties of adolescence, and the nagging existential doubts idling in the background. The Maysles might have treated this material similarly.

Finally, there is the great Max von Sydow adding great gravitas and compassion to the title character. Because he believes in the evil with which he is confronted, so do we. Not to diminish the other actors' contributions (Ellyn Burstyn is fine as the distraught mother, and Linda Blair shows poise beyond her years as Pazuzu's vessel). But von Sydow, with a small role, anchors everything around him. When all is said and done, you get the feeling that if one of Satan's children paid a visit that it might play out like this. And that you'd want von Sydow around to bring that visit to an end.


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