[Men’s voices yelling, scene from The Exorcist: The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!]
Voice over: If you’ve seen any exorcism movie, you basically know the story. If you haven’t, it goes a little something like this. A young girl begins exhibiting unusual behavior and physical aliments. [urinating sound] After a series of medical evaluations, doctors conclude that the girl is not physically sick, but mentally ill. The girl becomes bedridden and for some reason only wears nightgowns. Her symptoms are getting worse, and the little lady will do things that will shock you. Finally, with no where else to turn, her parents, or parent, will admit that it could be demonic possession and find a priest. The girl will be bound to her bed, and the priest will begin the exorcism. It will get messy. [slime sound] But ultimately, the demon is expelled, and she’s back to her normal life in no time.
1:05 The victims of exorcism films are always pure, innocent, and virginal. They are also always in between the ages of 11 and 18, early adolescence, the age when a young girl’s body begins to sexually mature. Think of Regan in the Exorcist. Regan is an angelic and innocent 12-year-old girl, who we can see is in the early stages of puberty, you know, the awkward pre-teen stage. [What did you do today?] When possession by the demon Puzuzu takes place, Regan’s physical appearance transforms, and not in the way it’s supposed to at her age.
This trope exists outside of typical exorcism films. Take the 1976 film Carrie. The opening scene shows Carrie getting her period for the first time. Shortly after, she acquires powerful supernatural abilities; i.e., Carrie’s body reaches sexual maturity, and she becomes a dangerous force. [screaming, fire crackling]
[The power is mine! Fuck me! Fuck me!]
Sexualizing the body of a young girl is an important shock factor in these movies. [Reverend, how about a blowing job?] Some of the most unsettling sequences involve sexual acts being performed by the innocent girl. [Fuck you! Fuck you! Stabbing and mom crying.] Audiences continue to be disturbed by images of adolescent girls exhibiting signs of sexuality because it carries a deeply rooted anxiety. [speaking in German] As an adolescent girl goes through puberty, she begins to confront sexuality. [Violins screeching] Is there anything scarier than your sweet little girl reaching womanhood? [Screaming. She is an innocent!]
So once the girls appears to be at the age of childbearing, she’s subsequently deemed to be possessed, and her only hope is to have a priest perform an exorcism.
Think of it this way: a girl reaches sexual maturity, and a demon takes her body by force, makes her do heinous and disturbing things, and the only way she can be saved is in a nightgown, in her room, chained to her bed, while two grown men physically and verbally assault her. Does that remind you of anything? [Violins playing, yelling and growling, scene from Dragon Tattoo]
[Choral chanting begins] These reoccurring images in exorcism movies are illustrating that demons are more powerful than women, men are more powerful than women, and both parties are in control of her body. [It is he who commands you!] And this is not a recent idea. The female body as a site for demonic possession appears in many texts throughout history. In her book, Exorcising Demonic Disorder, Nancy Casiola explains that medieval exorcisms purposefully chose women as victims to theatrically display the Catholic hierarchy of power in action. Nancy Casiola wrote, exorcisms “were advancing particular claims of priority. For his sex (male), his status (clerical), and his power source (divine). At the same time, the exorcism is designed to emphasize the salutary subordination of the female.”
The nature of exorcism rituals perpetuates age old ideas regarding Gender roles and sexuality. So these medieval were meant to remind people that if this gendered power structure was disrupted, terrible things would happen. [Choral music continues, Screaming.] To this very day, the exorcism film genre continues to use the same formulas to visually compare good to evil, holy to unholy, and men to women [men’s voices; choral music concludes with trumpets and voices, applause].