The Number One movie in the country is about...Jesuits and exorcism. Raymond Schroth, S.J., associate editor, takes a look at the hit film "The Rite," starring Anthony Hopkins as the jaded-and-soon-to-be-bedeviled exorcist.
Perhaps the writers made Hopkins a Jesuit because Jesuits, with their 13-year training, have the reputation (deserved or not) for approaching complex issues more intellectually. But Lukas lives not with a Jesuit community but up a hill in a run-down, perpetually dark house, with a cluttered back yard, no shelves of books or apparent intellectual interests. In the film, Mike represents rationality with his questioning, while Lukas represents “faith”—to Mike, belief in what seems unbelievable.
Over time Mike witnesses a string of exorcisms, as if Lukas’ house is a doctor’s office with patients streaming in and out for a blessing or, if necessary, a wrestling, screaming and blessing session in order to “name” and expel the evil spirit. Mike and Lukas pin down and bless one young “possessed” pregnant woman bouncing off the wall and writhing around the floor. Mike wonders whether this violence has injured her unborn child. The next day she attempts suicide and she and the child die in childbirth. It does not occur to Lukas that exorcism was not the proper response to her condition.
But then Lukas himself becomes possessed, and it is up to our young hero, accompanied by Angeline (Alice Braga) a pretty young female journalist who is writing about his adventures, to yank his mentor from the devil’s grip. In the film’s climax, Anthony Hopkins, tied to a chair, spews insults, reveals the inner thoughts of Mike and Angeline, and contorts his face into its most ugly expressions, while Mike, holding his exorcist’s handbook in one hand and the crucifix in the other, does battle. Meanwhile, the soundtrack crackles with grunts and screams.
James Martin, SJ