The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Agnostic Heaven

Ideas about heaven, hell, angels and demons were formed for me by the Sisters of St. Joseph, made real by their powerful teaching, and as quickly discounted under the rational tyranny of the Jesuits. So revisiting one of the Catholic Church's most imaginative challenges, demonic possession and its nemesis, exorcism, is an ambivalent event for me, be it the sensational Exorcist (1973) or the current Exorcism of Emily Rose. Rose is a valuable addition to the canon because it is neither over the top as is The Exorcist nor biased in favor of the existence of demons, as is the case in most exorcism films.

Rose is rather a treatise about doubt, expounded by Laura Linney as Erin Bruner, an agnostic attorney defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) against charges that he neglected the welfare of Rose, who died in his process of exorcism. The district attorney is a man of faith but a disbeliever in the whole demonic possession scenario. Lisa's defense is based on the "possible," an accurate word for those agnostics of us who don't find evidence of a spiritual realm but hope for an extension of this life into the next. Because the rule of US law rests on the premise of "reasonable doubt," doubt about the possession theory fits very nicely with doubt about the priest's neglect.

I can't remember the last time I was stimulated to reassess my agnosticism, but I'm doing it now, thanks to the deft direction of Scot Derrickson , nimble script of Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson, and understatedly effective performances of Linney and Wilkinson. This film is enjoyable as a courtroom drama as well as an exploration into the arcane.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, "inspired" by a true story, is agnostic heaven for a fallen-away Catholic critic. The scary thing about all this spiritual combat is what it reveals about us: As A. R. Orage observed, "Would you see the devil? Look in the mirror."