Call#: Van Pelt Library HJ9013.P6 P464
Call#: Van Pelt Library AY286.P5 B9
Smith, Jeffrey A. "Hollywood Theology: The Commodification of Religion in Twentieth-Century Films." Religion and American Culture. 11.2 (Summer, 2001): 191-231.
William Peter Blatty’s inspiration for The Exorcist was a Washington Post article about a successful exorcism, in which he has said that it confirmed his belief in God and religion. Presenting this idea to the public in film format was a major challenge, as it can be difficult to discern the religious message among the externalities, such as special effects. In this article, Jeffrey A. Smith documents the evolution of religion in film throughout the twentieth century, presenting examples in a large number of films including The Exorcist.
Smith shows that the treatment of religion in film transitioned from being respectful and institutional until the 1960s, with MPPDA codes prohibiting the use of God’s name in vain, to being about an individual’s quest for religion later in the century. The Cold War era brought about emotional distance in this topic and eventually, God was being personified into people or characters, and humor was used to address religion. The movement from divine spirits to earthly objects translated into The Exorcist with the evil powers possessing a human life. In this sense, The Exorcist was a film that would classify as a transitional movie among religion in film.
Smith notes that The Exorcist could easily have received an X rating or obscenity prosecution, but the notorious parts were in the context of a church ritual. He proceeds to say that the film “avoids opportunities for theological exposition and can be experienced as little more than a horror show” (214). Although moralistic endings can be attached to possession movies, he accuses films of the “satanic power genre” as being little more than a spectacle and an exploitation of religion. A religious view on the film is essential in assessing whether Blatty achieved his goals, and Smith’s evaluation of religion in twentieth-century film puts The Exorcist into a much larger perspective.