Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scan: The Rite

I want to get  something off my chest before I do my first "review" that I have actually written down instead of telling it to my Mom, waxing on at length with coworkers, interrupting my wife's bedtime book, debating it with my friends, or blathering on with the guy in line at the deli.
I have decided to not do "reviews". Like everyone that is absolutely addicted to just about all types of films, I cannot talk enough film. There are times when I have lost track of time while talking film, yes I have been in conversations that have lasted that long while in full discussion about film. I am talking several hours. I have had those debates with loved ones over some minute detail of a really mid-level film and have it go from, "What did you think of it?" to "I will burn your car!" Basically, I am like a lot you, I can't get enough film, even on the Internet. This created a dilemma that I thought would be solved by writing regular reviews on my own blog and discussing/debating it with heavy minded movie people. As I sat down to really pound out the first "review" I realized there are two issues. One,I myself am not influenced by reviews. If I read/hear a review before I see a film I never, ever let it deter me from seeing a film that I would like to no matter how poor the feedback is. That's the point of see it and decide if you like it. Not to let someone else watch it for you. And secondly, I wouldn't want to deter someone else from seeing a film because I had a less that spectacular experience while watching it.

So now I have a movie review blog and I no longer see value in movie reviews. So I thought about why I like to discuss /debate film so much. It is because I do like to hear other people's take on a film. Not that negative feedback means that I wont see it, but to get a take on it not just by what they are saying, but also by how they tell it. I decided to change my review into a look at my experience of the film. I will not be giving a film a thumbs up or down. I will not assign a star rating system. Those are meaningless. I have never  acted on a review, positive or negative. I have never decided to go to a film that didn't interest me based on a beaming review and I have never skipped a film that I was anxious about seeing because some guy somewhere says he didn't like it. I have never found a single reviewer and agreed with everything that she or he says on all of their reviews.

The conclusion that I came to was that a review is pointless. If you haven't seen a film yet then a review will ruin it as one has to discuss major points of the film. And if you have seen the film, then a review is not something you need as you already have an opinion of it. It's more or less a pat on the back if you agree with the reviewer. Gold star for you, you agree with someone who has gotten a  job as a film reviewer. That's why they give them star ratings, I guess.

So instead, I will share my experience while watching a film. Therefore I will be ruining the films for anyone who hasn't seen it yet as I am going to write about anything and everything having to do with the film. It is probably best to be read after seeing the film. I would love to hear what you think of my writings. If you do disagree, bring it on, I would love to have a civil debate. So I will call these non-reviews "scans".

According to the dictionary a scan is:
1. to examine the particulars or points of minutely; scrutinize. peer out at or observe repeatedly or sweepingly, as a large expanse;survey. 3. to analyze (verse) as to its prosodic or metrical structure; read or recite(verse) so as to indicate or test the metrical form. 
I will need to change my header and page titles and remove "reviews". So here goes my first "scan"...

So my wife has an unusual love for movies about ghosts, possession, and the devil. When we saw the trailer for The Rite, I knew I would be seeing this film with her. We missed the release date so she looked that up when we got home and she read a press release on it. She told me that it didn't sound like it was going to be,"Green puke and heads twisting around." She really said that. I love her for things like that. Anyway, on opening night we found ourselves at the Emery Bay Theatre in Emeryville, CA. We got there early enough for the movie trailers because I am a new trailer junkie. First up was Priest. I need to read up on that. But I wasn't to thrilled. It reeked of bad. The second was Sucker Punch. Even though I have seen it (and posted it), this trailer was the herald of the marking blitz for the movie which means that the release is right around the corner.  Releases March 25, 2011.

So I was about all of two minutes into this film and I realized something. All films about exorcism are basically "green puke and heads turning around." Well, maybe not exactly that (although many do have exactly that) but all of the typical cliches. Bad decay makeup, the perfunctory convulsing on a bed, a deep voice in an ancient language coming out of a girl, the played out special effect of something moving under the skin of the possessed. And this film had all that. And I knew it would. They all do. In fact, there was puke, although not green.

Then came the punchline. Anthony Hopkins plays a venerable exorcist who is, by the way, working a regular set of possessed people who come in for their weekly exorcism and colonic and then go back to their lives until next week's appointment. Okay, I was joking about the colonic but he really did see regular "patients" who were POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL. I never thought demonic possession as a chronic condition.  Anyway, he is trying to convince the young priest who is disbelieving in demonic possession that it was real, and not like the movies, " There will be no spinning heads and pea soup." Later that night, I asked my wife if she was repeating that back from the press release. She wasn't. Its just that vomiting and contortion are so synonymous with exorcism movies that its one of the first things that enters the mind when they are discussed.

And this film had all of the cliches that I have listed above and not much more. No exorcism film ever has much more because frankly their isn't more to tell. The Exorcist pretty much covered everything that one needs to see on this topic. That's right, it was perfected on the first real try. In 1973. I know there are earlier exorcist films but The Exorcist started a sub-sub-genre: exorcism films. I started thinking of my top ten exorcism films of all time. I would have to include Rec even though we don't know that religion is involved until Rec2. I would want to include Repossessed even though it is a comedy. And on that note, technically Ghostbusters was about demonic possession. Then off course Seytan, The Devil Within Her, and I guess technically Rosemary's Baby. Oh and by the way, I having sorting this all out in my head...during the film. I never zone out during a film, I am there to absorb it. It speaks to this film that my mind actually wondered while watching it. It was the usual venerable master teaching the faithless student type of fare.

Which is something that really bugs me. I absolutely hate when film narratives take a ridiculous leap in logic. I call it "movie logic." In this case the young priest has decided to leave the church as he was only there to escape his father. So what does the church do, they send him the The Vatican to study EXORCISM? Yep, they give him a cherry assignment where he lacks the key element needed to do the job. I mean if there is one place where you really should have faith is when you are performing exorcisms, I suspect. I mean, if you are the church and you are dealing with the devil himself taking over a living persons body, right near the Vatican no less, wouldn't you send the most dedicated, righteous man that you have an not someone who is taking the job in lieu of resigning. It's the devil we are talking about here, wouldn't the church have a competent eye on that?

So the film carried on through the standard early signs of possession to a full on exorcism battle finale all while framed in the old, " Is this real? Do you have faith? What do YOU think?", heavy handedness.

There were a few cool images here and there. A red eyed mule created a nice image. The scenery in Rome is awesome, but the nice look of the film was not enough for me to forget the predictability and other flaws of the film.

What else...oh, Rutger Hauer is in it as the young priest's father. He is only in it for a few moments so I am not really sure what the value of having Hauer in it for such a short time.

So there it is. My first "scan" for the blog. I wish it was on something that will go on to be historic or at least great but I still like to talk about it. What did you think of The Rite? Use the comments section to sound off.


  1. Just wanted to remark on something about your "leap in logic" comment that you may have missed: they sent this guy because they felt he had real potential, despite his wavering faith. He apparently was excelling in his studies--and if you think about it, that has to come from somewhere--they sensed a strong aptitude for theology. In fact, I think they felt that by him going through the training, that would help him find his faith because he would witness evidence for the existence of evil, and through exorcism, the power of God. And by the way, it's not as if they needed him completely ready to face the devil upon arriving there--that's why he was there for *training*. Another thing to consider is the film's notion of destiny. Unfortunately, as I recall, the film doesn't go into great detail about his reasons for doubting, but there is this hint that it had more to do with his mother's untimely death than all the science and psychology he quoted. But when his moment of truth arrived, he remembered what his mother taught him (that "he is not alone"), which is reminded to him by the journalist. She tells him that he could have run in any direction to escape his father, but he chose to run here. Why? Because everything he's been through has been in preparation for this. This, I guess you could say, was all guided by the hand of God.

  2. Hey Steven, Thanks for the comment. However, I have to disagree with you on some of your post.

    I stand by my statement about the movie logic. If you own a law firm, and you have a huge case coming up (and demonic possession in the city of Rome, the HQ city of the RC church is a big case), then you wouldn't have a guy fresh out of law school, who had just tried to quit your firm, train to be second chair in the case. Even if he was a rock star in law school. Even pilots have to intern as navigator and have to have a ton of hours of flight time before they can even be co-pilot.

    Something that I was never clear about in the beginning of the film is when he was giving last rites to the victim in the car accident, was he just going thru the motions or was he truly trying to prepare the dying for the afterlife? Being that he had basically given up in the scene prior, the movie is basically contradicting itself if they are saying that he had real faith at that point.

    When you say: "In fact, I think they felt that by him going through the training" I have to disagree, that's not portrayed in the film so we really don't know. All we can go by is what ended up in the story which was to send him to the Vatican as a means of prolonging his intentions to leave.

    In reference to your comment: "... that would help him find his faith because he would witness evidence..." , that's not REALLY faith then, if he needs evidence. Anybody can believe something that they have evidence of. But dangling evidence in front of a priest in order to get him to believe in the dogma of the church is a HUGE logic leap. Priests are supposed to already have faith. Especially the ones they put into training to fight DEMONIC possession. It wasn't a flailing charity or a church choir, or getting a new church's attendance was demonic possession in Rome, and eventually into a Priest. It's a huge deal that you don't put even someone with great potential into when they are trying to quit.

    I get your point about destiny, though. But the priests who put him in that position had no idea of that destiny. If they were guided by God, that should have been in the film as well.

  3. Hi Anton. I feel I should clarify my points a little more. Sorry, but this is a little long. I'm gonna have to make two posts due to the character limitation, but hopefully you'll find it satisfactory in addressing this discussion.

    First, he wasn't sent to Rome to start exorcising right away. He was there for *training*, as I said before. He was going through all the proper procedures and was obviously doing fine according to the curriculum, he just lacked the faith--which is a subjective quality, and something you can't measure according to any rule or standard. Now, I don't know how law school works, but are you saying a "rock star" student couldn't be chosen to train as second chair in a big case because there are still steps he has to fulfill coming out of law school (I don't recall anything of this sort being an issue for the young priest), or simply because he wanted to quit? Are there not many instances in many different fields where people with potential are strongly encouraged to stay--even placed into more advanced programs--by their mentors who believe in them, even tho they may not believe in themselves?

    Here's another thing: I do recall that one priest in the beginning mentioning that the Vatican is looking for "exceptional" priests, or something to that effect, to raise a new generation of exorcists. However, you seem to be riding on this impression that there were very strict requirements in order to be trained or take the course. The film doesn't actually give us these specifics, and it doesn't appear there were any. Case in point: how was the journalist able to take the course simply out of wanting to do an investigative report on exorcisms?

  4. When I said I thought they felt the training would encourage his faith, this was portrayed in the film, which I base off the priest who was teaching the exorcism courses at the Vatican. He made a comment about how sending the young priest to Hopkins might give him "the evidence he seeks" or something like that. Now, he may have been referring more specifically to demonic possession. While the young priest was on the fence about god, he seemed certain that demonic possession was more likely a case of psychological illness. But I concluded that this is what they felt would encourage his faith because he would witness the power of god against evil.

    You say "that's not really faith if he needs evidence". Why not? Faith is more than just knowing god exists, but also trusting in him. Even after the young priest himself accepted the existence of evil, he could not exorcise Hopkin's demon until he believed not simply that god existed, but that god also had his back. Yes, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe", but nowhere in the bible is god adamantly opposed to revealing himself through signs and miracles. There are so many examples of god himself encouraging the faithless through evidence of his power. You're actually the one being dogmatic about it. "Priests are supposed to already have faith"? You speak of it as though it's something someone can have readily stored in their wallet or listed on their resume. Even when you believe, you have to maintain that belief and it's not always smooth sailing. The Hopkins character himself lost faith, which is why he became possesed towards the end. You can't judge whether or not god may be able to work his power through an individual, based on their level of faith, particularly because there's no way for you to truly measure it. It's between god and the individual to work out their faith. All you can do is encourage, which is what these priests did.

    And finally, going by what the journalist said to the young priest toward the end, the film is clearly implying that god was behind all this, saying he was destined for this moment (to exorcise Hopkins' demon on his own). Just because the other priests weren't aware of it, doesn't mean god wasn't behind it (why would they need to be?). Even the young priest obviously wasn't aware of it until the journalist made this speech. In fact, it apparently was meant to be a divine "sign" with her quoting exactly what he significanly remembers his deceased mother telling him, in spite of the journalist being a stranger.

  5. I think Anton is being dogmatic. It was clearly explained in the movie that Michael is being sent to train (or "apprentice", if you like) under the supervision of the church because the Vatican was recruiting priests who would specialize in exorcism. True, you'd generally expect that said trainees would have a strong commitment to the faith; however the superior ranked father who addresses him at the beginning felt that Michael's lack of conviction was down to more "personal" reasons, rather than a genuine lack of faith. Which in the end as explained above, it was (he was upset over his mother's death and ultimately was "angry at God"). This was conveyed as well as it could be in a 2hr movie; and would have been evident to the reviewer had he paid attention and not mentally "wandered off" (to paraphrase him slightly). --- Jerry.