Analysis of ‘The Entity’

The Entity is a 1982 supernatural horror film based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Frank De Felitta, which in turn was based on the Doris Bither case. Bither claimed to have been repeatedly raped by a trio of spirits–two holding her down while the third raped her–over a period of many years, the assaults eventually becoming less and less frequent until, apparently, they finally stopped altogether.

The film stars Barbara Hershey as Carla Moran, who is based on Doris Bither. It also starred Ron Silver as psychiatrist Dr. Phil Sneiderman; Alex Rocco played Carla’s boyfriend, Jerry Anderson, David Labiosa plays her son, Billy, Jacqueline Brookes played parapsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Cooley, and George Coe played psychiatrist Dr. Weber.

Here are some quotes:

“Welcome home, cunt.” –The entity, to Carla

Carla Moran: I mean I’d rather be dead than living the way I’ve been living. Do you understand that?

Phil Sneiderman: Yes, I can understand that. Yes. I also understand that I care very much what happens to you. Very much. And I know that in your heart you know the difference between reality and fantasy. Carla, look at me, Carla – our reason, our intelligence: That’s the only thing that distinguishes us between any other species of animal, Carla – I care about you! Carla, don’t close yourself off now. It’s real important, real important that you maintain contact with at least one person that really cares about you.

Carla Moran: I don’t know what you’re saying.

Phil Sneiderman: I’ll tell you what I am saying! That you and I can make that contact.

Carla Moran: [softly] I don’t want to make that contact. […]

Cindy: Beautiful day outside, isn’t it? Nothing like good old southern California for lots of sunshine!

Carla Moran: I was raped.

“All right. All right, bastard. I’ve finished running. So do what you want. Take your time – buddy. Take your time. Really, I’m thankful for the, uh… rest. I’m so… tired of being scared. So it’s all right, it really is, it’s all right. You can, uh, do anything you want to me, you can, uh, torture me, kill me, anything. But you can’t have me. You cannot touch me.” –Carla

Thematically, we’re dealing with the conflict between acknowledging internal and external reality, which is symbolized by an external force–oh, so literally–coming inside Carla. What is this entity, and where did it come from? Outside of her, as seems most obvious; inside her, as the psychologists assume…or both? That is to say, is it a thrusting back and forth…”a little of the old in-out, in-out”?

On its first attack, the entity punches her in the face with an invisible fist, yet very visible blood is seen on her mouth. As it rapes her, and during its every attack, we hear this pounding music, suggestive of stabbing phallic thrusts. Then the music stops, the entity leaves her, and she’s screaming…but no man is ever seen on top of her.

The second attack involves no assault on her body, but rather on her house, which shakes as if during an earthquake. Her house thus symbolizes her internal mental world…and her vagina. The house shakes, her room shakes, the room’s walls shake…vaginal walls.

She, her son, and two daughters race out of the house and into her car. They go to the house of her friend, Cindy Nash (Maggie Blye), and sleep there for the night. Needless to say, Carla is reluctant to go back home; she’s also hesitant about seeing a psychiatrist, whose probing [!] might bring out some traumas from her past that she doesn’t want to have to deal with.

Carla Moran and her son, Billy.

Back at home at night, finally, she and her kids hear a frightening sound, that of scraping against metal. Suspecting her invisible attacker, they search for the source of the sound, which seems to be a pipe from under the house. A pipe…how appropriately phallic.

Still, the entity seems to attack only in the yonic symbol of her internal world, her home. Then, when she’s driving, it takes control of her car; riding in her car, it rides her…and drives her crazy after making her almost crash into other cars. The entity thus no longer resides only in her internal world; it is also in her external world, though inside her car. Here we can see the dialectical tension and unity between internality and externality.

Finally, she goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Phil Sneiderman. He insists the whole thing is just a delusion she’s having, brought on by repressed traumas she has been trying to project onto the external world. Still, she can’t imagine how she’s been able to cause certain of her bodily injuries, which seem too inaccessible to be self-injury. It must be an external force!

Sneiderman goes into her home and looks around (since her home symbolizes her vagina, his entering has obvious sexual symbolism). He learns about her childhood, with an overzealously religious father who said “thee” and “thou” so often, she as a little girl thought his speech was modern English! He also held her inappropriately. A-ha! thinks Sneiderman.

Carla and Dr. Sneiderman.

Her later relationships with men–who, except for Billy’s father, are typically considerably older than she–have been short-lived. She seems afraid to commit to a long-term relationship; her current one with her boyfriend, Jerry, seems to be following this pattern (indeed, he’ll leave her as soon as he’s aware of the entity’s raping of her).

Sneiderman is touched by Carla, though. His countertransference, that is, his personal feelings as a therapist for his patient (as opposed to vice-versa), is going wild. She’s a beautiful woman. Now, he may be a professional therapist, but he’s also a man. He says he cares for her, but there’s surely more to his feelings for her than that.

I don’t mean to suggest that his feelings for her are merely physical. His countertransference is causing him to make wild speculations about her unconscious motives for having her “delusions” of being raped by a trio of incubi (i.e., the two “smaller” entities holding her down…her daughters, as Sneiderman would have it?–and the big one raping her…Billy, as Sneiderman thinks…or the ghost of her dead father, or of Billy’s father, as I speculate?); but he’s no creep. Her beauty, combined with her vulnerability and pain, with which he empathizes, are the roots of his desire for her, which he suppresses and rationalizes as concern for her well-being.

Nonetheless, his overemphasis on her problem as being internal is what turns her away from him. During her sleep one night, the entity has her, its invisible fingers pressing against her breasts (a prosthetic body was created for Hershey to achieve the invisible rape effect). It causes her to enjoy an erotic dream, causing her to orgasm. Her unconscious likes the sex!

Carla, being raped by the entity.

When she wakes up, she’s so ashamed of the pleasure she’s been manipulated to feel that she smashes all the mirrors in her room. She’d hate to think the woman she sees in the reflection is the real her, so alienated does she feel from the image, especially as against her own body, which she feels herself to have so little control over. The last thing a rape victim wants is to be made to feel that she “wanted it.”

In this connection, the evident phoniness of the prosthetic body–however painstakingly the special effects technicians worked to make it look real–seems symbolically appropriate: is this the real her, or is it a fake her?–ditto for the woman in the reflection. Which is her reality–inner, or outer?

Along with this observation, there’s another interesting image to compare the prosthetic nude body to: earlier, in the scene where she’s raped in the bathroom, we see her undress through two mirror reflections, with real breasts and buttocks exposed. If the mirror reflects an outwardly projected reality, an external reality, while her actual body being raped is shown with the prosthetic body, representing her internal reality, what does this say about which is real–the internal, or the external? Her, or what’s projected?

She tells Sneiderman how ashamed she feels about having orgasmed during the dream; he tells her his Freudian interpretation, that she’s afraid of her desires. This interpretation offends her, especially when he carries it to the extreme of suggesting she has incestuous desires for her handsome son, Billy, who’s the “spitting image” of his “exciting” father. Thus, she stops the treatment with the psychiatrist.

Carla, having her erotic dream.

(It should be noted that her dream, as it was in the novel, was supposed to be of her having committed incest with Bill; this was removed from the film for fear that the controversial content would have been fiercely objected to. In other words, Sneiderman’s interpretation isn’t as outrageous as it seems. I wonder if the entity is Billy’s father, the drunk, dope fiend who died in a motorcycle accident, for which she “thanked God.” If so, is the entity raping her in revenge for her being glad he died? Is it tormenting her by tricking her into thinking the dream was a wish-fulfillment?)

She sleeps over at her friend Cindy’s home again; the entity attacks the house, soon enough after Cindy and her husband leave, that they notice the attack and return. Carla has tears of joy in her eyes when Cindy confirms that the attack was real. This is what trauma victims so desperately need–validation, not being told “it’s all in your head.” The attacks of the entity, external ones, symbolize the real traumatic events that have occurred to cause the victim to relive her internal mental hell, over and over again.

Another thing has been noted, first when Billy tries to get the invisible rapist off of her, then when the parapsychologists do tests in her home: the entity shoots electricity and laser-like lights in the air. It’s like the hurling of lightning bolts. This leads us to a discussion of Zeus symbolism.

In Greek myth, Zeus–hurler of lightning bolts–used to prey sexually on pretty maidens, his ravishing of them eerily similar to what the entity is doing to Carla. His Roman name, Jupiter, is a derivation from Dieus Pater, or ‘day/sky-father‘ (outside, in the sky). Here, we can see a symbolic link between the entity and Carla’s lecherous father, who I assume is dead by the time the story begins, thus making it possible his ghost is the entity.

The entity’s ‘Zeus’ lightning.

Now, the fact that, on the one hand, she calls the entity (i.e., ‘Jupiter’) a “bastard,” while also thanking God–another sky-father–for the parapsychologists’ protecting of her from the entity (she also thanked God for the death of Billy’s father, recall), suggests the splitting of ‘Father’ into absolute good and bad objects. (I’m also reminded of the last line in Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Daddy“: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”)

So, anyway, we now go from investigating Carla’s problem from the internal perspective (Sneiderman) to the external one (Dr. Cooley and her associates, who are as careful as possible in their assessment of Carla’s story, trying to be scientific about it). Sneiderman dismisses them as superstitious “schmucks,” though some today regard his Freudian analysis as being the superstition. Sneiderman does all he can to thwart the parapsychologists, imagining he’s the one who has the scientific authority to deal with Carla’s problem properly, when really it’s just a matter of his sexual jealousy.

Her boyfriend, Jerry, goes to her home one night, only to find her being raped by the entity. Again, we see that prosthetic body being felt up. It’s interesting to note that the prosthetic is used only later in the film, when she is doubting Sneiderman’s notion that her problem is internal, or ‘all in her head.’ As I said above, the unreality of the prosthetic body can be seen to symbolize the perceived falseness of the internality interpretation.

Now, it’s the parapsychologists’ turn to prove the externality thesis, being the negation of the internality thesis. They plan to prove that the entity has mass by freezing it in liquid helium. If they can capture the entity, they’ll prove its physicality and show it isn’t just a “psychic projection.”

The parapsychologists, with Dr. Cooley in the centre.

The dialectical battle between the internality thesis and the externality negation of Sneiderman’s interpretation is symbolized by his struggle to convince Carla to give up on her reliance on Dr. Cooley et al. He fears the parapsychologists are indulging her delusions, making them worse. While his countertransference is clouding his judgement, though, there is a legitimate argument to be made that Cooley is exploiting Carla in order to promote and validate parapsychology.

The entity appears in the parapsychologists’ controlled environment, made to look like Carla’s home. In this place, Carla is being used as bait to lure the entity into being frozen in the liquid helium. They capture it in a mountain of ice, awing every observer; but the entity breaks free, depriving them of their coveted proof. Though Sneiderman’s associate, Dr. Weber, witnesses the phenomenon, he refuses to admit that it’s explicit proof of paranormal activity, which angers Cooley. (Technically, other explanations are possible.)

So, neither the internality thesis of the psychoanalysts nor the externality antithesis of the parapsychologists have demonstrated conclusive proof of their theories; both, however, have presented persuasive cases, to at least a large extent. So, what shall be our conclusion?

A sublation of the internality/externality contradiction seems the best answer. The entity symbolizes an externally-produced trauma introjected into the victim. Thus, Carla’s trauma is in her head, but not born there.

The source of her trauma is both inside AND outside her.

The worst thing anyone can say to a trauma victim is, “It’s all in your head. Get over it!” No: something real and evil was imposed on the victim, though most of us can’t see the cause, which is symbolized in the movie by the invisible entity raping Carla. A study of object relations theory can reveal how we all internalize imagos of our parents; these internal objects become blueprints, as it were, for all of our subsequent relationships.

The abuse Carla suffered from her father became a blueprint for all her future failed relationships: her teen husband and father of Bill; the father of her daughters, the man who left her; and Jerry, who couldn’t tolerate living with a woman being repeatedly raped by an incubus. The entity can represent any, or all, of these men as her internalized objects.

The best way to understand the human personality is not as one isolated from the world, but as one related to other people, with whom we all project and introject positive and negative energy and influences. Thus, what we are is both internal and external energy flowing into and out of us, over and over again throughout our lives. This passing of energy in and out of us, back and forth between people, is well expressed in Bion‘s elaborations on projective identification, what he called container and contained. The container receives projections, which are the contained.

The weeping, frustrated infant projects its hostility onto its patient and loving mother, who receives its energy while soothing it. Bion called this attitude of the mother a state of reverie; in taking the baby’s negative energy and transforming it into good, the baby can then receive it back and find peace. Similarly, a therapist can be a container for a psychotic patient, receiving and tolerating his hostility and attacks, helping him to be calm.

Sneiderman and Carla.

Appropriately, the container is the feminine symbol, the yoni, and the contained is a phallic, masculine symbol. Thus, the entity’s rapes of Carla are a vivid symbol of a violently extreme version of this movement from the external to the internal. The transference and countertransference between Carla and Sneiderman also reflect container/contained, especially since his desire for her makes him yet another entity to be feared by her.

As her therapist, he should be her container, receiving and accepting all of her projections, anxieties, and frustrations. He should be patient and forbearing, so all that fear and frustration can be transformed, tamed, and returned to her, healing her. Instead, he lets his countertransference interfere with his capacity to help her effectively, thus exacerbating her problem and alienating her from him. She doesn’t need to hear classical Freudian hooey…she needs his empathy, to have her experiences validated.

Sneiderman won’t be her container, but the parapsychologists all too eagerly want to be the entity’s container…though the aggressiveness with which they go about it causes them to lose it. Carla touches on a possible solution when she’s arguing with Sneiderman about whether or not to be committed to a mental hospital: she says she’ll cooperate with the entity.

Now, obviously, cooperating with a rapist is never defensible; but if we see the rapes as symbolic of the container/contained relationship between inner and outer reality, between subject and object, self and other, we can begin to understand why, after the movie ends, the attacks on Carla become fewer and fewer. By containing the entity’s projective identifications, by tolerating them, she can tame them and return its hostile energy back to it, calming it.

So at the end of the movie, when she walks into her house and hears the entity say, “Welcome home, cunt” (note the juxtaposition of its last two words, as indicating the house as a symbolic yoni), we see a look of resigned acceptance on her face. She knows that the only way to defeat the entity is to play its game, with a dynamic interplay of container/contained, a shifting back and forth between internality and externality (symbolized by her entry into the house, then exiting it soon after).

She can have victory only through surrender–winning through losing. As with the mother and her bawling baby, Carla must be in a state of reverie, as when she orgasmed during her erotic dream, to calm the rage of the entity. Her submission to a spectral rapist, though, is what gives The Entity such a frightening ending; for what woman in her right mind would ever be willing to submit to such traumatic horror?

Analysis of ‘The Exorcist’

The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin), and Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras). It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, the movie screenplay having been adapted by the author. The novel in turn was based on the real-life exorcism in 1949 of a boy (‘Roland Doe’, about fourteen years old at the time) who allegedly was possessed of a demon.

Speaking of demons, during production, there were stories of people being injured, which added to the legend of the ‘cursed’ film. Similarly Satanic stories have been told of the productions of The Omen (1976) and Macbeth.

The Exorcist is considered one of the scariest, and therefore one of the best, horror films ever made. It had a huge influence on Black Sabbath, and on Ozzy Osbourne in particular, who sat through many screenings of it. It’s particularly frightening for Christians, not only, I believe, because they would consider the supernatural events something that could really happen, but because Christians unconsciously sense how the film is an allegory of the modern loss of faith, and of the attendant harm done to relationships.

Here are some quotes:

“There’s not a day in my life that I don’t feel like a fraud. Other priests, doctors, lawyers – I talk to them all. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that.” –Karras

“It’s more than psychiatry, and you know that Tom. Some of their problems come down to faith, their vocation and meaning of their lives, and I can’t cut it anymore. I need out. I’m unfit. I think I’ve lost my faith, Tom.” –Karras

“Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance. Now, for example, say a 90 pound woman sees her child pinned under the wheel of a truck. Runs out and lifts the wheels a half a foot up off the ground – you’ve heard the story – same thing here. Same principle, I mean.” –Dr. Taney

“There is one outside chance for a cure. I think of it as shock treatment – as I said, it’s a very outside chance…Have you ever heard of exorcism? Well, it’s a stylized ritual in which the rabbi or the priest try to drive out the so-called invading spirit. It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of an embarrassment, but uh, it has worked. In fact, although not for the reasons they think, of course. It’s purely a force of suggestion. The victim’s belief in possession is what helped cause it, so in that same way, a belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear.” –Dr. Barringer

Karras: Where’s Regan?
Regan: In here. With us.

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.” –Merrin, to Karras

Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

The movie begins in Iraq, where religious faith is still strong, though it’s the Islamic, rather than Christian, faith. Father Merrin, who personifies Christian faith in the story, is nonetheless old and in ill health, needing to take nitroglycerin for a heart condition. When he finds an amulet, an image of Pazuzu, a demon he once exorcized in Africa many years before, he knows he must face it again.

When discussing the situation and the image with a Mosul curator of antiquities, the curator says, “Evil against evil.” (page 6 in the Prologue of the novel) If there is no God to fight the Devil, then there’s no good, in the religious sense, to fight evil; other forms of evil will have to do to stop Pazuzu. We will see the significance of this idea at the climax of the movie, when Father Damien Karras (note the pun on demon), a doubting priest, uses a decidedly un-Christian method to get the demon out of Regan’s body.

This is what makes the story so scary to Christians, as I see it. From their point of view, good comes only from the Christian God. If He doesn’t exist, then there is no real good to fight evil; there are only other forms of ‘evil’ to fight it, namely, the gods of all those ‘false’ religions: including Islam, whose God, Allah, is acknowledged by Muslims to have created evil as well as good (Allah is not a father, either–see below for the significance of this idea); or paganism, from which Pazuzu originally came. A world of only evil, without God, is Hell, a terrifying notion to Christians.

In Georgetown, Washington DC, Pazuzu has already arrived, and is making noises in Chris MacNeil’s attic. It takes quite a while for the demon actually to enter the body of Regan, her twelve-year-old daughter. Back in the early 1970s, moviegoers’ attention spans weren’t as short as are those of moviegoers today, people who always require quick thrills; more importantly, this slow buildup suggests the insidious nature of growing evil.

Father Karras, far more suited to psychiatry than to preaching, complains to another priest of his loss of faith. Even before this revelation, it is telling how he reacts when he hears Burke Dennings, the enfant terrible director of the film Chris is acting in, tell her that the writer of the film’s screenplay is in Paris “Fucking.” Karras laughs with all the others watching the filming, instead of taking offence at the bad language (page 20: “Chris…darted a furtive, embarrassed glance to a nearby Jesuit, checking to see if he’d heard the obscenity…He’d heard. He was smiling.”). Karras curses a number of times himself elsewhere in the story.

Christians fear that if we lose faith in Christ, we will turn into bestial people; we’ll lose our innocence, speaking and performing obscenities and blasphemies, as Regan does when Pazuzu takes over. Christians believe we must accept the Kingdom of God as a child (Mark 10:14-15); salvation comes not through good works, but by grace through faith (Romans 3:20-28). Despair, however, leads to damnation (Romans 14:23).

As those of us who live secular lives understand, though, the problem of evil is a much more complex one than a mere matter of falling from God’s grace and losing The Garden of Eden, then of being restored to that state of grace by believing in Jesus. MacNeil understands this need for self-reliance, since she is an atheist, as explicitly stated in the novel: “An atheist, she had never taught Regan religion. She thought it dishonest.” (page 47)

The loss of faith isn’t limited, however, to a religious one. Neither the doctors nor the psychiatrists can help Regan, leading her mother to lose faith in them. When the psychiatrists ask Chris of her religious beliefs, or of Regan’s, they suggest exorcism as a cure; though they’re careful to emphasize that, since Regan merely believes she’s possessed, the belief in exorcism, through the “force of suggestion,” can cure her. Ironically, her atheist mother now searches for priests…and the priest she finds–Karras–wants to help as a psychiatrist!

After the scene when Regan has been bouncing on the bed and has struck Dr. Klein, Dr. Taney speaks of how “Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance.” (In the novel, Dr. Klein says it on page 126.) I watched this scene in a theatre here in Taiwan, where the locals in the audience were actually laughing at the doctor’s words. Being firm believers in ghosts, the Taiwanese found it absurd that it hadn’t even occurred to these doctors that Regan was most obviously possessed of a demon. But that’s the point of the story–the loss of religious faith is that profound in mainstream Western society.

After Karras has examined her, he has seen enough proof of possession in Regan–her speaking in languages, Latin and French, which she presumably has never studied (pages 300-301, which also include German); using telekinesis (opening a drawer with her mind); manifesting knowledge of Karras’s dead mother; imitating the voice of a derelict Karras failed to help–he tells another priest he still isn’t convinced of the reality of Pazuzu inside Regan. On page 313: ‘”I’ve made a prudent judgement that it meets the conditions set forth in the Ritual,” answered Karras evasively. He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.’ He thinks Regan’s problem is a case of dissociative identity disorder (pages 310, 337).

When Merrin arrives for the exorcism, Karras tries to tell him about her psychiatric history, but Merrin considers this a waste of time. When Karras speaks of three personalities in Regan, Merrin–the personification of faith–insists there is only one.

Merrin emphasizes that “the demon is a liar” who “would lie to confuse” them. The priests mustn’t listen, just as Christians try not to listen to the ideas of modern science, including evolutionary theory, which show the falsity of a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis.

Disproving the six-day Creation, as well as the story of Adam and Eve, is devastating to the Christian faith. If man evolved from the ape, what basis is there for believing in The Fall? How did our animal instincts for self-preservation and survival, including selfishness, the procreative sex drive, and aggression, suddenly become evil once we evolved to the species of homo sapiens? A metaphorical, allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story doesn’t work, either: for Christian soteriology to be effective, the first few chapters of Genesis must be taken as literal, historical fact. If there was no historical Fall of Man, why should we believe in a Divine Rescuer who, by dying on the Cross, gave us a chance to be restored to a state of grace that hadn’t originally existed anyway? (For further reading, see Spong, 1992.)

In light of modern scientific knowledge, we must understand that continuing to preach Christian dogma and Bible stories as literal, historic fact can no longer be merely viewed as a perpetuation of ignorance; now it is just cognitive dissonance, if not tantamount to outright lying. Threatened by modern knowledge, Christians–especially fundamentalists–are compelled to project their mendacity onto evolutionists, as Merrin has projected the idea of lying onto Pazuzu. When Merrin says the demon mixes lies with the truth, this seems an almost grudging concession that Pazuzu may, to an extent at least, be right.

Even without evolutionary theory, Christian theodicies are inadequate. They try to reconcile a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God with a world in which evil exists by talking about Adam and Eve exercising free will by disobeying God; even though they, originally in a state of grace and having its attendant moral wisdom, surely would have had the sense to know that by eating the forbidden fruit, they were ruining themselves. To make an analogy, merely having the free will to put one’s hand on a stove’s red hot burner won’t make a sensible person any more willing to scald his hand; nor will one eat one’s own damnation, provided one has the moral perfection to know the consequences. One would be too morally strong to give in to the temptation of acquiring god-like knowledge.

This is why it’s dangerous to listen to Pazuzu’s words, for they will destroy faith. Merrin makes the point, that it is to make us despair, to make us think we’re animal, and that God would never love us, because we’re so unworthy. And love, particularly the love of our mothers and fathers, is crucial to our mental health; for those primary caregivers of our childhood provide a psychological blueprint for all of our later relationships, which leads me to my next point.

In object relations theory, our loving, good objects–internalized imagos of our parents, which reside in our minds like ghosts in a haunted house–help us to have integrated, healthy personalities, allowing us to have happy, loving relationships. God is the ideal internalized object, the ‘good Father’, and if we lose Him, we’re helpless against our internalized bad objects. Without sufficient good objects, one experiences a splitting of the personality into extreme good and bad objects. Enter Pazuzu…into Regan’s body.

When we don’t believe we’re loved, we develop what WRD Fairbairn called a schizoid personality (not to be confused with schizophrenia, which he considered an extreme schizoid manifestation), a personality split between good and bad internalized objects, something even the most normal people have, to at least some extent (Fairbairn, pages 3-27). This bad internal object, split off from the good ones, is what the demon in Regan could be said to symbolize.

When we don’t feel sufficiently loved–as Regan must feel when her father, in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from Chris, doesn’t call Regan on her birthday (p. 48)–we begin to feel persecutory anxiety, what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. Hence Pazuzu, Regan’s symbolic internalized bad object, is persecuting her.

Interestingly, Fairbairn compared bad objects to demonic possession (pages 67-72). “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him [as Regan’s father has neglected her], his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn p. 67)

Chris’s love for Regan, in contrast, brings out the girl’s sweetness, her good internal object, the ‘good mother’ imago (p. 43). While we know Regan’s maniacal, violent behaviour is caused by an actual demon, and therefore Chris considers it a mistake to have originally believed that Regan’s pathology was caused by her father’s absence, we can nonetheless see the demon as symbolizing repressed anger over her father’s absence. We are, after all, reminded of her missing father even late into the story (p. 328; in the film, there’s no mention of the father calling and wanting to talk to Regan).

Remember also what Pazuzu says: “I am no one.” (page 308) This symbolically represents what Melanie Klein called the omnipotent denial of a bad object. Indeed, is Pazuzu a real demon, or just an internal bad object?

Projection and re-introjection of good and bad objects carry on in a cycle throughout one’s life, in varying levels of intensity. Possessed Regan’s vomiting (and urinating on the rug at the party) symbolize the projection. Freud associated libido with instinctual drives towards pleasure, but Fairbairn believed libido was directed at seeking objects (e.g., looking for people to give love to and receive love from). “Actually some of the activities to which so-called libidinal aims have been attributed are activities which I should hesitate to describe as primarily libidinal at all, e.g. anal and urinary activities; for the inherent aim of these activities, in common with that of vomiting, is not the establishment of a relationship with objects, but the rejection of objects which, from the point of view of the organism, constitute foreign bodies.” (Fairbairn p. 138) Regan’s puking and pissing can in one way be considered her futile attempt at exorcising her bad objects.

If we can’t find the loving objects we need, then our behaviour deteriorates to mere pleasure-seeking, as Regan’s obscene and blasphemous acts indicate. She violently rejects the loving help of father figures, and instead behaves obscenely. Instead of wanting to be saved by God, she masturbates with a crucifix; instead of receiving the priests’ help, she wants them to fuck her, or one another; she also grabs a hypnotherapist by the balls; and she hits one of the male doctors, then calls out to them: “Fuck me! Fuck me!”

Fairbairn elaborates: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (p. 139-140) Similarly, addiction of any kind (drugs, sex, gambling, the internet, pornography) can be seen as an attempt to connect when normal human connection has failed for the addict.

As far as introjection and re-introjection are concerned, we can see it symbolically in Regan’s masturbating with the crucifix, her jamming and re-jamming of that thing inside her bloodied vagina, saying, “Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!” Jesus is the Son of God, but He’s also homooúsios with God the Father, that is, equal to Him. When confronting Father Merrin, she says, “Stick your cock up her ass…” These two blasphemies and obscenities represent a wish for introjection of a father figure, and also symbolize the female Oedipus situation of a girl whose father is no longer part of her life (or, while we’re discussing psychoanalytic ideas, could all this obscene behaviour be coming from what Freud called the seduction theory?). Telling her mother, and forcing her to “Lick me! Lick me!” represents a briefly inverted Oedipus conflict, and her hitting of Chris is a return to the normal Oedipus situation. Pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is all Regan has, because the acquiring of her needed loving object (her father) is impossible.

When Merrin dies at the end, faith dies. Karras desperately tries to revive him, but to no avail. Pazuzu seems awed at first by his final victory over Merrin, then he laughs in Schadenfreude. Enraged, Karras grabs Regan and beats the demon out of her–evil against evil, he punches her like a boxer. He wants to introject the demon, the bad object, not only to save her, I believe, but to punish himself for his loss of faith and absence when his mother died (his presumably dead father, by the way, is never mentioned in the movie). With the demon inside Karras, she is safe…except for the fact that Damien the demon is now eyeing her with a view to assault her…perhaps sexually. Swelling with self-hate and an urge to redeem himself, Karras shouts “No!” and jumps out the window, sacrificing his life for the girl’s. Evil against evil. Instead of salvation by faith, we have salvation by suicide, the ultimate act of faithlessness.

A weeping Father Dyer gives Karras absolution as he’s dying. Karras seems to have regained his faith (though it seems to be a belief only in devils, rather than in God; also, is his moving hand, in Dyer’s, really an expression of repentance?) while dying; in any case, his suicide still symbolizes a paradoxical salvation by faithlessness. His receiving of absolution would seem an affirmation of faith at the end of the story; but consider how Karras’s ‘exorcism’ of Regan involved no use of the Roman Catholic ritual at all. No prayers to God. He just beat the girl. ‘God’ wasn’t anywhere. No miracles came from Him; the supernatural occurrences came only from Pazuzu. Indeed, the two priests look ludicrously ineffectual as they are chanting, over and over, “The power of Christ compels you!” Does Pazuzu lower the levitated Regan by the priests’ compulsion, or of his own free will? Indeed, the demon has been toying with the priests the whole time.

When the family moves out, Chris tells Father Dyer that Regan remembers nothing of the demon. The bad internal object, that of her neglectful father, has been repressed, pushed back into Regan’s unconscious, and so there’s no longer a threat…or so we assume.

Regan projects her ‘bad father’ imago, Pazuzu, into Father Karras, and when he’s killed himself, she can feel satisfaction from that. When she quickly gives Father Dyer a hug and kiss, we wonder, for a second, will she attack him?

No, he’s safe, for she has successfully repressed her internal saboteur (Fairbairn p. 102-105), her “anti-libidinal ego [, which] is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez p. 63-64)

Earlier in the story, Regan’s libidinal ego (the part of Fairbairn’s endo-psychic structure corresponding roughly to Freud’s id) is attached to Burke as a possible stepfather, what Fairbairn would have called an ‘exciting object’ (Fairbairn p. 102-105; Gomez p. 62); for she is hoping her mother will marry him, speaking to her mother of how she (Chris) likes him (p. 43-44). Then, her anti-libidinal ego, the internal saboteur, symbolized by Pazuzu, considers Burke a copy of her rejecting object/father and kills him (and since her rejecting object is inside her psyche, Regan imitates Burke’s voice and twists her head around, as Burke’s was when found dead). Pazuzu, the name of her ‘bad father’ imago, could be considered a pun on ‘Pa’. Is Pazuzu jealous of Regan’s preferring Burke to him as a father-object? Similarly, Pazuzu wants to kill the other two Fathers, Merrin and Karras.

But to return to the end of the story: having reintegrated her bad objects with her good ones, Regan has thus restored her mental health. Unconsciously, she can now accept the independent existence of her far-away father. She has given up the omnipotence symbolized by the supernatural powers of the demon, for she no longer needs to deny the bad aspects of her object relations. Now she wants reparation with fathers, so she doesn’t hurt Dyer.

Regan’s parents’ divorce amounted to a loss of faith in their marriage, resulting in the girl’s loss of faith in fathers–biological ones, possible stepfathers (Burke), Catholic Fathers, male doctors/hypnotherapists/psychiatrists, or God the Father Himself. Because the priests cannot replace her actual father any more than Burke can, Pazuzu’s first words to Merrin include, “…you motherfucking, worthless cocksucker!” What else is your father, but the man who is fucking your mother? (And leaving her, i.e., divorcing her and abandoning Regan, is fucking Chris in a different way…making him worthless to Regan.) When Merrin throws holy water on Regan, Pazuzu the rejecting object writhes in pain and has scars on her leg to show his rejection of the Father.

Killing fathers, whether potential surrogates like Burke, or religious ones like Karras or Merrin, is what Pazuzu is all about: the anti-libidinal ego that is attached to the internalized ‘rejecting object’ (Regan’s absent father). As I see it, Pazuzu is both the anti-libidinal ego and the internalized rejecting object at the same time. Pazuzu rejects fathers for the same reason he rejects God. After all, paternity is an act of faith in itself. Note what Don Pedro and Leonato, Hero’s father, say about her in a dialogue in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i, lines 88-89:

DON PEDRO: I think this is your daughter.

LEONATO: Her mother hath many times told me so.

Or, consider a quote in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten…founded…Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood…Paternity may be a legal fiction.” (Joyce, page 266)

Our fathers, who are in Heaven (or here on Earth): hollow seem their names. This is what The Exorcist seems to be telling us…and that’s what is so frightening about the film.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York NY, 1971

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: a Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

James Joyce, Ulysses: Annotated Student Edition, Penguin Books, London, first published 1922