Movie Review: The Rite

Throw in a quote from Blessed Pope John Paul II at the beginning of a movie and apparently all the Catholics will think it’s a great movie.

On the contrary, Catholics need to be more discerning. Besides, it wasn’t even that fantastic of a quote about exorcism, evil, and existence and influence of the devil in the modern world. And it wasn’t even that fantastic of a movie. I also disagree with the USCCB’s overly positive review (which I read after watching the movie myself), and think the movie does nothing to underscore the value of priesthood. Rather, I think it undermines it through the excessive portrayal of a layman performing priestly duties. I am therefore not inclined to read the book.

Problems with the movie:

~Michael Kovak (the seminarian) absolves a dying girl– or rather, pretends to, with a priest (albeit, injured) no less than 10 feet away. Without ordination, his blessings and absolutions are ineffective. Plus… the priest was RIGHT THERE… It was the cruelest thing he could’ve done to only pretend to offer a dying girl what she desperately wanted when the real thing was readily available.

~Unrealistic. They would never send a seminarian… or ANY person of weak faith into a room with a demon. Bad idea. That doesn’t help a person find faith, but it does make them an excellent candidate for the next possession. The best line of the movie was probably, “choosing not to believe in the devil won’t protect you from him”. The truest thing said in the movie. However, they did the exact opposite– the seminarian doubts the reality of possession, and the existence of the devil, so they throw him into a room with him and his demons ready to devour a doubting soul.

~The priest takes a phone call on his cell phone in the middle of an exorcism. Yes, this portrays priests in a bad light. Anthony Hopkins makes a bad priest (… typical Hollywood style).  They tried (inappropriately) to inject some humor into the movie. It’s a scary situation. A scary portrayal. The attempt at a laugh was pathetic, pitiful, and inappropriate.

~A layman (Michael Kovak) performs an exorcism, even wearing a stole (a vestment proper to a priest) part of the time.

To be fair, they did get some things right:

~The fear factor was there, though I  think perhaps it was a bit overboard at times which made it seem less realistic. Nonetheless, evil is a scary thing. It should be scary, but we should not have an irrational fear about it. Our Lord has conquered and triumphed, and we do so in and through Him.

~The demon telling Michael (the doubting seminarian) that he’s followed him. When he didn’t believe, when he doubted, he was really following the devil; though he falsely believed he was following no one. This is not a battle where one can ride the fence or sit on the sidelines. If you don’t play on God’s team, then you play for the devil. It’s that simple.

This is not an exhaustive rendering of the pros and cons of the movie, but I had no desire to watch it a second time to really parse through it scene by scene or line by line. And if I had to watch a girl die begging for Last Rites with a priest 10 feet away and a doubting seminarian pretend to mutter a powerless absolution all over again, I probably would’ve broken the disc. At the very least.

Practical tips in response to evil:

Get yourself some holy water and USE it. Frequently. (… as an added bonus, holy water remits venial sin!)
Pray the Our Father. Frequently.
Pray the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Frequently.
Pray the Rosary. Frequently.

*NB: “Frequently” means “at least daily”.

Good reads on exorcism/the struggle against evil:

The Spiritual Combat/Treatise on Peace of Soul by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
An Exorcist Tells His Story
by Father Gabriele Amorth
An Exorcist: More Stories by Father Gabriele Amorth