The Devil Is Back and He's Still Mad

By Pacatte, Rose | National Catholic Reporter, February 18, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Devil Is Back and He's Still Mad


Pacatte, Rose, National Catholic Reporter


The devil returns to the silver screen with director Mikael Hafstrom's "The Rite," based on journalist Matt Baglio's 2009 book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.

Baglio's book explores the current reality of satanic activity in our day and follows the training of Fr. Gary Thomas of the San Jose, Calif., diocese as an exorcist in 2007 during a course at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome.

Pope John Paul II revised the rite of exorcism in 1998. The original rite has been in existence since 1614. NCR's John L. Allen Jr. wrote in September 2000 that some of the more colorful descriptions of the devil were removed in keeping with teaching that Satan is "a spirit without body, without color and without odor."

Allen notes that the document states that exorcists "must not consider people to be vexed by demons who are suffering above all from some psychic illness" and wants exorcists to ascertain the difference between diabolic possession and those who are "victims of imagination."

This new film is a fictional look at the experience of the exorcist, rather than the possessed.

Recently ordained to the transitional deaconate, Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) has a crisis of faith. He e-mails a letter of resignation to the head of the seminary, Fr. Matthew (Toby Jones), who sees Michael's doubts as a sign of faith, rather than a lack thereof. He suggests that Michael go to Rome to take part in a course in how to become an exorcist. Michael, the son of an undertaker, has a sense of the supernatural from growing up so close to death, including the loss of his mother when he was a boy. Skeptical, he heads to Rome.

Fr. Xavier (Ciaran Hinds) notes Michael's doubts, even about the existence of the devil, and sends him to visit a priest, who has been an exorcist for decades, Fr. Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). Fr. Lucas, also a physician, carries out exorcisms in his residence and he makes house calls. It is required that a physician be present for all exorcisms.

A young woman, Rosaria (Marta Gastini) is pregnant with her father's child and has been judged to be possessed. Michael questions whether Rosaria isn't just suffering from trauma from the rape. One of the demons answers that he entered her through the father's semen. Fr. Lucas demands to know the names of the demons that possess the girl so he can command them in the name of Christ to depart. There is a terrible struggle. Michael is deeply impressed, but not quite convinced.

But this is what the devil wants, Fr. Lucas explains to him. The devil's greatest pleasure and power come when someone denies his existence.

They visit a young boy who is tormented externally by the devil; the hoof prints of a mule are all over his body and he has visions of them in his dreams. Lucas accuses the mother of beating her son, but she denies it. This is the exorcist's way of determining, and eliminating, all other explanations, including psychological, for the terrifying phenomena these victims experience. Lucas is following the new rite of exorcism.

Michael must face the paradoxical dilemma of what he experiences, what he knows, and what he believes. …

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