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‘The Rite’ offers look at exorcism, faith

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP | Contributor
Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Rite” is not scary. Not for adults at least. But it’s a good story with lots of thought-provoking dialogue. An almost-ordained American seminarian, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donaghue), winds up at “exorcist’s school” in Rome, but his skepticism and doubts about the devil and God continue to plague him. His professor sends him to an unorthodox but experienced and successful exorcist, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins, in both a brilliant and delightful performance), in order to be “convinced.” But Michael is a tough nut to crack and remains of the belief that all he is witnessing is psychological pathologies.

The film avoids clichés and puns about the devil, but manages a very sophisticated humor in the face of evil — something that just rings so true. God and humans are fun and funny; Satan is not. He’s kind of angry and takes himself very seriously and is closed to and incapable of any originality.

Is this a film about faith? Yes, but not just religious or theological faith. It’s also about human faith in our fellows, in ourselves and in where life leads us. When we can’t see the total picture, we need to believe there is a reason, that somehow things make sense in spite of our limitations, in spite of ourselves, and that we’re all on the way — we’re not there yet — and it’s not terribly helpful to dig our heels in in disbelief. Life is not static. Michael makes the mistake of equating truth with certainty, something no one is entitled to.

Accuracy? The film is “suggested” by the book “The Rite,” by Matt Baglio, a journalist, and the book is based on Baglio’s experiences as he accompanied an American exorcist, Father Gary Thomas, through his training in Rome.

The screenwriter couldn’t resist having a little bit of a showdown between the faith and strength of the exorcist and the temptations and strength of the devil. But it’s not about that. It’s about God vs. the devil. It seems to be so difficult for filmmakers to take God seriously as a real character, a real person who really acts. But “The Rite” does not totally miss the mark on this. St. Michael and Our Lady figure in, too, which is quite correct.

We might think that getting possessed is the worst thing that could happen to us, and although it is dire, the worst thing that can happen to us is that we freely choose to sin. As Father Jeffrey Grob, Chicago’s exorcist since 2006, said in a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times: “One good sacramental confession is more powerful than 100 exorcisms.”