Ever since 1973, when Linda Blair screamed obscenities at a priest, vomited pea soup, masturbated with a crucifix, and endured her head’s rotating 360 degrees on her body in  “The Exorcist,” the big screen has been bombarded with films dealing with exorcisms. As one who has no faith in the existence of demonic possession, I have found all these films to be ludicrously unbelievable and monotonously repetitive.  And “The Rite,” the most recent addition to the growing canon of priest-versus-the-devil films, is no exception.

Based loosely on journalist Matt Baglio’s 2009 book of the same name, “The Rite” begins with the following pronouncement by Pope John Paul II displayed on the screen: “The battle against the Devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today because the Devil is still alive and active in the world.”

After these grim words, we join young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who is working as embalmer at his father’s funeral home in Chicago. But Michael doesn’t want to spend his life preparing bodies for the funeral ritual, and because he doesn’t have enough money to pay for a college education, he decides to become a priest and enters a seminary.

As Michael nears graduation from seminary, he begins to doubt his faith in God, and Father Matthew (Tony Jones), one of his teachers, convinces him to go to Rome for a special course in exorcism. At first Michael is skeptical of embarking upon such a venture, but he ultimately agrees to go, and Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), the priest in charge of the exorcism class, arranges for Michael to study with Father Lucas (Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins). Father Lucas has performed thousands of exorcisms, and the church recognizes him as the leading expert in the field.

Thus, the main part of the film deals with Michael’s training at the hands of Father Lucas, and the young priest really gets a baptism under fire so to speak. In fact, Father Lucas wastes no time in taking Michael along with him to see a 16-year-old expectant mother whom the devil has decided to torment. Shortly after Father Lucas begins saying pertinent Latin words intended to make the demon leave the girl’s body, she begins going into all kinds of contortions, and when Father Lucas concludes his ritual, Michael is surprised that the girl remains possessed.

When Michael questions the old exorcist about his failure, Father Lucas replies, “Well, what did you expect? Spinning heads? Pea soup?” And this homage to the 1973 film is the best part of “The Rite.” After this scene, the film degenerates into a massive cliché of every other exorcist film ever made. And I found the whole thing a huge bore. Even my daughter, Stephanie, who kindly accompanies me to films like this because she has an affinity for frightening movies, admitted that the movie “did nothing” for her.

The main thing movie did for me, however, was raise a question in my mind. Why does Hopkins, who is one of the most talented actors in the world, lower himself to making a film like this? I can’t imagine that he needs the money, but maybe he does. All I know is that this guy who can play everyone from a creepy nut like Hannibal Lecter to Richard Nixon to Othello is simply too good for trash like “The Rite.”

Of course his performance in this movie is typically brilliant. Father Lucas runs throught an incredible gamut of emotions during the film, and Hopkins portrays all of them both flawlessly and effortlessly. And the stellar performances of both Hopkins and O’Donoghue are really the only redeeming factors in this otherwise stereotypical exorcism film. In the production notes, Hopkins offered some interesting insight into why he liked his character.

“What intrigued me about Father Lucas was wondering what his own position is in the world of theology. He’s a Jesuit, but he’s multi-dimensional. When Michael meets him, he doesn’t know what to make of him because the older priest is just an irascible and impatient man. And when this young man challenges his beliefs, Father Lucas says, ‘Relish your doubts. Nurture them. Be friends with your doubts because those are the things that will drive you on.’ Father Lucas holds doubts of his own, until terrifying things begin to happen to him.”

Now if you go to see this film hoping to be scared to death, forget it because this movie has all the fright power of a ride on the Oglebay trolley. Of course, the film might prove frightening for those who believe in the whole idea behind the movie. Actually there must be something to it because the book upon which the movie is based chronicles the experience of a California priest named Father Gary Thomas, who is the model for Michael in the movie. Thomas is on record as saying that one of the people whom he exorcised was very similar to the Regan portrayed by Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

Whether or not you believe in demonic possession, “The Rite” (Let’s give it a final score of 4 because of the excellent acting.) is little better than a mediocre film because it drags in places and because the parts that are supposed to be frightening often are laughable instead. Anyone who pays the full price of admission to see this film must be possessed.



Filed under Film of the Week

3 responses to “MUCH IS WRONG WITH “THE RITE”

  1. Mike

    Contrary to what the movie script indicated, it’s my understanding that one has to do more than “pass an exam” for entrance into a seminary (nor does one “take vows” after 4 years–vows unrelated to ordination, and reserved only for those in religious congregations, not diocesan priests). The candidate generally has a longer training period than 4 years before getting ordained. Too, it would be hard to find an unshaven priest-professor at American seminaries like the one portrayed as counselor to the lead. The exorcist school classroom likewise seemed a caricature. However, these qualifications aside, the movie powerfully delivered a wonderful opportunity to take a nap.

  2. Sherry

    Even though we love Anthony Hopkins, this one looks just too spooky…our favorite Anthony Hopkins remains ” The World’s Fastest Indian”..

  3. Julie L

    I’m sorry but I think you missed the real meaning behind the film “The Rite”. It was, nor ever designed to be a so called “spinning heads and pea soup thriller” but rather a statement from the church that Satan is alive, well and not only surviving but thriving in our culture today. The major point that was overlooked is are these so called possessions demonic in nature or manifested due to psychiatric conditions in the person themselves. This is what the priest that specializes in these rites must determine following the rules of the church and this is no easy task. Criteria must be met prior to an exorcism taking place and as pointed out in the film this is just not an overnight cure but may take years..
    Just as both priests in this film correctly portrayed we often can query our faith and commitment to God as we, like them are mortal. There are times when or faith is really put to the test such as when a child or young person in the prime of their lives go home to God and we wonder why especially when we see people who commit mortal sins continue in life seemingly unharmed.. However when a crisis occurs and is overcome what is the first thing many Christians say? “Thank God.”
    I never watched this film expecting it to be a “thriller” but rather to gain an understanding of the Roman Catholic’s church attitude towards exorcism and the effects of the influence of Satan and his followers influence on specific people he uses as his vessel. We can quibble about how long it takes to be ordained and gee it wasn’t as scary as I hoped for however in doing so you miss the real underlying message of keeping your mind, heart and body open to not only the many gifts God has given us but also the fact that everyday in every way we all sin. For absolution we must be prepared just as the two priest were through holy water, prayer, attendance at church, taking the host or whatever process you engage in to ask God to forgive you and absolve you of your sins.
    I am no bible basher however I know one fact Jesus died for the sins of the world and in watching this film I can understand how this premise must have attracted Anthony Hopkins to portray a priest who is as he admitted on screen sometimes lost in the dark side of life but there is alwats a scratching at his soul which he attributes to God’s fingernail bringing him back into the light. So don’t get too complacent about religion and its impact on your life because if you do you could be allowing Satan to influence to enter your life. Just be thankful to God everyday for the many gifts we take for granted and remember to give thanks for them.

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