The Exorcist: The Crucifix Scene
Few horror films contain such a vivid anecdotal history upon its release than The Exorcist. The collective memory of its 1973 theatrical run is heavily embellished, but overall, people were seriously traumatized. We’ve all heard how theater goers ran from the their seats crying. How they passed out cold, and of course – all of the people puking in the aisles. Though it’s most likely hyperbole, it’s safe to say that up until that point, there had never been a movie quite like The Exorcist.
If you’re like me and grew up during the height of the slasher genre in the 80’s, or maybe you came up watching the French Extremist/Torture Porn of the early 2000’s, The Exorcist is training wheels at best. However, it’s impossible to deny the expert craftsmanship of the film. Like it or not, it is still considered one of the best horror films ever made. So what is it about this film that created such a stir when it came out, and spawned from it legendary stories from those who who were there? Well, there are plenty of reasons, but a major reason in particular was the crucifix scene.
A Country Exorcising its Own Demons
The film came out in 1973 and a senate led special counsel was investigating the Watergate scandal. The Nixon Administration’s involvement in that scandal shook the country’s trust in its highest office. Earlier that year the same administration signed a peace accord with Vietnam, ending the country’s involvement in the war. Along with massive cultural shifts, it’s safe to say the foundation of the country’s Judeo Christian values were showing severe cracks. What could be more foundational than the love between a parent and their child?
Though Chris, played by the brilliant Ellen Burstyn, and her daughter Regan, the iconic Linda Blair, are a broken family(another allusion to America’s fractured foundations)they seem happy. They share a strong mother/daughter connection. However, Regan, a pre-teen sweetheart, begins to show real signs of disturbing behavior. She tells her mother about a new friend, Captain Howdy, a seemingly innocuous name for an ancient demon communicating with her through a Ouija board. After Captain Howdy gets its hooks into Regan her sweet persona is lost, replaced by a demon.
Upon first viewing, it seems to be a straight forward demonic possession film focusing on evil corrupting the innocent. But upon closer inspection, an implicit explanation for the film is that of a girl becoming a woman. Many parents will go on and on about the horrors of their angelic child hitting puberty and raging through their teenage years as vengeful, selfish demons. Once Regan introduces Captain Howdy to both her mother and the story, she changes.
Toward the end of the first act, and not long before Regan becomes crass and demonic, she climbs into bed with her mother. She is clinging to her last day of childhood and trying to find comfort in it.
Though Chris is unaware of the coming doom, we see Regan’s eyes wide in fright of what’s to come.
At a wrap party held at Chris’ house, Regan interrupts Chris and a few of her closest most drunken friends by peeing on the floor. This act is representative as something that is both childish as well as defiant. Of course, this is all just in preparation for what’s next.
The Crucifix Scene
No other scene in film history can perfectly personify the horrors of a parent witnessing their child’s loss of innocence than the infamous crucifix scene. In it, Chris storms into Regan’s room to find her daughter thrusting a crucifix into her bleeding vagina while yelling “Let Jesus Fuck you!” over and over.
This scene is about the terror and disgust a parent feels when they discover their child is no longer a child, but an overly hormonal sexual being.
This scene plays out like a mother bursting into her daughter’s room to catch her masturbating.
The first thing Chris sees are Regan’s childhood belongings flung through the air in complete disarray, representing Regan’s disdain for her childhood.
The next notable action is what Regan is saying and what she chooses to assault herself with. Chris’ faith in God is apparent by her close association with members of the Catholic Church, and it is no secret how the church views sexuality. This is Regan’s complete and utter defiance to the values of Christianity which her mother holds so dear, and that society as a whole adheres to.
Shocked, Chris physically intervenes by trying to strip the crucifix from her daughters hands.
Finally, Regan shoves her mother’s face into her bloody crotch, leaving blood smeared across the face of a helpless Chris. By doing this, Regan is literally throwing her burgeoning womanhood into her mother’s face to let her know that she is of age, much to the agony of Chris.
The Timeless Exorcist
Though the previous decade brought forth the sexual revolution, the images shown in The Exorcist were too much for the modern audience. Perhaps this film in all of its boundary pushing was a reminder that the innocence associated with our country had come to an end. Still, this scene is just as hard to watch today as it was when it first burned itself into our collective psyche. As hard as it is to imagine for some, that was nearly 50 years ago today. And it’s just one of the many reasons why The Exorcist is a timeless horror classic.