Monday, January 16, 2012

Bodies Twisted & Deformed: The Devil Inside

As a devout Catholic, I thought going into William Brent Bell's (writer and director) The Devil Inside would be about renegade priests going against the Vatican to do exorcisms, making up their own morality as they went along; it is about those things, but The Devil Inside also makes it clear that Fathers Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) have opened themselves up to possession because they have failed to exercise humility and obedience, and that's why critics and non-Catholics have hated the film, because it's so Catholic! We see many twisted bodies in unthinkable positions, bones breaking and utter disfigurements, and those are fabulous parables for what Frs. Ben and David (actors playing priests) are doing in “twisting” the body of teaching of the Church on exorcism. Bell artfully employs a variety of symbols and accurate depictions to convey to the audience the "state of the soul" of not only the (supposedly possessed) victims, but the priests, as well.
For my non-Catholic readers, please permit me to preface: there are people inside the Church who make mistakes and have even committed terrible sins and then tried to cover up those sins (the sexual abuse of children is obvious) but what the individuals in the Church do is different from the Church as the Bride of Christ, the visible Presence of Christ on earth for His flock. The Holy Spirit guides Christ's Church and it is only because of Jesus Christ that the Church has any power; for unity, Jesus invested His Authority to the Church and it is by that authority the Church can/is capable of casting out demons so the Church is careful how it delegates that authority. If you are interested in exorcisms, you can go to the film's website, The Rossi Files, and click on "Exorcisms," and you can also watch most of the "found footage" of the film here as well.
From the opening, at the "exorcism" of Maria Rossi in 1989, her basement. This is the body of a dead nun found by police at the scene of the attempted exorcism. The film makes it clear that the two priests and this nun, performing the exorcism on Maria Rossi, had not received permission from their bishop/the Vatican to do so. The priests were murdered just as brutally as the nun, still clutching her Rosary.
Having said that, the first few statements on the screen tells us that the Vatican in no way participated in the making of the film, after it tells us that the attempted exorcism of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) took place on October 30, 1989 and was not approved by her bishop or the Vatican. What's important about that? It's yet another film reaching back to the 1980's (Paranormal Activity, Killer Elite, The Thing, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the upcoming Rock of Ages). The film is very good at playing off the public perceptions of Vatican ineptitude and bureaucracy and this is the laying out of that foundation, so it can trap us in it later.
Maria Rossi being taken away from the scene of exorcism and murder.
The police arrive, October 30, 1989, at Maria's home: to say the least, it is a hoarder's home. There is "disarray" everywhere (piles and piles of stuff, they can barely walk through the house), and the ill-kept state of the home reflects the ill-kept state of Maria's soul: she's held onto everything, has not cleaned anything and doesn't know how to discard what should not be kept which is a parable for her soul's inability to discern. A further interesting aspect of the "exorcism" is that it took place in the basement: symbolically, the basement is the place of the lower appetites, the place of our animal instincts and nature. It's not just Maria's animal instincts, but the lower passions of the clergy members as well that must be examined because, again, there was no authority to have this exorcism. (This is a relevant fact because the first victim, a priest, was found in the stairway--trying to gain a higher ground of thought, symbolically--but was attacked before he could escape; this same kind of thing is reflected in the ending with Father Ben and Isabella).
To read the article, please click on the image and it will expand for easier viewing. This is from the film, not an actual newspaper clipping, providing the synopsis and basis of the film. Maria Rossi's daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) has not seen her mother since she was 6 years old. She travels to Vatican City with film maker Michael to document what has happened to Maria and her current condition. While in the Vatican, Isabella goes to the Apostolic school for exorcism and meets Fathers Ben and David who are ordained priests and exorcists, but they have been conducting exorcisms on cases that have been expressly reviewed and determined not to be demonic possession and, therefore, not candidates for exorcism; Fathers Ben and David take it upon themselves to "heal" these cases by performing exorcisms without permission and authority from the Church; further, they take Isabella and the camera crew with them, thereby breaking even more canonical laws which forbid filming or recording exorcisms.
Why is authority necessary to perform an exorcism?
First, consider it a second opinion on the condition of a person. Priests are human beings who make mistakes; having to receive the approval of one's bishop is designed to insure the priest has not overlooked the possibility of mental illness or other physical/physiological condition. Secondly, when an exorcist/priest is allowed to use the Authority of the Church, that is the sending out of the Church's whole arsenal of weapons (the president, for example, has to have permission of Congress to send out the army) to do battle and the priest has to be spiritually advanced enough to know how to use those weapons and the counter attacks the demon(s) will use to remain inside the victim; the priest(s) also has to be able to endure the battle.
Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama) who is the documentary film maker going to Italy with Isabella to research her mother's condition. Through most of the beginning of the film, we don't see Michael because he's behind the camera recording, but he contributed to a video diary before he and Isabella attend their first exorcism with Frs. Ben and David and doesn't seem to be "a believer" of the unseen world. Behind his right shoulder, the poster for Cracked, was his first film he made, but that never comes up in the film. As a film maker who records the unauthorized exorcisms, he is breaking canonical laws prohibiting the recording of exorcisms and I will discuss why that is important below.
But the most important reason is that the priest displays humility when he asks for permission and obeys the ruling of the bishop/ the Vatican even if the authority is wrong. If a priest is not willing to be obedient to the Church, the special power which comes to the Church through Christ's obedience, loses its power because the priest is then guilty of pride, and it is the priest's soul which is then endangered by performing an exorcism and becoming possessed himself. 
This is what happens in The Devil Inside.
Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth) in Rome, talking with Isabella about her mother and exorcisms. Although they have been attending the Vatican's official school for exorcism, they have been doing unauthorized exorcisms based on their own judgments. Father Ben's uncle was a priest and ordained exorcist and in the interview with cameraman Michael, he talks about his uncle telling him when he was a teenager that he was an exorcist and Fr. Ben said that was like finding out his uncle was superman; Ben was ordained an exorcist at age 27. Fr. David is a priest in one of Italy's many parishes and has training as a doctor which he uses in the "exorcisms" he and Ben perform.
If a priest does not respect the Church enough to respect its authority and decisions, he is not sufficiently advanced spiritually to do battle, and if he doesn't respect the Church, what in heaven does he think the demon is going to respect that will make him leave the victim when the priest is saying the prayers? This crosses into the priest believing in his own authority and power, not in Christ and the Church. In The Exorcist of 1973, Father Karras (a trained psychologist from Johns Hopkins) isn't even spiritually advanced enough to conduct the exorcism by himself, and even Father Merrin, an experienced exorcist, succumbs to the battle and dies. The Devil Inside references The Exorcist (the film makers know that the audience watching their film has probably seen The Exorcist as well, and unconsciously or not, we are drawing on that body of knowledge we attained from The Exorcist) during the exorcism of Rosa (Bonnie Morgan, who, by the way, is an expert contortionist and stunt woman, pictured below); the demon supposedly possessing her says, "The pig is mine," which varies only slightly from The Exorcist when Regan's demon says, "The sow is mine" (for more, please see my post The Exorcist: Absent Fathers). 
Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), the daughter of Maria Rossi; Isabella hasn't seen her mother since she was 6 years old. She tells Michael that it was only a couple of years ago that her father revealed it was during an exorcism that her mother killed those three people, then her father died three days later. A priest being interviewed (an actor, not a real priest) tells us that Maria Rossi has had seven different diagnoses of what her condition is. In this shot, Isabella is about to enter the Centrio Hospital for the criminally insane in the Vatican and see her mother. After Isabella sees her mother and is unable to "connect" with her, she visits the Apostolic Academy where the Vatican's school for exorcism is.
Isabella goes to the hospital for the criminally insane in Italy to see her mother. What happens? Dr. Costa, who is Maria's primary doctor, shows Isabella footage of Maria walking to a wall and banging her head against the wall so violently that she causes herself to start bleeding. After warnings and describing how heavily sedated they have to keep Maria to keep her calm, Isabella (with Michael on camera) enter to see Maria. Within Maria's room, you instantly notice the beautiful drawings she has done (rather like Hannibal Lector in his prison cell in Silence of the Lambs). The drawings are all of beautiful elements of medieval Church architecture: capitols and arches that verify Maria knows what a good Catholic is (the building of the Church symbolizes the soul of the devout and faithful, strong in their knowledge of Christ) but cannot bear to hear any talk of religion or faith without flying into a rage.
Maria Rossi in the hospital when Isabella visits her. There is something interesting about Maria: she's still wearing a wedding band, so, at least symbolically, she's "wedded" to something.
The footage of Isabella's visit is important because that's what Frs. Ben and David use to determine for themselves that she is possessed and neurological science can't help her. Maria, although Isabella never told her this, tells Isabella, "You shouldn't have killed your child, its against God's will you know," and Isabella confides later that she terminated a pregnancy after the doctor told her she couldn't carry the baby to term; Isabella isn't married, so this means that she was having sexual relations outside marriage and she is using the doctor has an excuse not to confess her sin of abortion so Isabella's in a state of mortal sin and this is why Isabella can become possessed herself, she's not in a state of Grace.
Father David with Isabella (far left) and the medical equipment he uses.
This is the reason why the Catholic Church does not permit the recording of exorcisms. As Isabella and Michael leave Maria's hospital room, Michael says, "Oh, that was great stuff." The condition of Maria is being sensationalized according to a standard Michael has of what is "great stuff" (like the trailer teasing audience members with "great stuff" of supernatural encounters) and, not only does this invade Maria's privacy, it invites the commentary of the uninformed like Frs. Ben and David who want to decide for themselves. Demonic possession, when it is real, is a dirty, dirty war, and the exorcism case of Robbie Mannheim, which inspired the writing of The Exorcist, details how the devil will use any means to win and spread possession, which is exactly what happens in The Devil Inside.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla pictured with her two children. The Catholic saint was also a doctor and, when she became pregnant and was told by her doctor that either her or the baby would not make it through the delivery, Gianna told the doctor to save the baby instead of herself. This is the standard for Catholics but not what Isabella does, killing the baby and sacrificing it and then not even confessing it.
Meeting up with Frs. Ben and David after seeing her mother, they review the footage and Frs. David and Ben decide that Maria is probably possessed although her doctors and the Vatican will not perform an exorcism, Dr. Costa claims she has brain pattern disturbances and is a very "complex patient," not having had any violent outbursts in seven years. Isabella, on the other hand, is basically determined to get her mother an exorcism.
Footage of Rosa viewed in the exorcism class (because an exorcism wasn't taking place, it was allowed to film her behavior); although her basic criteria fulfilled all 4 prerequisites for possession, the Vatican ruled that she was not possessed and would not authorize an exorcism.  This is the girl (below) whose exorcism Isabella attends.
Frs. Ben and David explain that what they are doing is not sanctioned by the Vatican and Rosa was not approved for exorcism. Why would the Vatican not approve someone for exorcism who was showing signs of demonic possession? Two reasons: first, while a demon might be harassing a person, that doesn't mean they are actually possessed and two, it is the Lord who determines who will be exorcised and who won't. Jesus said to the Apostles, there are some demons who can only be cast out by prayer and fasting; not only is the abstinence from food/drink fasting, but humility is a form of fasting (you abstain from doing your will), and these two “priests” have failed to recognize that, using instead the more obviously powerful weapons, the sacramentals (Holy Water, Crucifix, their stoles, etc.). If the priests don't have faith in God to save His own people, they don't have faith in God; God will maximize a situation to bring the greatest good possible from it, and that includes to the priest's soul as well.
Rosa (Bonnie Morgan) a young woman who Frs. Ben and David believe is demonically possessed although her application for exorcism was denied by the Vatican; they have been attempting to exorcise her and bring Isabella and Michael. Her twisted and deformed body is an apt illustration for what Ben and David do in twisting the teaching of the Church to justify going on their own.
The Devil Inside claims there are over 800 satanic cults in Italy alone (I am researching this number but have not been able to verify it). Introducing satanic cults is important because, as in The Exorcist, it brings up the issue of the "victim" inviting the devil to take possession of them and, in the exorcism of Rosa, it appears that this MIGHT be the case. When Rosa is being "exorcised," she begins profusely bleeding between her legs, as if she's having a heavy menstrual cycle or, even that her hymen has been broken; this is pure speculation, but the demon "possessing" her calls her a "pig," which means Rosa has been giving into some appetite and it could be sexual. It's possible (again, this is purely speculative) the bleeding results from an incubus; an additional possible factor of this is, like Maria's exorcism in the opening, Rosa's exorcism is taking place in the basement (in The Exorcist, it was in the basement that Regan was contacting Captain Howdy).
Father Ben and Isabella when they tell her that they have been doing exorcisms without authority and invite her to Rosa's exorcism. On the board behind them are photographs of people who have been rejected as candidates for exorcism by the Vatican and Ben and David are trying to help.
It's doubtful that Ben, David and Isabella become possessed at this point, but Ben entering into conversation with the demon is the breaking of one of the cardinal rules of an exorcism, because that gives the devil control (if the devil is in fact present). If the priest is guilty of one sin, he is probably guilty of others, and this all comes out when they decide to "exorcise" Maria.
Trying to exorcise Maria Rossi.
While Ben, David, Michael and Isabella try exorcising Maria, she falls asleep during the exorcism. Ben says that this is the first time that has happened to him, but the truth is, the devil can sleep because Ben, Michael, David and Isabella have all ready done the devil's work for him. It's at this time that the four of them become possessed by the four demons supposedly possessing Maria (well, it's not as clear if Ben is actually possessed the way the other three clearly are). At this time, Father David and Isabella start showing signs that they are possessed (demonic transference, supposedly, the demons have left Maria and entered into David and Isabella). I think it's to Ben that Maria says, "You don't get back into God's good graces after what you did," and the question is (but never answered), what did Ben do? It might be the exorcisms, but it could also have something to do with his uncle, who had been an exorcist.
At David's and Ben's apartment, David's nose starts bleeding, supposedly from the stress of them being found out, yet the bleeding nose may also symbolize the "stench of sin" rising up in David's soul because he's possessed at this point. Isabella walks into a dark kitchen and sees David at the table eating, in the dark. After she exits the kitchen, Fr. David turns the light back off and continues eating. Symbolically, it's really not him eating in the dark, rather, it's an illustration that something within him is eating on him in the dark places of his soul. This is consistent with what we know of demons: they seize on a sin (the darkened place of a soul) and use it to their own advantage. This clip below is after Father David has become "possessed" and is supposed to baptize an infant, nearly drowning it instead (you might not want to watch it at all):
After the murder/baptism that Michael had been filming, Isabella is alone in the apartment and she has turned on one of Michael's cameras and talks to it: "I would like to turn this camera around," Isabella says, "and ask Michael what was it like when your mother f***ed your father's best friend" and so Isabella now demonstrates (by having knowledge of something Michael probably never told her about) that she is demonically possessed. At that moment, Father David and Michael come in and David goes "upstairs," and Michael tells Ben and Isabella about the baptism. They hear a loud crash and the lights go out.
Father David worrying about the consequences of what they have done and losing his job when the Vatican discovers what they have done because Ben wants to show the Holy See the video they took in Maria's hospital room.
Symbolically, we can say that the “crash” is the noise of warning not to go ahead with unauthorized exorcisms which the group had been doing; the lights going out is the Light of God leaving them because they went their own way not His Way which is the way of lowliness and humility. Fr. Ben, Isabella and Michael go upstairs and see Fr. David, his eyes rolled back into his head and his arms bleeding (slashed or punctured, it is hard to tell which). The reason his eyes are completely white is in juxtaposition to the earlier “exorcisms” when Frs. Ben and David were measuring pupil dilation to determine if the victim was in a supernatural state. Because Fr. David failed to “see” what his intellect and training in the priesthood told him, he lost the ability to see completely.  His arms are bleeding because arms symbolize strength, and his strength was the Church, its Teachings and his obedience to Jesus Christ; in foregoing all these things by conducting unauthorized exorcisms, he lost his strength.
Father David in a state of possession.
The three of them run back downstairs as police arrive to arrest David for attempted murder of the infant and they go up, armed, to try and take David and David gets one of their guns, putting it inside his mouth. David tries praying the Our Father but forgets the rest of the words (it's important what part of the prayer David can't remember, but I was so upset I couldn't watch) then, before pulling the trigger, David says to Ben, "He says to say thank you," and he pulls the trigger and instantly dies. "He" of course is "the beast" they speculated on was possessing Maria and the reason he says "thank you" is because, instead of delivering people from the devil, Ben and David have delivered people to the devil.
Father Ben. It's important to note that both Frs. Ben and David smoke; it's an act of knowing, self-destruction (the inhalation of tar) and it references that, just as smoking kills, so doing unauthorized exorcisms gets you ex-communicated.
Isabella goes into a seizure and Ben and Michael get her to the hospital. Ben then has his moment of "going up the stair way," like I mentioned at the beginning of this post: he calls his exorcism instructor, Fr. Gallo and asks for help, but it's too late, Isabella is in a hospital room and she has all ready killed a nurse. Ben and Michael get her out of the hospital and into the car and are trying to get to Fr. Gallo's, and it is clear that Isabella is possessed. Isabella, in the car, tells Ben about David, "You wanted him to die, you know me, everyone knows me," and as Isabella and Ben struggle in the back, Michael, who has been driving, takes off his seat belt, accelerates and wrecks the car, killing all three passengers.
And that's where it ends.
Ben and Isabella in the backseat before they wreck. A bit earlier, when Isabella found out that Rome would not release her mother to return to the states, Isabella couldn't find her keys, symbolically, she lost the "keys of the kingdom," and this is the real moment when Isabella decides to go against the Church (which has the keys given to St. Peter) and do whatever she sees fit to "help" her mother.
Michael, the cameraman, is literally the "driving force" of these exorcisms because, deep down inside, they want their victories recorded and documented and the authorities over them to be publicly embarrassed and shown up (Ben says that he can have Maria's exorcism video online and a 1,000 people on the Vatican lawn the next day protesting that they won't give her an exorcism). You're probably saying, if the Vatican is right and Maria isn't possessed, then how did demonic transference take place to David, Ben, Isabella and Michael? Again, the devil can appear in a situation even though he's not possessing someone (think in terms of battle strategy) and because each of these people, in their own ways, had opened themselves up to being possessed, the devil can enter without ever having been in possession of Rose or Maria.
Audiences have actually been booing the ending of the film, which had a record opening weekend but has dropped off severely in sales since last week; why? Given the popularity of exorcism films coming out, including The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Rite (neither of which I have seen), it appears that people want a taste of the supernatural without going to Church on Sunday; it also appears, that given how orthodox The Devil Inside is, general audiences have a definite idea of how fantastic they want their exorcism films to be and who the hero should be. If you are Christian, especially Catholic, don't fret that the film is heretical because it's not, and that's what has audiences and critics so upset.