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Evil against Evil: The Parabolic Structure and Thematics of William Friedkin's The Exorcist

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This essay examines and deconstructs three sets of antagonisms in William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). It argues that the film describes its own narrative conflicts as a thematics of evil against evil, so as to de-ethicize the moral violence of those metaphysical dogmatisms that compete over the souls of others. It then re-couches the one-sidedness of scientific and religious orthodoxies, which damage in similar ways Regan MacNeil, one of the film's main characters, as another variation of this thematics. Finally, this essay suggests that The Exorcist surveys certain sociopolitical tensions, thus commenting, in its video and theatrical re-releases, timelessly on US tensions with its own counterculture and with the Middle East. The film transcends such mutually destructive tensions in its dramatization of sacrifice, though without taking this term in its soteriological sense; sacrifice rather involves the reduction of these thematics to Regan's fleshinvolves reversing their anagogic tendenciesso that this flesh at once re-emerges as the site and the template of the film's narrative contestations.
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Keywords: ahistorical fantastic; dedifferentiation; narrative space; radical evil; recontextualization; taut-ontology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Kennesaw State University.

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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