It’s no surprise that Hollywood fabricates or sensationalizes elements of true stories to give the film adaptation more shock value and theatrics. They do it all the time and, to be fair, it is easy to see why. With creative license at their disposal, they do what they want to spice up the content – to give the movie more “movie,” so to speak.
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And no film is immune, especially in the horror genre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist, for instance, both took true, recorded events and ran wild with them. Since the 1970s, not much has changed and recent additions to horror and its exorcism subgenre fell victim to screenwriters and their stretching of the truth. This is true of the recent release of The Pope’s Exorcist.
After it hit theaters last month, critics started coming forth to blast the Russell Crowe movie for its inaccuracies and distortions. Unsurprisingly, some of them are Catholic priests unhappy with the portrayal of Father Gabriele Amorth who came to be known as The Vatican’s Chief Exorcist. They take issue with a number of things that are glaring and untrue to life.
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For one thing, the real Amorth was not an alcoholic like Crowe is in the film, and people who knew him say Fr. Amorth didn’t suffer fear the way the character did. He also never allowed himself to become possessed, nor did he uncover a conspiracy the Church was burying, and the inconsistencies go deeper.
As the video by the YouTube channel Armor of God details, the International Association of Exorcists co-founded by Amorth issued a communique blasting the film. In it, they refer to The Pope’s Exorcist as a “splatter” film full of exaggerations, and that’s just what they gleaned from the trailer upon its release in March. Their message gets more pointed.
The IAE further criticized the film for its distorted, falsifying depictions of the lived experience of actual exorcists, and for “insulting” the sufferings of possessed people the communique calls “victims of extraordinary action by the Devil.”
They add, “The end result is to instill the belief that an exorcism is an abnormal, monstrous, and fearful phenomenon whose only protagonist is the devil, whose violent reactions are faced with great difficulty; this is the exact opposite of what occurs with exorcisms celebrated in the Catholic Church.”
Fr. Francesco Bamonte, President of the Association, refutes this, saying exorcism is a “fundamental aspect of the Church’s pastoral ministry” given it continues Christ’s Earthly ministry of driving out demons and “shattering Satan’s tyranny over humanity.” He added priests are usually “serene, calm and sure” during an exorcism, which is never as “virulent” a procedure as you typically see in cinema.
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Exorcists don’t make house calls either, Bamonte said. They aren’t loners who drop in and fight evil as they require the permission of their Bishop to first investigate a case and determine if an exorcism is needed. They also must foster a relationship with the sufferer and aid them in acquiring “the inner dispositions” necessary for deliverance, unlike in big productions.
“Another misleading aspect of these films is the presentation of the struggle between good and evil,” he notes alluding to the fact many of these films show God and Satan on equal footing or that it is a battle between “a god of evil fighting against a god of good.”
However, he points out that the Scripture informs us that “demons are angels created good by God but fallen and become evil forever by their own free choice.” Fr. Bamonte adds, “Demons are infinitely inferior things to God, and however active they are in the world with the aim of doing great harm, they cannot prevent God’s plan and his work of salvation fulfilled in Christ.”
Bamonte warns The Pope’s Exorcist and similar films may raise awareness of the practice, but they can be misguided if Catholics aren’t well-formed in their faith or good at telling fact from fiction. “What might initially have been a good service to the church” in representing the ministry of exorcism on film “becomes Satan’s usual subtle attack on the Catholic Church.”
The Father and Exorcist Association head stresses as well it is clearly laid out during an exorcism, and with certainty, that good, humility, and love prevail in the end over evil, pride, and hate because of Christ’s triumph on the Cross at Calvary. Good usually does win at the end of all movies, even demonic thrillers that leave room for sequels.
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