In retrospect, The Exorcist was a landmark movie that defined the very genre of horror movies, introducing innovative ideas that would, later on, be used for countless films and reiterated in a new light. Like any other horror movie, The Exorcist also rendered some of the social anxieties, particularly, the changing notion of gender and sexuality, challenging some of the clichés and pushing the boundaries of gender representation. At the same time, being the product of its time, The Exorcist also features some of the most rampant stereotypes associated with gender and sexuality, thus representing a contraction of the traditional interpretations of gender and sparks of innovative thought.
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Viewing the movie from the perspective of the feminist theory leaves a rather ambiguous mark on the viewer. Exploring the movie from the tenets of the Feminist Theory suggests that the strength of the lead character contrasts with the plotline, which involves a literal confrontation between her and the male supporting characters. On the one hand, the presence of a very strong female character, which embodies the characteristics of both the protagonist and the antagonist, creates a platform for advocating feminist ideas and encouraging a change in the dynamics of gender relationships.
On the other hand, the injection of the idea that implies the so-called “female threat” devalues the positive message that the movie sends, thus making it retract back to the area of female stereotyping. Although The Exorcist did manage to address some of the stereotypes regarding gender and sexuality by pushing the envelope of traditional perceptions with the help of some of its characters, it also restates some of the stereotypes, thus creating a rather mixed feeling.
Theoretical Perspective: Comparison and Discussion
The genre of a horror movie is a rather difficult area to work in for a movie director due to the necessity to find new and innovative ways of appealing to the same nature of fear. With the latter typically rooted in deeply buried social anxieties, a horror movie has to be both blatant in the visualization of scary ideas and simultaneously subtle enough when addressing their social underpinnings (Sari and Fitria 4). To push the boundaries of the horror genre and attract audiences, films have to incorporate not only improved visuals but also innovative concepts, both exploring common stereotypes and subverting them.
The described phenomenon is exemplary of the problems of gender and sexuality as they are represented in The Exorcist. Offering the Feminist Theory as the ground for the discussion of the hidden layers of meanings in the movie, Ramos et al. provide a rather compelling statement about the nature of the gender issue. The focus on the complexity of Regan makes the authors’ argument particularly convincing, pointing to the fact that Linda Blair’s character represents both the embodiment of the so-called “female threat” and the problem of “male interference” with a female body (Ramos et al. 85). Therefore, The Exorcist can be seen as both attempting at promoting the concept of women’s liberation and simultaneously encouraging the idea of stifling it.
The current studies on the effects that The Exorcist and similar films have produced on the representation of gender and sexuality in society point to the ambiguity of the film’s message. Specifically, research claims that, while incorporating the principles of the female agency, it also renders them as threatening to the social hierarchy and relationships within modern society. Despite some of the flaws in the argumentation and the overall analysis of the content of the movie, as well as its connection to the social context in which it was set, the articles under analysis provide an insightful interpretation of the issue.
In The Exorcist, the problem of gender and sexuality is implicit since the notions are not explored openly in the film. Regan embodies the fear of the nascent feminist movement and the notion of female empowerment, yet the movie undermines its statement by creating the scenario in which the “feminine threat” has to be subdued. The main message of the movie is inherently conflicting with itself, with the principles of second-wave feminism colliding with the traditional representation of gender in society.
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The observed problem is quite understandable and predictable since The Exorcist is primarily a horror movie, which pursues the goal of scaring its audience first and, thus uses the tools that were viewed as a shorthand for rendering scary imagery at the time. Although it is unlikely that the director used gender-related tropes and the concept of the “feminine threat” without understanding their intrinsic meaning (Kendrick 156). Nonetheless, the genre of the film allows focusing on what Ramos et al. refer to as “male interference” with the body of a woman is quite disturbing as it perpetuates the notion of a woman being unable to be in control of her own actions and identity.
The movie cannot be regarded as either strictly supportive of feminists’ plight or fully rejecting their cause. Instead, The Exorcist incorporates the projection of the societal fear of the “feminine threat,” simultaneously combining it with the representation of the uninhibited power of a woman. The film allows its audience to pick the side of the argument with which they identify without convincing them to take a particular stance on the subject matter.
Kendrick, James. “Slasher Films and Gore in the 1980s.” A Companion to the Horror Film. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 310-328.
Ramos, Ana M. González, et al. “Who Possesses ‘Possessed Women’? Women and Female Bodies as Territories for Male Interference.” Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Sobre Cuerpos, Emociones y Sociedad, vol. 10, no. 27, 2018, pp. 85-94.
Sari, Rizki Ratna, and Sari Fitria. “Women Struggle in the Theory of Everything Movie Script: A Perspective of Feminism.” Paradigma Lingua, vol. 6, no. 2, 2018, 1-6.