Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Movie Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Scott, let's do lunch. Have your people call mine.

You see, Scott Derrickson directed and cowrote the number one film in the country, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson.

Scott and I went to a small Christian college together. In fact, he was one of the first people I met in Freshman Orientation.

So this (admittedly tenuous) connection coupled with its advertised courtroom drama motivated me to see the film. Based on a true story, the film explored the trial of a priest charged with negligent homicide of Emily Rose on whom he tried to perform an exorcism.

These dual nexuses might affect my review. As Scott's friend, I probably overlooked its faults. As a trial attorney, I probably focused on its faults.

Starting with the courtroom scenes, I couldn't help but notice the mangling of the evidence code and other trial protocol. In one example, the prosecutor objected to a question to an expert witness. There was a "sidebar" (remember Judge Ito?), and then the witness inexplicably answers. No ruling was made on the objection on the record (no court reporter recorded the sidebar), and no instruction was provided the witness. The expert just began talking when the attorneys walked away from the bench.

The burden of proof and the elements of the charged crime were conspicuously absent from the arguments of counsel. In the defense attorney's closing, the criminal standard--beyond a reasonable doubt--somehow transmuted into, "It's possible" Emily was demon possessed.

The story crystallized the larger religion versus science debate. The movie tried to be even-handed in its presentation by playing lip service to purely nonreligious explanations for the manifestations besetting Ms. Rose. However, the filmmakers' point of view pierced through this veneer of ambiguity. They left little doubt that they believed the manifestations of evil to be real and not merely perceived.

The movie packs a wallop for a PG-13 horror film. However, the somewhat conventional sound track was overwrought and overused to heighten the effect.

Emily Rose receives a B+.