The Exorcism of Emily Rose was a spine freezing horror film by Director Scott Derrickson, that hit the theatres in 2005.
The movie pits scientific reasoning and religious faith , two opposing forces against one another in the form of two lawyers fighting for and against the conviction of Father Moore, the priest who conducted an exorcism on Emily Rose, which eventually led to her death. However the film does not say who was right or wrong but rather tries to explore the phenomena behind the death of the girl. The film’s screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman explains that he and the director had a Scully-Mulder approach to the material, where he sided with science and the director with religion so as to make the film an even ground.
The movie was based loosely on real life events that happened in Bavaria, Germany that claimed the life of 24 year old Anneliese Michel.
In the film, Father Moore(Tom Wilkinson) diagnoses Emily rose as being possessed by six demons, the six serpents. But in the case of Anneliese Michel, there was not one Father Moore rather everybody around her was convinced that she was possessed.
What symptoms did Anneliese have?
Anneliese started having seizures since she was 16 years old. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and had a more severe seizure there. She was prescribed drug after drug but her condition only seemed to worsen overtime.
It is said that while in the psychiatric hospital Anneliese started seeing the faces of demons, and heard demonic voices tormenting her, saying that she was damned. Doctors today believe that this might have been due to Schizophrenia. It is important to note that epilepsy and schizophrenia are both disorders of the brain and might be related. Also, one of the most important symptoms for schizophrenia are visual and auditory hallucinations, which explains the demonic faces and voices.
With their daughter’s condition worsening over time and having little hope in modern medicine Anneliese’s parents turned towards the church.
In the middle ages, the church(papacy) exploited the lack of scientific temper among the masses and reigned supreme in the hearts of the people. Even kings and emperors, needed the support of the church to rule their realms with a semblance of stability. Commoners blindly believed everything the church said. But, after the Black plague, something called the Renaissance happened.
People who saw the plague ravage the world also saw that the so called holy men were not immune to it(Maybe they forgot to paint their houses with goat’s blood).
Knights of science started questioning things! For centuries, the church tried to muffle their voices but eventually like all old things, the church too came to peace with this new reality. The pope, who was once the centre of power for all of Europe, who could make rulers dance for his whip, found his power greatly diminished. So, the church(papacy) started adapting, and reforming itself and distanced itself from most medieval practices like Exorcisms, witch trials etc.
Now coming back to Anneliese,
Even though the church was not what it once was, it still held dominion over the minds of the extremely pious and orthodox family that Anneliese belonged to. Anneliese’s childhood was largely shaped by her religion. Her relatives described her as extremely pious. It is recorded that Anneliese would sleep on the floor as a way of repenting for the sins of others. And the fact that her mother had an illegitimate daughter that died, made Anneliese concerned about her mother’s afterlife. And she would repent on behalf of her mother too! The human brain is capable of a lot more than you and I can imagine. And it didn’t take much for Anneliese to start believing that she was possessed.
So far we have the case of an extremely religious young girl, with Epilepsy and possible depression and schizophrenia living in a rural village, who believed that she was possessed.
Anneliese’s exorcism was conducted by the Priests “Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt”. A total of 67 exorcism rituals were performed on Anneliese based on a book called the “Rituale Romanum of 1614”. Each ritual was a gruelling exercise of 4 hours held once or twice a week for ten months. These exorcisms had huge physical and mental toll on Anneliese, who was also refusing to eat or drink anything in the belief that it might aid the exorcism.
As wondrous it might be, the human body too has limits and at the time of her cruel death on July 1 1976, Anneliese a 24 year old girl weighed a mere 30 kg, less than an average 10 year old!
The priests and the parents of Anneliese were tried for negligent homicide but did not get much in terms of punishment. They continued to believe that she was possessed and what they did was the right thing. Since the exorcism was ordered to be done in secrecy, it was easy for the church to distance itself from the case.
Anneliese Michel became nothing but a collateral damage in the ideological battle between science rooted in reason and religion rooted in faith. Today Anneliese is an example for what would happen if we leave the work of doctors to priests.
I would like to thank and suggest for further reading the sources that helped me make this article. I have added links to them in the bottom.
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Sources for further reading: