The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin), the extended director’s cut

The extended director’s cut of The Exorcist runs ten minutes longer than the theatrical version. The last time I saw the theatrical, I thought the movie needed some more time to figure itself out. Turns out I was wrong. The ten extra minutes just make it sort of tiresome. Like, the third act of the film—with the lengthy actual exorcism sequence—is already a slog without having to slog through to get to it.

The first two acts of The Exorcist is a series of vignettes, intentionally doing a stilted summary. Director Friedkin, cinematography Owen Roizman, editors Evan Lottman and Norman Gay—even screenwriter William Peter Blatty—it’s all for effect. The film oscillates between Hollywood movie star living in Georgetown to film a movie dealing with daughter Linda Blair’s seemingly neurological decline and local priest Jason Miller’s family problems. Miller’s mom is sick and broke and he went to Ivy League schools on the Church’s dime to become a psychologist and it’s not like the Church is going to pay for her health care. Eventually the two storylines converge, with some (delicate) prodding from the script, and the film slowly moves out of summary for the third act.

Except it’s just for the exorcism. And the exorcism is long and boring (I mean, it’s a Catholic service). The film entirely loses momentum, especially since everything else building fizzles in the third act. After being simultaneously under intense focus and ignored, top-billed Ellen Burstyn’s disappearance becomes all the more obvious. It’s no longer about Blair getting better, it’s about Max von Sydow and Miller fighting the evil one.

Also, was it so obvious in the original version when Miller doesn’t mention to von Sydow how the demons possessing Blair requested him—von Sydow—by name? It’s a major plot hole and removes the oomph of von Sydow’s reappearance in the film. The Exorcist opens with a lengthy prologue set in Iraq where priest-archeologist von Sydow gets worked up over some recent relic finds and is overly dramatic about it. It’s long, seemingly pointless, utterly competent and occasionally inspired—kind of a metaphor for the film succeeding it—it’s a distinctive non sequitur of an opening. But when von Sydow comes back–actually coincidentally even though Miller’s heard a tape of Blair’s demons saying the character’s name—the prologue retroactively loses the distinct factor. It’s just a prologue.

Though von Sydow isn’t going to save the day with archeology, he’s going to do it with a good old-fashioned exorcism, which the film’s been building to since the opening titles and amped up with doctor after doctor failing Blair so they’re going to need an Exorcist. It’s inevitable. Though it’d be amazing if they hadn’t tied the threads together and it was just character studies.

Anyway.

The third act’s a wash. The epilogue sort of saves things. The exorcism scene never looks as good as it should. Not the special effects, which are fine (also pea soup is gross) or better, but the visual scheme Friedkin and Roizman go with for the third act. They just don’t crack it. The rest of the movie, they’ve got it down. But inside Burstyn’s house for the battle with the Dark Lord… Friedkin and Roizman don’t have it.

I sort of knew the “extended director’s cut”—director’s definitive cut–wouldn’t actually fix The Exorcist but I didn’t think it’d make it worse.

I was wrong.

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