After studying the explicit details in the journals of exorcists, he decided that a story about “what happens in these cases could really be a boost to the faith. It could show people that the spiritual world is real.”
The bottom line: “The Exorcist” scared the hell out of millions of people. There were lines around the block at theaters and reports that janitors -- literally -- had to clean up the mess left by moviegoers who regretted consuming snacks during such a head-spinning, stomach-churning nightmare. When box-office receipts are adjusted for inflation, it remains the most successful R-rated movie ever.
That’s the Hollywood story, which is being marked with 40th-anniversary celebrations. But for Blatty, it’s just as important that his work had an impact on people in a radically different setting. As a Jesuit in Los Angeles once told him, there was a “thundering herd of people headed into the confessionals” at churches in the weeks after the movie opened.
Amen, said Blatty. The goal was to defend the faith through writing that he considered a ministry, his own “apostolate of the pen.”
The key to “The Exorcist,” he explained, is that his protagonist’s crisis of faith is much deeper than his doubts about the reality of demons. Caught up in grief and guilt, this Jesuit is tempted to believe that God cannot condescend to love fallen human beings -- like him.
“Karras has started to doubt his own humanity,” said Blatty. “In the end, he is the ultimate target of this demonic attack. The devil is tempting him to despair.”
In one crucial passage in the novel, an older, experienced exorcist explains: “I think the point is to make us ... see ourselves as ultimately bestial, vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy. And there lies the heart of it, perhaps. ... For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it finally is a matter of love: of accepting the possibility that God could ever love us.”