Meanwhile, in Georgetown, the young daughter of Chris MacNeil, Regan, is beginning to experience strange events and behavior. Chris first thinks that Regan is having bad dreams and is being frightened by the sounds of rats in the attic...but soon things escalate to an alarming point. It becomes clear that Regan believes that she is being tormented by a malevolent spirit which is trying to take over her body.
Nearby, a Jesuit priest named Damian Karras is questioning his faith after witnessing so much evil and despair in the world and dealing with the death of his elderly mother. He is ready to leave the church when he is asked by Chris MacNeil to see her daughter, who is now clearly possessed by a demon. He will be joined by Lancaster Merrin and both of them will perform the ritual of exorcism for the girl to try and save her soul.
The Exorcist is so rich a narrative that it is amazing that it makes the great film that it turned out to be. The book really does read like the three parts above, with three stories all happening at the same time and finally intersecting at the end. It shouldn't work as a film, as we prefer to be with a single story as viewers, but the way that writer William Peter Blatty adapts his own book and the way that William Friedkin directs it is spot on. They play the material, which at its core is very absurd, completely straight and almost with a documentary feel. This makes it seem completely legitimate and even in 1973 upon its release, people believed what they were seeing on screen. The performances are also award worthy, which is why several of them were nominated for Oscars. Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair are both amazing in the film as the mother and daughter at the center of the whirlwind of evil, each bringing a sincerity and realness to their relationship. Jason Miller is equally impressive as Damian Karras, considering he was a playwright and had not acted in film before this. And don't forget Lee J. Cobb as a detective on the case (loved him in Twelve Angry Men) and Max Von Sydow in old age makeup playing Father Merrin, the exorcist. Everyone in the film feels as if they are really those characters...almost as though there is no acting happening at all. If you've never seen The Exorcist it really is a terrific and unsettling film that holds a very uplifting message within the folds of its terrifying plot...if there is great evil in this world, then there must be great good as well that will always overcome it.