Sights, Sounds & Insights
If you're saying to yourself "That's not the film I saw...." you're probably right. The Heretic can be very confusing.
There are three versions. The first ran, during the first theatrical week, but the audience reaction to the film was so bad John Boorman was called back to re-edit the ending; as well as re-dub some of the lines. It seems that people were throwing things at the screen as well as walking out of the theater. No one understood it or accepted it.
Boorman says "The audiences couldn't accept the secondary reality the picture suggests, that the ending all happens in perhaps a fraction of time."
If this is true, than the audience is to blame; in the beginning of the film there is a scene in which Regan (Linda Blair) and Sharon (Kitty Winn) are eating dinner and watching T.V. The sound coming from the T.V. is as follows:
**"These experiments would seem to confer that thoughts can be transmitted across distances. Here he is seen causing a spoon to bend"
The T.V. shows a man bending spoons with his mind. Regan picks up two spoons and fakes Sharon into believing that she is bending them. The T. V. continues:
**"Not on a night club stage... but under laboratory controls, and
observed by highly skeptical scientists. All these examples have one thing in common... They seem to defy natural laws... How can that be? Some philosophers of our time say that the objective world has a reality... but is merely an illusion... a projection of the mind."
This scene clearly explains to the audience the premise of the film.
It states that what we're about to see is a projection of the mind. Because what we're seeing takes place in the mind, physically only takes place in a fraction of a second; for those not in "mind link".
That is why no one hears, or sees, the locust swarm, or the house explode in the end of the film - it was only made known to the people in "mind link". Everyone else only saw the end result. This concept runs through the entire film. Keeping the above in mind, use it towards another scene.
* Denotes from the original screenplay, THE EXORCIST
** Denotes from the original screenplay, THE HERETIC
All visuals are original B&W 8x10s
and scans of original press transparencies
Director John Boorman
When Father Lamont meets Kokumo, he loses faith in God, and mind links with Regan. In doing so he contacts the demon. Why? Regan's subconscious is being held by the demon. What she merely thinks of as dreams, are in reality memories of Father Merrin. So Regan is actually contacting Father Merrin. How? When Father Merrin was killed in Georgetown, the demon (Pazuzu) captured his soul, and held it, in the Coptic church in Africa where the demon first
encountered Merrin. (See beginning of summary) Merrin's soul is set free, when Regan and Lamont "mind link" for the last time in the hotel.
The demon in a rage bursts out, and leaves Africa; and heads for Washington. In doing so, Merrin's soul is freed and he is able to give Regan and Lamont the vital information needed to subdue Pazuzu. When Lamont meets Kokumo, the same thing happens. He was in touch with the demon. As well as Kokumo, and Regan. The demon interrupted Regan's thoughts with the demon's view of Kokumo. So when Kokumo tells how to help Regan, he gives instructions to kill both. That is why he asks 'Which girl" (See summary).
Another confusing element in the film, concerns the locusts. The locust is a symbol for the demon. In The Exorcist a watchful film goer will notice when Father Merrin confronts the statue of the demon; in the ruins of Nineveh, the stone structure has wings. The swam itself represents the legions that Pazuzu commands. In the Exorcist, Father Karras tape records Regan speaking in different voices.
*"eno on ma I. eno on ma I. tseirp eht raeF. ynriD.
tseirp eht raeF. nirreM, nirreM-eno on ma I.
nirreM, nirreM. eid reh tel. emit su eviG."
Although what the spirits say is backwards, when the tape is reversed it is as follows:
*" I am no one. I am no one. Fear the priest. Dimmy.
Fear the Priest. Merrin, Merrin, I am no one. Merrin,
Merrin. Let her die. Give us time."
This shows us two things. One, that the demon (Pazuzu) has many different spirits at his command. Making it a multi-personality possession. The second, it explains why different sounds and voices are heard in the first film.
Throughout the entire film we see through the eyes of Pazuzu.
"Come, Fly the teeth of the wind", we soar and sway through Manhattan, Africa, and over Washington. Thrice we actually see Pazuzu, and that is when it flies over Africa, in the bedroom in Washington, and towards the house at the film's end.
In the film everything is composed of doubles. Good and evil. The
locusts explained above is the evil side. While Regan, in the film is called the good locust. The swarm also symbolizes the people of the earth. Each brushing against each other, causing confusion. Except one. The good locust. She will stop the chain reaction, she will sooth and heal. Other doubles are: Regan, we know her as she is, then we see the demon's Regan. Lamont, and the Lamont that is seduced over towards evil. Sharon, and the Sharon that loses faith and accepts evil. Kokumo, the healer, and demon's version of Kokumo.
And on...and on... and on.
Another interesting element is science against religion, and the
old against the new. This is shown not only in objects, but also in characters. Father Lamont against Dr. Tuskin. Primitive forces against new scientific ones. The demon against the synchroniser, a machine of the modern age. Sharing in this, in its simplest form, is the synchroniser sitting on an antique table.
Sharon is literately consumed by her decision to follow evil.
Something else that is used in the film are blinking lights. We
see them on the synchronizer, from police and fire vehicles, even in a bus. Considering this, the complexity and the meaning of the story unfolds.
The synchronizer is a machine used to pull two altered states of
consciousness into one. This is done by two hypnotic strobes (one for each person) The strobes themselves start very rapidly and the deeper the patient is lowered into the hynotic state the strobe light decreases in pace. Under normal circumstances the heart will beat quicker than under hypnosis. This is mimicked with the lights of the synchronizer. Many times during the film this strobe effect is used to demonstrate the mind link between the characters. For example: When Father Lamont is in Africa, he is still able to mind link
with Regan (in New York) by the use of the light around him, he is standing in an area surrounded by dye vats. In back of him is a setting sun. Slowly he moves to and fro, blocking the sun and then revealing it; creating a blinking light.
As Regan communicates back to him he is walking down a street with the light playing on his face in a blinking fashion - as shadows from a fence. Other times that the light is used is when a character is in contact with the demon. This is obvious in the scene where Father Lamont and Regan are on the train heading to Washington. Factory and city lights flash by reflected on the window of the train. Lamont stares up into the sky and through the power of the demon jolts the plane that Dr. Tuskin and Sharon are on. In another scene, Father Lamont and Regan are waiting in a bus. Father Lamont is aggravated by the bus driver in break. A flashing parking light once again blinks him into contact with the demon and brings out his other side. At the film's end (first version) Dr. Tuskin, when learning the truth, accepts her new beliefs as the light from the emergency vehicles wipe over her face. She is now joined into the neither world of demons of Regan & Father Lamount.
Another element used are dreams. In The Exorcist Father Karras dreams of his mother. The dream shows his mother coming up from a subway. While Karras tries desperately to get her attention. When she reaches the top of the steps, she stops and says his name. He yells back. She turns and starts to go down the steps. She is carrying a shopping bag. Interrupting the dream are sudden flashes of various things. A dog running. A religious medallion falling; and a stark white face. What does it mean? Karras grieving over his mothers death is dreaming of her. Her soul in it's journey is reaching out to communicate a final warning of his death symbolized by the falling medallion.
Regan's dreams are of Kokumo. His first confrontation with the demon where he fell, failed and became possessed. She mimics him by sleeping walking, while the demon leads her to the building's edge with the intention of making her fall. She is awoken by the doves she takes care of.
Unfortunately, many of these meanings are lost, because of editing and changes made on the film - not to mention a unique narrative. The scene in which this article opens with the demon confronting Lamont over his beliefs making him a "heretic" to his own faith is actually cut from the film. With much of the dialogue of the demon missing. So here the fault lies on the executives at Warner. Complaining about a much too long film. In doing so much is missed.
Making matters worse in the 2nd version we are left thinking that Father Lamont dies when the house is destroyed; leaving Regan standing looking confused as hell. (As well as the audience)
In the third version, there is an explanatory prologue but with the same abrupt ending. Because the film cost about $14,000,000, but made only $13,800,000, many of the original prints were destroyed, leaving us with second rate editions.
Via original publicity materials we can see scenes shot but never
made it into the final edit.
After the final synchronizer scene between Regan and Father Lamont, Lamont under control of Pazuzu leaves the hotel room and makes his
way to the Georgetown house. Regan is in pursuit after him. On the streets of N.Y. she is accosted.
Two shots of a missing scene in the third act of the film.
The most important scene cut from the film takes place during the final syncronizer session where Regan and Father Lamont connect with Father Merrin's spirit which has been held by the demon Pazuzu.
We see Merrin on the floor of the Georgetown room, but as he stands the room changes to the African Coptic church (the same where Merrin first exorcised Pazuzu). As the scene continues wind builds, dust consumes the scene. It gathers around Merrin, covering him, encasing him. He raises his hand wiping the dust from his face .... exposing Father Lamont!
From the screenplay...
**"You're dying Merrin, Dying, and your hopes die with you."
Merrin hangs on to his last threads of life. His eyes are held on the demon.
**"Your little children-the holy ones-no one to help them now. I will take them, one by one."
Merrin struggles to his feet, as the Georgetwon bedroom gives way and changes into the Coptic church.
"Pride, Merrin! The pride and hubris of a heretic!"
Winds suddenly break into the Coptic church, and dust and dirt cling on to Merrin. Slowly he turns to stone. Merrin speaks.
"You will fail; all men will be joined with God."
As Merrin raises his hand to wipe away the dust, the face that is revealed is
Philip Lamont's. Pazuzu laughs as Lamont struggles to ward off the overwhelming force. The demon speaks.
"Are you holier than Merrin?"
The wind, whipping through the church erodes and eats into the rock. The ceiling
cracks, pillars crumble and fall around Lamont. Pazuzu's voice rips through the church.
"Fear not, Father Philip Lamont, you belong to me, and the devil takes care of his own."
"Spare me, spare me!"
Lamount's takes the place of Merrin. Merrin's soul is freed. Furious, the demon begins to tear down the Coptic church before leaving for Georgetown, and the house.
Frames of 35mm film taken from the original teaser trailer & general release trailer
Frames of 35mm film taken from the original general release trailer
It is odd, that out of all that could be edited from the film it was decided this scene, in which the film obtains its title, was cut. Later after the disastrous premier another cut scene between Lamount and the Cardinal was truncated. In which Lamount turns on the Cardinal speaking his mind freely as to how the Catholic Church has failed the world, and its fight against evil.
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My fascination with the film caused me to reach out the its director, John Boorman. We discussed the film and its meaning. He had confirmed what I already had known - that the film's concept was born from the theories of a French Priest, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was also a Jesuit paleontologist whose philosophy has been both controversial and crucial to basic direction of theological thought in recent years.
From the original Press Notes:
It was Teilhard, writes Sir Julian Huxley, who "has effected a threefold synthesis of the matrial and physical world with the world of the mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one."
Believing that man and nature would eventually achieve a oneness with God, Teilhard agreed with Nietzche's view that man is unfinished and must be surpassed or completed. Teilhard sought to link the evolution of man with the concept of energy, in this context what he called "psychic energy." Most crucially, as Huxley points out, Teilhard had a conviction of the supreme importance of personality.
"A developed human being, as he sightly pointed out, is not merely a more highly individualized individual. writes Huxley. "He has crossed the threshold of self-consciousness to a new mode of thought, and a result has achieved some degree of conscious integration-interation of the self with the outer world of men and nature, integration of the separate elements of self with each other. He is a person, an organism which has transcended individuality in personality. This attainment of personality was an essential element in man's past and present evolutionary success: accordingly its fuller achievement must be an essential aim for his evolutionary future."
And so it is that modern science is enveloping some of those ideas which began as religious philosophy, heresy some say, expanding its parameters to include such once alarming ideas as those expressed in Russell Targ and Horold Puthoff's new book, MIND-REACH. This study uses the methodology of contemporary quantum physics, specific qualities of electomagnetic field, and advances in brain research to prove the existance of "remote viewing." This validation by scientific experiments which can be repeated and re-validated under controlled conditions, gives exciting credibility to the idea that psychic phenomena and para-normal experiences are basic to the reality of all human experience.
As G. Spencer Brown wrote in LAWS OF FORM - "Discoveries of any great moment in mathematics and other disciplines, once they are discovered, are seen to be extremely simple and obvious, and make everybody, including their discover, appear foolish for not having discovered them before."
What Regan MacNeil and the people with whom she interacts discover, is something this basic, and yet because it strains what was considered scientific acceptability, it is as terrifying as it is enticing, as frightening as it is seductive. Perhaps in her mind-reach back to Father Merrin and forward to Father Lamont, Regan bridges that rapidly closing abyss between the astonishing foresight of Teilhard de Chardin and hte slowly awakening giant of modern science.
It is most obvious that by these press notes the film was indeed what Warner Bros. first claimed in the Teaser Trailer, "A Step Beyond".
This project, from inception was never meant to be a green vomit, head turning thriller. Instead of offering more of what was done previous the studio took a high brow approach and a metaphysical explanation for the events already touched in the first film. The idea was to take the audience on a supernatural journey between worlds, and dimensions. To represent the unseen, and layers of man's faith between good and evil.
How acknowledgement of evil through simply stating it by name holds power. Concepts deeply rooted in Kabbalah and Christianity.
Shoving us into realms untouched by accepted reality, and its laws. Between the blink of an eye, and the beats of a heart. Disrupting the world and laws God created in a negative manner - evil.
With The Fall from Eden, man lost his place in what God created, and with nature. The "Oneness" was broken and confusion set in. The Devil had succeeded in separating God's creation from its source leaving him open to influence.
THE HERETIC supposes man's evolution will cause man to develop powers that will enable him to connect with the supernatural powers that surround our world. However, God still allows freedom of choice - to connect with him, or evil. Depending which we choose ultimately decides our destiny.
THE EXORCIST threw us into events that were unexplainable, and unknown. It presented the existence of evil, foul and real. No reason however was presented as to why it was there. The fear of course is the not knowing why it made itself known. It was an attack without provocation.
THE HERETIC, right or wrong, meant to through meaning into the mix on a complex and deeply philosophic level. Its principals were higher and less to the gut - something no one expected, or wanted as a form of entertainment.
The film was better received in France, where it was considered art. Technically the film is a wonder being almost entirely filmed on a sound stage. The amazing Georgetown street, the African field, the Vatican - all re-created.
I had aided Warner Bros. years back in restoring the original theatrical print. But I would truly love to see the film re-mastered with the added footage for Blu-ray. The director had told me how I was the one who seemed to understand the film, which aided him in comfort.
It is complex, and layered. I think if people get over the lack of shock they expected in the film it can be viewed very differently for what it does offer.
Perhaps if Warner Bros. decides to re-master for Blu-ray a commentary is in order to aid the viewer in understanding the scope.
Still the film, if one tries hard enough, can be an enjoyable, provocative, not to mention mind bending movie experience.
"Come, fly the teeth of the wind. Share my wings!"
- Regan MacNeil
Test make-ups for an originally more detailed ending - the Regan double ages after Lamont rips out her heart.
ON THE RIGHT - the swam attacks eating away at her face.
Make-up by Dick Smith
A top the Warner Communications building in NYC, Rockefeller Center, Regan's penthouse apartment was built.