I wondered how I would feel about the rite, the new supernatural-thriller film starring anthony hopkins, before I screened it recently. Would I have to cover my eyes? Would I have nightmares for weeks? Or would the depictions of demon possession just be too much for a girl-next-door evangelical like me?
Thankfully, I read the book by journalist matt baglio, upon which the film is loosely based (the rite: the making of a modern exorcist), before I screened the film, and so I was a little more prepared … perhaps.
Based on the true story of an American parish priest (Father Gary Thomas), The Rite chronicles his journey to Rome, Italy, to participate in an exorcism class being offered by a Vatican-affiliated university. There, the priest met Baglio (who was also taking the class, as it was open to laypeople in addition to members of the clergy), and agreed to have the story of his exorcist training be told.
Before Baglio even finished, though, his book proposal made it into the hands of Hollywood executives who immediately optioned it for film. So while the book was still being written, so was the screenplay for the film.
Writing in tandem with Baglio, screenwriter Michael Petroni (the chronicles of narnia: the voyage of the dawn treader) takes the film's story in a slightly different direction by making his priest younger and one who is not even finished with seminary. In real life, Father Gary Thomas was 52 at the time when he was attending the exorcism course in Rome, but in the film the character he inspired is a young twenty-something seminarian (portrayed by Michael O'Donoghue) who is not even sure he wants to enter the priesthood.
The tension is set from the very beginning for moviegoers, as they witness the protagonist's struggle with skepticism about the demonic world and possession and even doubts about his belief in God. Will his one-on-one training with a senior Italian exorcist (Anthony Hopkins) help him to overcome these hurdles or will it lead him further away from the priesthood and his faith?
You'll have to watch for yourself to find out, though I will say this: scenes involving Anthony Hopkins' character becoming demon possessed were quite troubling and thought provoking. Can those who have professed faith in Christ become possessed by demonic forces? As believers, are we not purchased and owned by Almighty God? I took these and other questions to two professors at dallas theological seminary in Dallas, Texas, who provided some excellent, biblically-based feedback about demon possession that is definitely worth considering.
If anything, watching The Rite got me thinking about the devil and about his work in our world today. Am I mindful of this as I should be? Do I recognize when he is trying to attack? Can I see when he or his emissaries are exacerbating a situation in my life? And what is my response?
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, Ephesians 6:10reminds us, but against that which is unseen: rulers, authorities and the powers of this dark world. Therefore, we should always outfit ourselves with Ephesians 6:10and be on the lookout for our enemy, who is always looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 1:8).
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 1:4).
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