Last week, I wrote, The Exorcist Is Too Serious But Still Enjoyable. There is one aspect of the film that is my favorite, and I just want to take a moment to highlight it. Father Damien Karras has just met with Regan, who looks like a monster and is totally taken over by the demon Pazuzu, who claims to be the Devil himself. And it is fun to watch Pazuzu mess with Karras’ head. The priest’s mother has just died, so Pazuzu says, “You’re mother’s in here with us, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it.”
This freaks out Karras, but he thinks he’s being played. So he says, “If that’s true, then you must know my mother’s maiden name. What is it?” Pazuzu could just answer the question. He knows, after all, who Karras is without being told. But his game is to not confirm anything. He knows that Karras is questioning his faith, so the last thing Pazuzu wants to do is provide confirmation. So Pazuzu vomits green slime all over him instead.
That’s all pretty standard. It gets far more interesting later when the exorcism proper starts. Pazuzu causes a bedside table drawer to open suddenly. Karras asks Pazuzu to do it again, but of course he won’t. “In time,” he says. But then, he starts speaking in Latin, “Mirabile dictu, don’t you agree?” That means, “Amazing to see.” Karras replies, “You speak Latin?” Pazuzu says, “Ego te absolvo.” You can probably guess that one, “I absolve you.”
Karras asks, “Quod nomen mihi est?” He’s asking the demon’s name. But again, Pazuzu will have none of it. He starts speaking French. He answers, “Bonjour.” Karras repeats the question — probing whether Pazuzu (who Karras is not convinced is real) actually knows Latin or just a couple of phrases. Pazuzu responds with more French, “La plume de ma tante.” This is a phrase used to teach French grammar — it means, “My aunt’s quill pen.” So it’s all nonsense — creepy nonsense — but nonsense nonetheless.
To finish the whole thing off, Karras dowses Pazuzu with what he claims is holy water. Pazuzu goes crazy. But this too is another feint. It makes Karras think that Pazuzu isn’t real and it is just Regan in some kind of psychotic state. The evidence of possession is overwhelming, but Pazuzu keeps encouraging Karras’ doubt.
This is what makes Pazuzu such an interesting adversary. It’s fairly easy to be a hero if you know that a hero is required. What normally stops us is uncertainty. In this regard, Pazuzu’s ultimate mistake at the end of the film is to possess Karras, because at that moment, all doubt is gone. The path forward is clear.