The Rite Roundup


It’s not on my “must see” list, but then again, I am a crank who doesn’t like going to the movies, anyway (although True Grit did lure me), but The Rite opens today and it seems many people are aching to explore a theme of exorcism, so here is a round-up of sorts.

Start with the book by Matt Baglio which uber-reader Julie Davis says "gets it right":

Undoubtedly, when the film is released, it will be sensational, but reading The Rite may deliver more authentic chills; without the CGI there is still imagination, and with a book there is something more: readers get to "watch over Father Thomas's shoulder" as it were, and to make the same spiritual journey, asking the same questions he asked, making the same discoveries. . .

One thing that keeps bothering me is the silly narrative that sends a seminarian "with doubts" to Rome to learn about exorcism:

One discrepancy Fr. Thomas pointed out was that he went to Rome as a 50-year-old seasoned priest with a desire to learn more about the rite of exorcism – hardly a cynical seminarian in the midst of a faith crisis. Despite the differences, however, he called the film "very good."

"The human side of the priesthood is very well developed," he said, adding that the portrayal of "the institutional Church comes out very positively."

I've read in several places that the film is an overall "win" for the church and the priesthood, which could use one. If Hollywood needs "a hottie in a cassock" for that to happen, so be it.

John Zmirak, over at Inside Catholic has some fun with a must-read post that had me laughing out loud but also pondering deeply. It is almost too-good to excerpt:

". . . it bothers me that so many of the movies promoted this way are not really "spiritual," much less Christian; they're simply bland and inoffensive.

The Catholic faith is neither. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war waged by invisible entities (deathless malevolent demons and benevolent dead saints) whose winners will enjoy eternal happiness with a resurrected rabbi, and whose losers will writhe forever in unquenchable fire. Sometimes I step back and find myself saying in Jerry Seinfeld's voice: What's with all the craziness? Why can't I just enjoy my soup?"

What follows is even better than that, but as I say, difficult to excerpt. Go read it; I think it's probably the best essay on the film that I've yet read.

Steven Greydanus in Christianity Today has some thoughts on the Devil in Tinseltown but rates The Rite with an overall grade of "B".

Roger Ebert gives it a thumbs up in his interesting and thoughtful review:

Father Michael is not a saint. He enters the seminary as a way to get a four-year college education before taking his vows, and then tries to leave the novitiate. Discovering the cost of his education would then roll over into a $100,000 student loan, he reconsiders and agrees to attend a monthlong course in Rome. This sort of detail is more refreshing than shots of him silhouetted against ancient desert structures while monks intone Gregorian chants.

In Rome, he attends classes, debates scripture, and then is advised to spent some time with an experienced exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). This too is from the book by Matt Baglio, although in the book, this priest is Italian. As Hopkins appears onscreen, "The Rite" slips into gear and grows solemn and effective. Hopkins finds a good note for Father Trevant: friendly, chatty, offhand, self-effacing, realistic about demonic possession but not a ranter. He takes the kid along while treating the apparent possession of a pregnant young woman.

That something happens to make people seem possessed I have no doubt. Diagnosing whether Satan is involved is above my pay grade. What I must observe is that demonic possession seems very rare, and the Church rejects the majority of such reports. Yet it approaches epidemic proportions in "The Rite," almost as if it were a virus. The film is like one of those war movies where everybody gets wounded but John Wayne.

Still, I found myself drawn in. It is sincere. It is not exploitative; a certain amount of screaming, frothing and thrashing comes with the territory. My own guess is that people get the demons they deserve. While true believers go into frenzies, the Masters of Wall Street more cruelly lose joy in their wives and homes.

NY Times' Stephen Holden is less somewhat less thoughtful than Ebert.

At First Things, Mark Armstrong writes:

While he admits the film is not an accurate portrayal of what happened to him in Rome, Fr. Gary is pleased with how The Rite turned out, and he hopes the film will get people asking questions about one of the least understood rites in the Catholic Church. A greater awareness of the Devil’s actions in the world – and the tools Christ has given his Church to combat him – becomes all the more crucial when, as Fr. Gary explains, "in this country . . . there are more and more people that are involved in idolatry and paganism."

Interestingly Father Gary Thomas sits for an extensive interview with a Witch

The Wall Street Journal has "Exorcism for Beginners" and a sort of summary of mainstream reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes finds it mostly rotten.

Naturally, this film will make people want to read about real-life exorcisms. Dr. Pat McNamara of McNamara's blog dishes one up for you, from Iowa. Yeah, Iowa. Who knew?

If all of this has you wondering about heaven and hell, do yourself a favor and read John W. Martens excellent little essay on the sound theology behind Purgatory

UPDATE: I've never heard of this ratings system before but Frank Weathers swears by it.

Better and Worse than one will expect

Catholic World Report: Doorways for the Devil




Elizabeth Scalia. "The Rite Roundup – Updated." Patheos (January 28, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Patheos.

Founded in 2008, is the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world's beliefs. Patheos is unlike any other online religious and spiritual site and is designed to serve as a resource for those looking to learn more about different belief systems, as well as participate in productive, moderated discussions on some of today's most talked about and debated topics..


Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos, where she also blogs as The Anchoress, and a contributing writer to First Things. She is a former contributor to Inside Catholic, and has been published in a wide variety of Catholic print publications and online political venues. Her book, Care of the Dying with the Help of Your Catholic Faith is published by Our Sunday Visitor. She can be contacted at

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