Performing the Exorcism

Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts obviously has many parallels with William Blatty’s The Exorcist, and often points quite directly to the influences of one of the best movies from the 70s.  Of course, there are some key differences, but for the most part, I, like Sidney and probably many others, had certain expectations about the exorcism scene itself in A Head Full of Ghosts.  There is lots of similar imagery, from the young teenage girl as the focus of the exorcism, to her being tied to the bed, to the spectacle of it all.  However, the two works definitely have their own takes on the nearly-identical situation they work themselves up to.

In The Exorcist, the event is a spectacle simply due to the medium in which it participates:  by very nature, movies have audiences, for whom they must perform.  In this sense, much of what happens in The Exorcist’s exorcism can be seen as a performance, putting on a show for the priests but most importantly for the American people, sitting in theaters or in their homes consuming this digital media.  Though much of what goes on obviously pertains to the plot, to the movie itself, lots of the details of the scene seem to be “pointed at the camera” so to speak.  We see this vile, ill young woman, tied to a white bed in a monochromatic room, surrounded by priests, literally vomiting, screaming, floating around, (and maybe there really is more to it than this, but) largely for show, whether there really is a demon or not.  Furthermore, as others have pointed out, Regan does not really seem to fully understand what is going on or what is coming her way leading up to and during the exorcism, as she is unaware of the audience she is truly performing for.

In Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, Marjorie’s position is different.  The whole time, Marjorie is likely doing research about possessions, exorcisms, priests, reality tv shows, family issues, you name it.  Due to the time period, she has easy access to the wealth of human knowledge that is the internet and clearly has the opportunity to use it to gain more intel.  In A Head Full of Ghosts, the audience of this exorcism scene is not us, the readers, real living people.  Instead, contrasting with The Exorcist, the book implants its own medium to deliver this imagery to the general public of its reality.  For Marjorie, her show to put on is primarily for her family, though.  In addition, Marjorie knows that she is performing, can see the cameras and the mics and their operators in the room with her, whereas Regan could not.  Marjorie even gets a mini pep-talk from Merry to reinforce this concept, with Merry telling Marjorie that she will do fine, as though she has to worry about her personal performance through all of this.

I’m not sure if I’m being a cynic or not, but I frankly don’t buy that Marjorie’s not faking or exaggerating whatever true, well-founded claims she might have of mental illness, physical illness, psychotic break, or any other explanation.  There is something too suspicious about the way Marjorie seems to taunt people, especially Merry and thereby us, the readers, with the truth.  However, I don’t know that Marjorie herself even knows whether or not she is possessed.  It seems to me that her one last form of control over this whole situation and seemingly her whole life, is this final, crucial piece of information at the center of the entire narrative, and that she is willing to fight to the end to keep that truth swimming in mystery and confusion.  Furthermore, Marjorie knows to make use of the spectacle by, in her own way, performing for her family and for the camera, whereas Regan truly comes off as an unsuspecting victim, forced to perform on a camera neither she nor the priests know is there.

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