“I did this film because I believe in the story. This film was made by a believer. The film to me is about the mystery of faith,” Friedkin said. “I know it’s voted this-and-that horror film, but to me it’s about the mystery of faith.”
Certainly a great many moviegoers believed it. The film caused a spike in people fearing they were possessed, and Friedkin said the movie’s young, doubting priest – actor and playwright Jason Miller (who died in 2001) – would often be accosted by people seeking to have their personal demons cast out.
“There was a lot of that,” the director says. “I used to walk down the street with Jason in New York and people would come up to him and try to touch his jacket. ‘Father, I have a son, I have a son …!’ And he would say, ‘I’m just an actor!’”
Stanley Kubrick once told Stephen King that he thought The Shining was an optimistic story – because it suggested there really was life after death. In a similarly twisted way, The Exorcist has the same message about belief in God, of course the devil is part of that package, too.
“Even if you call yourself an atheist, you have to think about it,” Friedkin says. “None of us has any answers. And as Hamlet said to his friend Horatio, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”