What Is the Movie "The Exorcist" About?

by Alex Smith
Linda Blair played Regan in

Linda Blair played Regan in "The Exorcist"

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"The Exorcist" is a 1973 horror film directed by William Friedkin. It is based on a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the film's screenplay. "The Exorcist" was considered one of the most horrifying movies of its time, with reports of audience members fleeing theaters in terror. It is still considered to be one of the most influential horror movies ever made.

The Priests

In "The Exorcist," elderly priest and archeologist Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is exploring a dig in Iraq. He finds several stone effigies of the demon Pazuzu and wonders what they implicate. At the same time, Father Karras (Jason Miller) is a young priest living in Georgetown. Karras is struggling to care for his dying mother, whose illness is beginning to cause him to doubt his faith.


Meanwhile, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has traveled to Georgetown with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) to film a movie. Regan begins to display unusual behavior, including seizures, violent outbursts and extreme profanity. Chris's director dies from a fall out of Regan's window, and the investigator believes that Regan might be somehow involved. After a battery of medical tests reveal no cause for her illness, a doctor recommends an exorcism to cure what he believes to be a psychosomatic condition. If Regan believes that an exorcism will help, he reasons, that belief may be enough to cure her.

The Investigation

Father Karras is called in to examine Regan, since he is both a priest and psychiatrist. Karras interviews Regan, who by this point is deeply possessed and claims to be the devil. He is still skeptical until she speaks in tongues, which he records and later realizes is English spoken backwards. Karras asks for help in performing an exorcism, and the church sends Father Merrin due to his experience with the practice.

The Exorcism

Merrin and Karras begin the exorcism on young Regan. The child has developed a ghoulish appearance and has also begun to display supernatural abilities. The possessing demon, Pazuzu, taunts and threatens both priests, and the stress ends up being too much for Merrin's frail heart. He dies, and Karras desperately challenges Pazuzu to enter his own body. The demon complies, and Karras hurls himself out of Regan's window to his death. Regan is saved, but at the cost of the lives of both exorcists.

Photo Credits

  • Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images