Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Review: "The Rite"

Following is a review of the 2011 movie "The Rite." This thread may contain details that could "spoil" the movie for some readers. However, I think I have not given away anything vital that would spoil any surprises. At the end of this post you will see a SPOILERS warning for a scene at the end of the movie which you may wish to skip if you have not seen the movie.

"The Rite" is a film about a skeptical Catholic seminarian (or perhaps a deacon---there was a voiceover that indicated he had been ordained a deacon although they refer to him as a seminarian) who travels to Rome and observes the exorcisms of a veteran priest. The seminarian Michael Kovak is played by Colin O'Donoghue, and the exorcist Father Lucas Trevant is played by Anthony Hopkins. The opening credits state that the movie is "suggested by the book by Matt Baglio" which is called "The Rite: The Making of an Exorcist." According to radio producer Nick Thomm (MP3), the book and film were written simultaneously so the movie can't really be said to be "based" on the book. Rather it seems there was inspiration and collaboration between Baglio and the screenplay author. As of this post, I have not read the book.

Overall, I give the film 6.5 out of 10. I would classify this as another film Catholics can view as favorable to the Church. It is fraught with Catholic imagery, statues, much of which takes place in Rome. Rosaries and Hail Marys are said, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are called upon during exorcism, confessions are heard favorably, the rite of exorcism is used along with the priest's drive to ascertain the demon's name, the warning for lay persons to not address the possessed, etc. Priests are also portrayed positively on the whole throughout the film. One bizarre moment that never comes into play was when a priest indirectly threatens Kovak financially if he dropped out of the seminary. The other bizarre thing about this priest is that it is quite unlikely that he would send a skeptical priest to learn about exorcisms because exorcism is dangerous work that demands great faith.

The best scenes in the film are early on when Kovak witnesses Father Lucas' exorcisms of a pregnant 16 year old (played by Marta Gastini, who I would say was the best actor in the film). These scenes get to the heart of the exhaustion and real battle that takes place during exorcisms. (Stories by actual priests can be read in good books like An Exorcist Tells His Story, The Devil, or Begone Satan which tells the story of a 23-day exorcism in Iowa in the 20th century. Another book I have not read is Interview with an Exorcist by Father Fortea. His talk to seminarians on exorcism is worth a listen.)

Kovak also plays the role of a skeptic throughout the film. He tries to offer scientific explanations of phenomenon whenever he can, even if his explanations are less-plausible than the demonic. There was one line where he said something to Father Lucas like: "It's hard to believe when no proof is considered proof." He said this in response to Father Lucas explaining how the devil hides so that others will doubt. Kovak's comment was left unchallenged and I wish they would have addressed the nature of faith in the face of evidence. We put our very lives at risk in the absence of proof such as when we trust the the brakes on the car will work or the food in a restaurant is not poisoned. Yet when a possession victim speaks alien languages, regurgitates foreign objects, makes impossible bodily contortions, the Kovak character was apt to demand some sort of "proof" that would dispel his own capacity to think of unlikely alternative explanations. As Blessed John Henry Newman wisely wrote well over 100 years ago: "For directly you have a conviction that you ought to believe, reason has done its part, and what is wanted for faith is, not proof, but will."

One point the film was clear to make is that in Catholicism, natural explanations must be "exhausted" before someone can be considered possessed. The character Father Lucas is himself a doctor. The medical staff at a hospital admit to having run out of medical options in another case. This is important because it shows the prudence of Catholic teaching in diagnosing this phenomenon. One does not want to fuel a victim's delusion if there are natural or psychological explanations for the disorder at work.

At times the film is a little slow and much is left unexplained. It is unclear when the devil is at work or when actions have other causes. It is also unclear when the devil "wins" any particular battle. Sterile flashbacks to Kovak's childhood are scattered throughout the film that I found more interrupting than informative.

As exorcism movies go, I would rank this second behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose and ahead of The Exorcist. All three movies do attempt to get theological portrayals correct with varying degrees of accuracy.

EDIT TO ADD: Since posting this review, I have completed a review of the book The Rite.


One questionable flaw in the movie was the portrayal of the seminarian (or deacon) Kovak performing an exorcism. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1673 When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.
In the film, Kovak does read a rite from a book and it is unclear whether or not this was licit. Not only did he enter the exorcism with lingering doubts of faith which likely would have rendered him weak or even succumb to the devil's wiles, but without priestly ordination, the exorcism lacked the spiritual gifts given to a priest at ordination.


  1. Did you see some kind of warning message at the end of the credits regarding friends and then it switches to multiple languages?

  2. I don't recall seeing what you describe.

  3. I seen an interview on the internet that the real father lucas trevant did. i can't find it now.
    He said satan today is walking the corridors of the vatican. that some priests are involved in the occult- I understood this movie to have been based on true events? I also see it as real. Great admiration for the priest-As it stands today we are in dire need for more faith- more prayer as satan is slipping into the church as well as other christian denominations in many different forms- because of the weakness of man even of those who have chosen to become priests.
    People are lost-the world becoming an open door for evil to roam in.
    The catholic church is not expressing the importance of all sins- to their congregations-the free masons are and have been running the other christian churches - another example of how the devil disguises himself-or rather not?
    If the catholic church wishes to remain steadfast address the people-that is what all priests , deacons ect of the church are called to do. If they do not they will be held accountable in the eyes of God. In order to rule out evil we must become righteous-that does not mean control the congregations it means walk as jesus has walked and talked when on this earth..follow the words of God fully not partially-Teach and show that more than only the rich can enter the church. How can God remain beside you if you do not remain obedient to him!

    The interview with the exoricist fr.lucas trevant expressed much of this.

  4. I couldn't agree more and there seems to be something more deeper than the plot in the movie, The Rite. The movie tells us that demons are starting to get an upper hand in the spiritual battle between bad and good. The veteran exorcist Fr. Lucas possesion to the powerful demon, Baal, is a testament to this. Ba'al is the highest ranking demon out of the 72 demons of the Ars Goetia.

    The number 72 is a prominent number within occult belief systems and secret societies, such as the freemasons. There was a part in the movie where the aspiring priest, Michael was starting to falter. The camera was fixated on Michael, framing him from head to chest, and one can easily notice on his "stole" (purple sash that priests wear dangling from the neck) that there is a square and compass symbol on the right side.

    I think the movie's subtle reference to freemasonry was intended to deliver an important subliminal message: The demonic possesion of people in the movie symbolizes the demonic possesion of the Catholic church. The masonic symbol emblazoned on the rookie priest's stole meant that masons and kabbalists (#72) have infiltrated and are 'already' running things behind the walls of the Vatican.