The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose Information

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 American courtroom drama horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson. The film is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel and follows a self-proclaimed agnostic who acts as defense counsel (Linney) representing parish priest (Wilkinson), accused by the state of negligent homicide after he performed an exorcism. The film, which largely takes place in a courtroom, depicts the events leading up to and including the exorcism through flashbacks.


Lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) defends a priest, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), charged with negligent homicide for his spiritual oversight of the care of penitent Emily Rose, which included a failed exorcism and which ultimately led to her death. The trial begins with prosecutor Ethan Thomas extracting testimony from a series of medical experts. One expert testifies Emily was suffering from both epilepsy and psychosis. The defense contests that she may have actually been possessed, though they treat it delicately. Defense counsel Bruner explains that both medicine and psychology had failed Emily, and the family had to seek help through the Church. Several flashbacks show how Emily's problem originally began.

Alone in her dorm room one night, at precisely 3:00 AM, Emily notices a strange burning smell coming from the hallway. When she checks on it, she sees the main entrance open and shut by itself. Upon returning to bed, she sees a jar of pencils and pens move by itself. Her bedclothes roll themselves down and a great weight presses down on her, strangling her. As these episodes continue, she seeks medical help, unable to discern what is real from hallucination. She suffers more visions, is hospitalized, and diagnosed with epilepsy. She is given anti-seizure medications, which she claims do not work. Her visions continue, as do her severe bodily contortions.

She leaves school and returns to live with her parents, none of whom believe she is either epileptic or mentally ill; based on her behavior and symptoms, they believe she is possessed by demons. They seek help from Father Moore, and he obtains permission from the Church to perform an exorcism. The prosecution argues that all this could be explained by a combination of epilepsy (the contortions) and psychosis (the visions).

As the trial proceeds, Bruner begins to experience strange occurrences in her apartment at 3:00 AM, including odors and sounds. Moore warns her that she may be targeted by demons for possibly exposing them. Later in the film, he explains that 3:00 AM is the "devil's hour", which evil spirits use to mock the Holy Trinity. Significantly, it is the opposite of 3:00 PM, traditionally taken to be the hour at which Jesus died.

Observing the strength of the prosecution's medical case, Bruner decides to show evidence that Emily may have actually been possessed. She calls in Dr. Sadira Adani, a professor of anthropology and psychiatry, to testify about various cultures' religious and spiritual beliefs regarding spiritual possession. Adani quotes Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality as means to understand the subject, and suggests that Emily was hypersensitive, thus making her an easy mark for possession. Thomas objects, and dismisses the testimony as pseudoscience.

Dr. Cartwright, a medical doctor present during the exorcism, reluctantly reveals an audio recording made during the rite. Moore is called to the stand to testify. As the recording is played, the film flashes back to the exorcism. It is performed in the home on Halloween night, because Moore believes "All Saints' Eve might be easier to draw out the demons on that night". Emily breaks her bonds and jumps out a window, running into a barn. They follow her into the barn, where they encounter unnatural gusts of wind and demonic screams. As the exorcism resumes, the demon inside Emily refuses to name itself, but finally reveals that six demons reside dwell Emily, not one. Compelled to identify themselves, they speak their names dramatically as the demons who possessed Cain, Nero and Judas Iscariot, as well as the demons Legion, Belial and Lucifer himself. Each manifests himself in the appropriate corresponding native language: Hebrew ("I am the one who dwelt within Cain"), Latin ("I am the one who inhabited Nero"), Ancient Greek ("I dwelt before within Judas"), German ("And I was with Legion") and Aramaic ("I am Belial") consecutively, finishing in English with "And I am Lucifer, the devil in the flesh".

Dr. Cartwright does not appear in court when scheduled to testify. Bruner finds him standing outside the back of the courthouse, where he apologizes for backing out of testifying. He then starts to flee, but is hit and killed by a car.

With their key eyewitness and expert now dead, Bruner calls Moore back to the stand. He reads a letter that Emily wrote before she died, in which Emily describes another vision, which she'd had the morning after the exorcism. In the vision, she walks outside and experiences a Marian apparition, which tells her that although the demons will not leave her, she can choose to leave her body and end her suffering. However, the apparition says, if Emily returns to her body, she will help prove to the world that God and the devil are real. Emily chooses to return, concluding the letter by saying: "People say that God is dead. But how can they think that if I show them the devil?". She then receives stigmata, which Moore believes is a sign of God's love for her. Thomas counters that she could have incurred the wounds by self-injury.

Father Moore is ultimately found guilty; however, on a recommendation from the jury, the judge agrees to a sentence of time served. Bruner is offered a partnership at her firm, which had originally opposed her defense, but she refuses and resigns. She goes with Moore to Emily's grave, where he has put a quote (which Emily recited to him the night before she died) from the second chapter, twelfth verse of the Epistle to the Philippians on her grave: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".



The screenplay was written by director Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman; in honor of the contributions of Boardman and other collaborators on the film, Derrickson chose to forgo the traditional "film by" credit. According to Derrickson's DVD commentary, he chose Boardman as his co-writer because Derrickson sees himself as a believer and Boardman as a skeptic, and believed the pairing would provide the screenplay with two different perspectives, thus providing the film some ambiguity as to whether it supports a religious/supernatural interpretation of the events depicted, or a more secular/medical interpretation.

The character of Emily Rose was inspired by the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German Catholic woman who died in 1976 after unsuccessful attempts to perform an exorcism upon her with psychotropic drugs. The court accepted the version according to which she was epileptic, refusing to accept the idea of supernatural involvement in this case. Two priests involved in the exorcism, as well as her parents, were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and received prison time (which was suspended), generating controversy. Michel's grave has become a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics who believe she atoned for wayward priests and sinful youth, and honor her as an unofficial saint.

German director Hans-Christian Schmid launched his own treatment of Anneliese Michel's story, Requiem, around the same time in late 2006.


As of April 2012, The Exorcism of Emily Rose had made $144,216,468 worldwide. In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association listed the film in their Top 100 Scariest Films Ever Made at #86. Jennifer Carpenter, whose "demonic" bodily contortions were often achieved without the aid of visual effects, won "Best Frightened Performance" at the MTV Movie Awards in 2006; however, according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, critical reception to the film was overall mixed. As emphasized by Roger Ebert, who described The Exorcism of Emily Rose as "intriguing and perplexing", the film "asks a secular institution, the court, to decide a question that hinges on matters the court cannot have an opinion on". Ebert noted that "the screenplay is intelligent and open to occasional refreshing wit". Paul Arendt from BBC outlined that "the flashback story... is high-octane schlock that occasionally works your nerves, thanks to a committed performance from Jennifer Carpenter".

The general consensus between 150 critics was that "[the film] mixes compelling courtroom drama with generally gore-free scares in a ho-hum take on demonic cinema." It holds a 44% 'rotten' approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 150 reviews. On Metacritic it has an overall score of 46 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.

See also

  • Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers
  • Requiem
  • Possessed
  • Exorcism of Roland Doe
  • Anneliese Michel

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