The Exorcist: CIA Script?
One of the most widely-advertised and popular, but least-understood films to reach the mass audiences in several years is The Exorcist, based on a novel by William Blatty. Some background on the author and his techniques in the book and film tend to explain the effect of Blatty's work on a mass audience.
After graduating from Georgetown University (where the campus scenes in the movie were shot), Blatty worked for the Central Intelligence Agency in Lebanon in the 1950's, under U.S. Information Agency cover. Later, he returned to Washington to become Policy Branch Chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of the U.S. Air Force. As such, his job involved the military's promotion of popular anti-communist sentiment around McCarthyism at home and Cold War foreign policy abroad.
An example of the work carried out by psychological warfare in U.S. foreign policy is the orchestrated exodus of Catholics from North to South Vietnam in the mid-fifties. In collaboration with Dr. Tom Dooley (whom Blatty quotes in his book) and others, an extensive campaign was carried out by the Catholic Relief Service, local Catholic leaders and an American psychological warfare team combined to drive peasants south of the DMZ by telling them "the Virgin Mary has departed from the north" and "Christ has gone to the south." Amateur as this appears now, "The mass flight was admittedly the result of an extensive, well-conducted, and in terms of its objective, very successful American psychological warfare operation." (from The Indochina Story, Bantam, 1970.)
In this post-'60's era, when a majority of youth on and off campus display a frustration with or an abandonment of traditional political "protest" activities, movie-going has enjoyed a sharp rise. This atmosphere has created a mass audience, one without specific political or spiritual direction and ripe for the suggestions which The Exorcist carries
The techniques used by Blatty in his Exorcist were well-honed by years of practice in the government business. While in the fifties crude psychological warfare could be foisted on naive groups, Mr. Blatty's sophisticated talents have several messages in the mid-'70's.
*Social conscience and faith in our own identity is eclipsed by the threat of infestation by demonic forces (the devil). Or, to quote Father Merrin in his central role as the priest-exorciser, "...I think the demon's target is not the possessed; it is us.. the observers...every person in this house. And I think the point is to make us despair, to reject our own humanity...to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly unworthy. And there lies the heart of it, perhaps: in worthlessness. For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all: I think it finally is a matter of love; of accepting the possibility that God could love us..."
*Political activism is attacked by one of the main characters, Chris MacNeil, who condemns a campus demonstration by saying, "It's dumb! This scene is absolutely dumb! Her mind, though untutored, never mistook slogans for truth... And so the rebel cause, to her, was 'dumb.' It didn't make sense. How come? she wondered. Generation gap? That's a crock; I'm thirty-two. It's just plain dumb. that's all...!"
It is Blatty's message, then, that spiritual fixation and religious orthodoxy are, in the final analysis, at the service of political reaction. For religion, activated as a mass response to an externally conceived threat, can be a powerful ideological cement to keep the masses spellbound in a time of profound social crisis. For Blatty, the lessons of the 1955 Vietnam campaign have not been forgotten. Only the place and time have changed. - (From Counterspy, the Journal of the Organizing Committee For a Fifth Estate)