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What Happened to Emily? The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Reviewed by John Zmirak
'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' is a well-crafted, creepy film that explores profound questions about the nature of God. Does He exist? Do you really want to know?

Cardinal Angelo Scola on Satanic rites in the Church's judgement
“…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" (CCC, n. 1673).”

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Interview with an Exorcist: Fr. James Lebar talks about ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’

The recent box office success of ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ got people talking about the existence—or not—of the demonic. We spoke to Fr. James Lebar, exorcist for the archdiocese of New York, about the thorny theological issues raised by the movie, and where the line between fact and fiction really lies.

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" movie poster

Editor's Note: This interview discusses key details of scenes crucial to the plot of 'Emily Rose,' which may spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet.

GODSPY: Fr. Lebar, did you find the movie convincing?

Fr. James Lebar: Yes, I would say so. I thought the movie was good; it presented things fairly. I didn't see anything in the movie that didn't belong there.

How do you think it compared to The Exorcist?

That was an entirely different situation. This move didn't show all the grim and gory details ... it did show the attacks by the devil, but I think this was a more cerebral movie in that it was trying to find out how the girl died, and whether the priest was guilty of negligence.

The devil doesn't just test people who want to be tested.
I'd like to ask you about some key points in the movie—for instance, the question of the priest's possible negligence hinged on the fact that he took Emily off her medication for "psychotic epilepsy." Was that realistic? Would an exorcist ever do that?

I certainly wouldn't delve into an area I didn't know anything about. I wouldn't do something like that without consulting a psychiatrist.

One of the most commented on and controversial aspects of the movie was that Emily seemed to be a pious girl who hadn't done anything to open herself up to demonic attack. No dabbling in the Occult, no playing with Ouija boards. Can demonic possession happen without some sort of consent on the part of the person, can it happen against her free will?

Oh sure. The devil doesn't just test people who want to be tested. He wants to test everybody, especially people who aren't asking to be tempted.

In what ways does possession happen?

It can happen in one of two ways. A person can open the door to evil through crime, sin, unholy practices, or hatred of God. There are people who never participate in a satanic cult who make a pact with the devil, who give themselves over to evil.

The other way is when the devil wants someone for a specific purpose, and he initiates the possession to induce fear or despair in the person, or for some other reason we don't know about. These people don't realize what's happening, and are caught up in the whole thing without warning.

Another interesting twist in the movie was that the medication was blamed for blocking Emily's free will during the ritual, which is why the exorcism didn't work. Is that accurate?

Not being a psychiatrist, I don't know; On a certain level the free will of the individual is working no matter what. And within an exorcism itself, the devil does so many different things, that because of the stress and strain it would be hard to determine what the subject was really willing...

The movies implies that the possessed person has to consent to the exorcism.

When a person does their best to conform to the will of God they can put up with a lot...
More than likely the person needing an exorcism would not agree to one. They're so wound up by the devil that he overpowers their mind. That's why we have legal guardians to make decisions when the person can't. So if the person is so wound up because of the presence of the devil another person can say this is what's needed.

What about the emphasis, during the exorcism in the movie, on finding out the demon's names. What's that about?

In Old Testament times it was always thought that if you knew the name of your adversary you had more control over them, so that it was always thought that it was important to know the names of the demons...

The climax of the movie is the scene where Emily has a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gives her the choice whether to continue her possession. She chooses to stay possessed, which eventually kills her. She martyrs herself as a witness to the reality of Satan. Is there a theological basis for this? Many have asked, "Why would God allow a pious young girl to suffer so much?"

To strengthen her spirituality. To strengthen her love of God. Look at someone like St. Maximillian Kolbe. The Nazis threw him in a concentration camp against his will, but while he was there a situation presented itself where he freely chose to plunge deeper into that horror, to suffer and die in place of someone else. That man he replaced lived to see Kolbe canonized as a saint, someone who gave good example, who was a witness to love's triumph over evil.

So we should see this as a version of the "dark night," the absence of God experienced by saints such as St. Therese, and even Mother Teresa?

Was it a bad thing that Kolbe was sent to the camp? Of course. Did it have another purpose? It certainly did. It made him a saint. What made him a saint was not going to the concentration camp—it was conforming to God's will and doing his priestly work inside the camp, in helping people as best he could. In retrospect, what he did inspired many others to go on.

You're saying that St. Maximilian can help us understand Emily Rose's situation—both were faithful believers who were subjected to evil against their wills, and both situations ended in their freely choosing to lay down their lives for God's sake?


So to ask why God would permit Emily to die this way is just part of the larger mystery of why God permits suffering in general?

Yes. God sees the greater good.

And the idea that Emily could be a saint—which is what the priest in the movie suggests—that's far-fetched?


Look, if the devil is possessing a person, who then gets into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the devil ain't happy about it!
The director, Scott Derrickson, said that what helped him come to terms with the tragedy of Emily was that "God Himself endured thatif you believe in the Incarnation." Do you agree with that?

I guess I would say yes to that, although I might say it differently. We should also remember that when a person does their best to conform to the will of God they can put up with a lot, and it's not masochistic or self-destructive. God doesn't abandon the person who undergoes these things.

In the movie, Emily runs into a church, where she is subjected to a very physical, demonic attack. Her back arches way back, and she's in great distress. That surprised me...

I'm sure you've heard or read stories of people going into a Catholic church and having to leave because of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and other things as well. Let me give you an example.

Recently in another part of the country, a priest was working on a case where a woman who was being oppressed would meet him in a church. A point came when she didn't want to go into the church anymore—she'd try to go in, but she'd get agitated, as if there was a plexiglass shield at the entrance. So the next time the priest arranged for her to wait in the lobby while he signaled another priest to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the church. She didn't know this was happening. The priest then told her to try again, and she went in and sat down and they talked for an hour. That's an indication that the devil is involved because he doesn't want to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

In the movie I was surprised that she could be attacked right in front of the altar.

She went in the church for help. She didn't know that was going to happen to her.

Wouldn't she have been protected there?

Look, if the devil is possessing a person, who then gets into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, he ain't happy about it. That would account for that reaction.

God doesn’t abandon the person who undergoes these things.
A lot would depend on whether Emily at that point was oppressed or possessed. An oppressed person can go to mass sometimes, other times can't. Because of that, very often they'll fool the exorcist, if you're only depending on that sign.

From the movie, I don't know whether Emily was a normal everyday person, whether she did something bad and got possessed, whether the devil went after her because she was good ... a lot of things follow from the answers to those questions. She knew enough to go into a church when she was attacked. The attacks before then could have been oppressions, not possessions. But at one point the devil possessed her so when she went into the church he had an adverse reaction of the worst kind.

So we shouldn't view it as "the demons are getting their way even in a church," but that they're having an adverse reaction to the Blessed Sacrament...

Yes. The devil doesn't want her there at all. He'd want to get her out of there.

What do you think about the media attention that movies like Emily Rose bring to the subject of demonic possession? Isn't there a danger that it will lead people to see demons where none exist?

One of the reasons I'm willing to do interviews like this is so that this phenomenon comes to the attention of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, and they will be informed that a: The devil exists, b: He tries to trouble people, and c: If he troubles people so much that he possesses them, they can be helped through exorcism.

The movie suggests that the reason for Emily Rose's martyrdom was to demonstrate to the world that the devil exists. You could say that, like the crucifixion, an apparent victory for Satan was turned to defeat. Does evidence of real demons lead people to believe in God?

Yes. I've heard of many cases where people who didn't have any strong belief in God, who became possessed or oppressed themselves, or knew someone who came into that condition, from that came belief in the true God.

October 3, 2005

ANGELO MATERA is editor-in-chief and publisher of Godspy.

©2005, Godspy. All rights reserved.

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04.02.06   theplant says:
In the film my favourite sketch was in the court room when the woman defending the priest shared a smile with the spiritual woman. There are people like her all over the world, she might not have been a Christian but the way she was portrayed she defiantly had much love in her heart. If there is a truth out there, are we developed enough in ourselves to understand it let alone accept it.. the learning we gain through life from birth to school onwards, all the knowledge we think we have, all we think we know what is it without true love for ourselves and others, most of us have heard a smile costs nothing, neither does true love accept for what we think we know, may we all find it for ourselves and others all over the world. I once asked some one who goes to a catholic church who I consider to have much love and a smile with a kind of light in his eyes that gives a sense of peace, what do you think of the new German pope, how come if he is to be considered a holy man by the masses he looks a bit grey (I don’t mean his hair) and does not look like (thru my eyes) like he has found peace and love and may be not god. I was comparing him to the Buddhist Dalai Lama who appears to me to be a lot more at peace. He just said to me a Holy Man is a Holy man and smiled I smiled back.All I think I know is we are manipulated in ways that at times and for most beyond our immediate comprehension, HOLLYWOOD have got and achieved what they wanted and maybe so has the CHURCH…. YOU ALL TAKE CARE and May we all find love and peace for ourselves each other all living entities including the world.Thank you. I really enjoyed the film.

03.08.06   The_Lunic_Tide says:
I read this interview based on the true story of Emily Rose. I just watched the movie for the first time today and even in broad daylight, this movie gave me the creeps. I have a deep faith in God, I believe in the higher power and I am aware that without the Good, there cannot be the evil.I have always been a lover of horror movies, especially ones that are based on true events. But this movie hit me on a level I have never felt. As the movie progressed, especially in the part of the movie where the cassette tape is being played for the court, I thought of the one thing that everyone who has seen the movie has thought. What REALLY did happen to Emily Rose? (I am speaking freely when I state this.) a Father of the Cross is being accused in the murder of Emily Rose? How does that make sense? In the world we live in, everyone is superficial about what they do not understand, and without a rational explanation, all people can do is dig in their medical books, find something that remotely relates to the events that occured and then, problem solved. Case closed. But the truth is, their failure to hear out or even try to understand the power behind the story, the breaking-the-case evidence that was PLAYED for them, just goes to show that these professionals, in their careers, have failed themselves. You can watch any medical show on TV, and you are guarenteed to hear at least one story about someone who had a freak accident, like, super I-should-be-dead freak accident, and lived to tell about it.Then they go on to tell you about what happened, always ending with "I owe my life to the doctors who saved me." Everyday, we deal with events that we don't expect, or can't explain. The life of Christ is as strong as the world makes it. He is very much alive, and he grows on the praise and the love of his children. But, we cannot see him. Like the wind, all we can do is feel him. We know he is there. So where does the line between faith and salvation meet with the unknown and the unexplained? Emily Rose. Doctors testified that the cause of death was malnutrition. A common disorder. The Father testified it was a demonic plague. So who do we believe? Both are professionals in their fields. Both have studied the aspects of everything they would expect in their line of work. So, then which is more rational? Most would agree that the doctors testimony was the more rational, because it was based on physical evidence. I put my faith in the father. Only because his testimony was based on spirituality, and the battles we must overcome with ourselves. Aside from the lack of physical evidence, we all know that Emily Rose was posessed. People do not want to believe that it is possible, People who took the time to work up a medical case did not want to think that the answer did not lie in any book, but inside. We can't accept what we can't see. We need an explantion for everything that is remotely ominus, we can't take the time to look around and see that this is real. Millions of people have devoted their lives to the Lord. The live through him, the pray to him. He is their light and salvation. No proof needed. Those people don't need to physically be in the Lords presence. Because inside, they are pure to heart. They know he exisits. They know he always has. So what does that medical testimony say to everyone? That the Lord is merely a story, something people can relate to, and praise. Because we need something above us to look after us and draw us from evil. Yet We feel pain, we pray, we feel better. THAT is the physical evidence that was there all along. The Lord is great and powerful.Look in the eyes of anyone who has believed. And you will see. You will see what no one can explain. The reality and the power behind ones faith.

10.11.05   Charles says:
I just read this interview and thought it was great! You know, when I was watching the movie, about a month ago now, I wondered how much might be actually considered authentic, and wondered what a real, live priest-exorcist were to say about it. Now I know. Thanks!I very much agree with Fr Lebar that the movie is very different from movie The Exorcist. From what Fr Lebar says, I gather this movie is more realistic at a very technical level regarding demonic possession. The thing I liked most about the movie, though, was not the occult and the demonic elements; but rather the Story. And the Story as it relates to three characters: Emily Rose; the Priest; and the Attorney.Interestingly, it's not really Emily Rose, but the Priest, who is really the pivotal character. He is the lodestone, the common ground for every key action that takes place. Now, the *focal* character is of course Emily. And she has the title role and is the person we in the audience are watching most closely in every scene in which she appears. But we find out very early on that the Story of Emily Rose would not even be known, were it not for the Priest. The Priest is, throughout the plot, absolutely committed that the Story shall be told, no matter what. The Priest is in many ways Pontifex, the Bridge, between Heaven and Earth, between God and Man, between Hell and Man, too. Yet the Priest in himself is by far the least "important" of the characters. This seems very true to the Role, the Vocation of the Priest.Back about the Story. What is for me most edifying is that as the Story unfolds, it's not the *singular* elements that really strike me; but the commonplace and ordinary duty to do what is right no matter how extraordinary the circumstances. After all, here is Emily Rose, a young lady who had a very different life before her: or so she (and her family) thought. Here is a Priest who had a very different life as well. Here is an Attorney with a different life she was pursuing. Before the Possession of Emily Rose engulfed all three, they were leading what might be considered very ordinary lives. If History had unfolded as it had seemed to be unfolding before the Possession ... then all three would have been following Stories that would be quite separate and far more seemingly mundane.But then the Possession occurred. And everyone's life changed: forever. How did the three react? To having their lives torn asunder and an unsought responsibility being heaved into their collective laps? Well, they reacted on the whole the same way that the Blessed Virgin Mary reacted to suddenly finding her life Changed by an outpouring of the Beyond. Fiat: Be it done to me according to thy will, O God.Now each of the three characters ... Emily, the Priest, and the Attorney ... each really could have reacted differently; and could have, exercising their free will, declined the Cross that each was being presented. But they didn't. They too said "Fiat." They too accepted the Cross that they were given, not the Cross that they weren't given. And proceeded to do what we are all Called by God to do: Pick up our Cross and Follow Christ.Mary's presence in helping Emily to accept her Chalice was so moving. For the two other main characters, the Priest and the Attorney, each further from the immediate mystical and demonic experiences of Emily, the Call ... and the Help offered by God to strengthen each of them for their Pilgrimage ... were less obvious but neither were they any less real.Somewhere it is said of Our Lord Jesus Christ that "he ate what was set before Him." So did Emily, the Priest, and the Attorney. The meal was, perhaps, not the first choice for any of them. But the meal was accepted and eaten all the same. In this sense, the combination of the supernatural and the mundane in this film could be seen as Eucharistic. God is here: but it is not exactly obvious.I really liked this movie and would recommend it to anyone. God bless all!Charles Delacroix

10.08.05   TonyC says:
I saw the trailer for this movie followed by an audio recording of Emily Rose's demonic utterances, on TV. It was blood-chilling. I do believe that a movie like this can help shake the religiously apathetic out of their drifting slumber and awaken them to the reality of good and evil in the world. Perhaps one day people will wake up and recognize the demonic in the evil of our times: in pornography, the drug trade, in the brutality of needless and sustained wars, in the arms trade that feeds them, and in economic practices that keep entire nations in subhuman misery and conflict so that small groups of ruthless people can amass unimagineable wealth. All of this is part of the same demonic continuum.

10.07.05   Susanna says:
Hi Fr. Lebar, Although I have not yet seen the Exorcist of Emily Rose movie I have heard of an extraordinary event that took place as a result of two young adults (non-practicing Catholics) who viewed the film. I know of one of these young people personally and have had many theological discussions with him since he dated my daughter for 2 years and then suddenly broke it off(thanks be to God). It was evident in my conversations with him that he was searching for God and I would try to answer his questions and explain our Catholic faith to him under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is a troubled young man so I continued to pray for him even after he left the relationship with my daughter. Well, here's the story....we have 24 hour Adoration of the Eucharist in our parish, started last year in honor of the Eucharistic Year. I am go to Adoration during the 24 hr. schedule but at another hour late at night a close friend of mine was leaving Adoration when he was surprised to see these two young adults sitting on the steps of the church, incidently, this man was also employed at the same business as the young man. The couple explained to my friend that they had just seen the film on Emily Rose and they were very moved by it and felt compelled to come to the church and pray but they couldn't get in since it is locked at night (open only by combination lock for Adoration). My friend had just been praying to the Lord for guidance asking to know what God would desire of him so he felt moved to let the couple into the church to pray. They gladly went in (other adorers were still in the church) and sat and prayed! This young man had filled his life with every horror story known to the movie industry before this film, I know this because he coerced my daughter to watch these horrible films many times. I used to tell him that the devil was real and that the Catholic Church warns us to be awake and aware when it comes to the devils antics and temptations. I honestly feel that this movie actually helped him to see this reality of the evil one's "true" presence in the world, something all the horror movies in the media couldn't realize in him. It's very moving that the first thing he wanted to do was to get close to the real. true presence of Our Lord in the Blessed the Sacrament! I do agree with you that God will and can use this movie to do a "great good" in the hearts and minds of those who do not believe in the devil and the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Please continue to pray for this young man, as I will too will do and I will keep you posted on his journey home to the Catholic Faith! Blessings in Jesus & Mary on this Holy Feast of Mary's Rosary, Susanna

10.06.05   Godspy says:
The recent box office success of ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ got people talking about the existence—or not—of the demonic. We spoke to Fr. James Lebar, exorcist for the archdiocese of New York, about the thorny theological issues raised by the movie, and where the line between fact and fiction really lies.

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