The Exorcism of Emily Rose

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Most of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a 2005 movie, takes place in a courtroom where a priest is being tried for the negligent homicide of Emily Rose. The details of Emily Rose’s affliction, supposed possession and eventual death are told in flashbacks during the trial. We learn of her happy, God-fearing family life and time as a student, as well as the signs of demonic possession seen for many years and of her eventual death from starvation and malnutrition as a result of undergoing so many exorcisms rituals. The prosecution make the case that Emily Rose’s psychological illness and epilepsy were misdiagnosed as demonic possession.

During the trial, the lawyer representing the priest begins to encounter strange events in her own life, with strange noises in her apartment and being woken at the same time in the middle of the night.

Even without the horror aspect, the premise of how the law can make a judgement on religious and supernatural matters is an interesting one.

Anneliese Michel: The Real Emily Rose

The character and story of Emily Rose are based on Anneliese Michel. She was born in Bavaria, West Germany, in 1952 and at the age of 16 began to experience fits and convulsions and was diagnosed as having epilepsy. She was also seen as suffering from depression and a psychiatric illness and subsequently was treated in a psychiatric hospital.

There are reports that Anneliese was taken on a holy pilgrimage but was unable to look upon holy objects or walk past holy statues. When she received no relief from her medical treatment and in addition to what was seen of her behaviour on the pilgrimage, her devoutly Catholic parents consulted the local priests. She then underwent exorcism rituals. When she died, the cause of death was reported as malnutrition, starvation and dehydration. The priests were tried and found guilty but were not given any jail time, just a fine. During the trial, taped recordings of the exorcism were played for the court to hear, very similar to the way the tapes are played in the movie version.

I am not a religious person, so I am not in any position to understand how something like this happens. I find it startling that a young woman can lose her life over this and a part of me wonders how religion can be used to replace real medical care and even the simple basics like nutrition. I do come from a very religious family, and exorcism is something many have not only grown up believing in, but also witnessing themselves. I have also suffered with a severe chronic illness since 2001. While many did try to make religious connections and offer non-medical related solutions, I was not convinced and chose to ignore their ‘advice’. That is where Anneliese and I differ; she wholeheartedly believed in the religious diagnosis and solutions offered her, and that for me is the saddest part of all.

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