Thursday, May 17, 2012

Raimi's Ghosthouse Offers Jewish Exorcism Flick

It's a cultural curiousity that, despite the much-ballyhooed presence of Jewish voices in American cinema; you don't actually see many mainstream movies mining the religious arcana of Judaism the way Catholicism or even Paganism are used by, for example, supernatural films. In fact, most non-Jewish U.S. audience probably couldn't tell you much about the actual faith beyond kosher diets and a lack of Jesus.
You can probably chalk most of this up to history - many Jewish-American families descend from immigrants who escaped persecution in Europe and elsewhere, and "blending in" to a mainstream culture by downplaying the more pronounced differences between their own culture and Christianity was likely an old survival-habit that died hard.

In any case, what this means is that even though there are traditions of dealing with supernatural forces and even exorcism that are unique to Judaism; they're rarely used as movie-fodder like the by-now humdrum Christian variety is. "The Possession" (formerly "The Dybbuk Box",) is a pickup by Sam Raimi's Ghosthouse production label that aims to change this with the story of a young girl whose parents seek out a Rabbinical exorcist to rid her of a possessing demon called a Dybbuk:


Joshua the Anarchist said...

Dybbuk. Pretty sure they named a DC superhero that at some point. One of those overtly-stereotyped foreign superheroes they like to create whenever it's pointed out that 80% of mainstream superheroes are white American males.

Speaking of Sam Raimi, whatever happened to that new adaptation of the The Shadow he was supposed to be producing? Haven't heard word one from it since 2010. Is it just dead in the water? Because that excited me a hell of a lot more than this Oz thing of his did. The only thing the man could possibly do to hype me up more than that would be to announce Darkman IV. Or a Darkman animated series. Or a new Darkman comic. SOMETHING. Darkman needs to live on in some form.

Joe said...

Well, the Gary Oldman film "The Unborn" from a few years back dealt with almost an identical premise.

I find almost every exorcism film from the Christian perspective to be fundamentally stupid. Even if I assume the basic premise as stated: there is an all-powerful and all-knowing God, there is Satan the Adversary, and servants of the latter sometimes possess human beings to spread wickedness. At this point, almost every exorcism film is the same:

A demon possesses some young, attractive, middle-class white American girl. Such a person is not very powerful or influential in society and any wickedness she could spread would be quite limited and petty. But that doesn't matter, since possession reduces her to a half-catatonic, half-gibbering idiot who thrashes about on her bed, makes her parents cry, but otherwise does nothing to spread wickedness to the world at large, except maybe deny her college that semester's tuition. Your average corrupt city bureaucrat or heartless corporate lawyer probably does Satan's work more effectively than a demon-possessed debutante. Why don't demons ever possess heads of state or military commanders? Don't tell me they're not vulnerable to temptation.

Then there's some young, handsome priest who is struggling with his faith. This makes him unable to perform a successful exorcism--which is not how God's power works according to Catholic doctrine, but apparently priests in an exorcism movie are actually D&D clerics who changed alignment and lost their spellcasting ability. Then, in the nick of time he regains his faith in the face of CGI-rendered demon powers (nice going, Satan!) and exorcises the girl. Aside from jump scares, The Exorcist wasn't actually a good movie; you don't really accomplish anything by making a crappier version of it.

At least a dybbuk is more like a revenant that possess people to achieve a personal goal. That's far less stupid.

Polemarch said...

The Exorcism movie has rather strict limitations on what it can do. The Exorcist basically laid out the formula. Exorcist 3 was saved by George C. Scott and Brad Dourif. The Exorcism of Emily Rose had the lovely and talented Jennifer Carpenter (damn you Dexter for marrying her) and came before the recient glut of Exorcism movies. The Last Exorcism basically took the worst bits of the found footage and exorcism movies so only the last 10 minutes is worth a damn. At this point switching up the cultural context can make the Exorcist film interesting so bring on the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist takes.

Elessar said...

Wasn't Dybbuk the name of the spirit that came in the house at the beginning of A Serious Man? Or am I misremembering?

Bolongo said...

"Your average corrupt city bureaucrat or heartless corporate lawyer probably does Satan's work more effectively than a demon-possessed debutante. Why don't demons ever possess heads of state or military commanders?"

They do. But those are the smart, competent, demons, and they don't get caught. The possessions that movies are made about are really the work of the under-achievers of hell.

Anonymous said...

"Strange, that movies about Satan always require Catholics. You never see your Presbyterians or Episcopalians hurling down demons."

-- Roger Ebert, Constantine Review

Anonymous said...

@Elessar: No, you're not misremembering. The back-from-the-dead relative (IIRC) in the prologue was directly acknowledged as a Dybbuk. Incidentally, he was played by actor Fivush Finkel, probably most well known to mainstream audiences for his roles on "Boston Public" and "Picket Fences."

Anonymous said...

Is that Matisyahu at 1:20!? No, I'm not kidding.

Anonymous said...

*Around 1:20-1:30 more accurately, sorry.

Jake said...

Ex Opere Operato refers to the Sacraments (Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick) not to sacramental, which I assume is what an Exorcism would be classified as.