Pazuzu or PTSD?

William Peter Blatty’s novel may be a thesis on the legitimacy of exorcism. William Friedkin’s timeless screen adaptation appears to dig deeper. Priests and pea-green vomit are at the center of an epic struggle between good and evil, but is that all there is? Friedkin’s film appears to address a mightier elephant in the room: sexual abuse and the BSOD (blue screen of death) trope that ensues. Little Reagan presents herself as a sweet and innocent girl, upon whom her mother dotes. The doting comes with a grain of salt, however: How involved is Chris in her daughter’s life? Is she willingly allowing certain things to affect the child, either out of fear or of sheer complacency? The real culprit is none other than Burke Dennings.  Chris’ associate and friend clearly has bigger plans: His intentions are to sink his claws into the McNeil household and his manhood into Chris…. The most frightening implication is that Dennings actually has eyes (and libido) for Reagan. The ouija board, with which she played, is only a tangible hate sink, onto which the audience can project their rationalizations for the erratic occurrences around the house. The deadpan (pun intended) warning of “you’re gonna die up there”, which Reagan delivers at the dinner party before relieving herself on the carpet, is nothing more than a child’s unfiltered response to the guests’ conversing about a flight they were planning to take. Naturally, the guests are unaware of the girl’s physical ailments and assume that she is delirious (possessed, as it were). The possession that the audience witnesses on-screen is a manifestation of Dennings’ nefarious actions towards Reagan. When the stricken girl screams, “Mother, make it stop!”, she is imploring Chris to stop making excuses for Dennings and keeping him around. She wants to make her mother aware of the sexual abuse he had inflicted. How else would a little girl consciously spew profanity and subject her own mother to unspeakable acts? Friedkin is showing the audience the visceral internal turmoil that a victim of rape, pedophilia, and physical abuse endures. Nobody is willing to accept the possibility that such a sweet, upstanding guy like Dennings could possibly want to violate a little girl. The claims get mistaken for childish musings and chalked up to demons. In reality, Chris was the one manipulated by Dennings; he presumably showered the  woman with money and gifts for the purpose of keeping her quiet about what he did to Reagan.