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Reel Books: The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins

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The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, The Wolfman) was released in theatres late last month and was #1 at the box office on its opening weekend. It has since received mixed reviews but did you know that this film is actually based on a book written by Matt Baglio in 2009?

The name of the book is The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist and it tells the true story of a California priest and his astonishingly scary experiences in 2005 while studying exorcisms in Rome.

The Book vs. The Movie

The Main Character

In the film, Michael Kovak is extremely skeptical when it comes to religion despite being a seminary student.

In the book, the main character is not a cute young skeptic trying to figure out whether he wants to become a priest or not. Instead, he is a calm and caring middle-aged man named Father Gary Thomas, who is devoted to the church and who knew from the time he was little that he wanted to be a priest.

So, you want to be an exorcist?

In the film, Michael is approached by a clergyman who feels that becoming a priest is his calling. He is told by the clergyman that if he does indeed go to Rome to study exorcisms and comes back still not wanting to join the priesthood, he'll be free to go.

In the book, Father Gary is asked by a fellow priest if he could step in for him (since he doesn't have the time) and study exorcisms in Rome after the Vatican sent a letter to every diocese asking that each of them appoint an exorcist.

Female counterpart

In the film Michael meets a pretty young woman named Angelina who is a reporter. Over time she tries to get information out of Michael but he doesn't give in until he faces a dark and difficult situation in which he turns to her as a confidante.

In the book the only female role that you see continuously throughout the Father's trip to Rome is a possessed nun named Janica... Not even close. Like other movies mentioned in 'Reel Books,' the presence of women usually helps to bring a soft touch of feminity and romance in what would otherwise be a very rough and tough environment.

Comparing the film and the book only scratches the surface. Please allow me to start off by saying that The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist is truly one of the most enlightening and creepy books I've ever read.

Enlightening

This book is actually several different books in one. You have the story of Father Gary, where he came from, his family, his passion for religion, his experience working for funeral parlors, his brush with death and most importantly his long journey in trying to become an exorcist. But then there are parts of the book that sound as if they come right out of a psychology, theology or criminology textbook, plus there is the Bible itself which is quoted throughout. The reader is constantly bouncing around from a first hand account to facts and opinions which have very little to do with Father Gary and everything to do with the big picture he ends up being a part of: a literal battle of good against evil. As readers, we are given a chance to become involved because it us up to us to make what we will of all of the information presented. If you initially were a believer of demonic possession you are given a chance to challenge your thoughts and the same goes if you are not a believer—that is the beauty of The Rite. It makes you think and it makes you ask questions about yourself and your personal beliefs.

Controversy & Misconceptions

The Rite brings light to several very sensitive issues...

One of these topics is the church's attitude toward exorcism. Many people may think that the church is open about exorcism but the fact of the matter is according to the book, exorcism has long been a taboo. Because of the scandals, satanic cults, and gruesome murders (some of which are described) associated with demonic possession, the idea of exorcisms has been shunned in a sense. The book does explain that although negative events have occured in the name of "exorcism" or in an attempt to "handle" demonic forces, several cases were simply people who did horrific things and used religion as an excuse for their actions.

Another thing that has left some people including those of the "cloth" brushing off the idea of exorcisms and demonic entities is the primitiveness of the idea. Some people may feel this is 2011, how can one possibly believe that the devil and his associates can overtake a person's body or a house. Right? Well, with science making and breaking theories more now than ever before, many people may feel that perhaps it is something psychological that would cause a person to act "possessed." This is where it is up to the reader to decide whether the first hand accounts mentioned in the book including contortionism, fluently speaking a foreign language, throwing up objects that turn into a tar-like substance are true, not true, or have some scientific explanation.The Rite does make it clear that exorcists are not quick to dismiss psychological disorders but rather, they require psychological analysis before they exorcize an individual. They acknowledge the dangers in ignoring or not separating a possessed person from one who truly needs psychiatric assistance. Thus, the church seems to embrace science. On the other hand, science has also embrace the methods of exorcist and sometime uses them to help individuals with Tourette's, bipolar disorder, and disassociative identity disorder.

This book is seriously too crazy to believe! In a good way.

There is also the issue of exorcism films and real-life exorcisms that we as a society have witnessed. Watching certain Hollywood films about exorcisms and demons has imbedded certain notions into the minds of many people. Unfortunately those who perform real exorcisms or have had to deal with a demonic presence may find themselves dealing with impatient victims who have either watched similar movies or have been fed inaccurate information based on commercialism or being mocked by non-believers. I will say that The Rite gives several extremely graphic examples of possessions and in turn is entertaining and amazingly surreal to the point where you can't believe these are real stories. It also helps to better understand where they get some of the ideas for those "shocking" moments in movies like Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 or even shows like Ghost Hunters.

Final Thoughts

This book is a great read. It's like having several good books in one and if you're into thrillers, psychology, theology, criminology or philosophy, you'll love it. Not to mention Father Gary is a charming character who grows on you and Matt Baglio is a superb writer who indulges us with great detail and a wonderful sense of passion. If you were to tell a group of people to read this and then discuss it, it would probably turn into a heated discussion that could go on forever and a book that can do that is a powerful book. Not to mention, I now have an urge to travel to Rome as a result of the author writing so beautifully about this amazing city.

Tips for reading

You probably shouldn't read this before, during, or after you eat. Some of the descriptions you read may in fact gross you out.

Don't use the book to overanalyze personal situations or diagnose people you know.

If you've seen the movie The Rite, have read the book or want to make any comment in regards to this subject please feel free to tell us what's on your mind.

You may also enjoy:

Films
The Last Exorcism (2010)
In The Grip Of Evil: An In-Depth Look at Exorcism and the Terrifyingly True Story Behind the Film The Exorcist! (1997)
The Exorcist (1973)

Books
Glimpses Of The Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts Of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption by M. Scott Peck
Hostage To The Devil: The Possession And Exorcism Of Five Living Americans by Malachi Martin

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