The Exorcist ending explained – 7 questions we need answered

With Halloween fast approaching it’s time to dig out a horror classic – and what better movie to watch this All Hallow’s Eve than The Exorcist? It’s got everything, demons, priests, projectile vomiting… you know what else it has? A whole load of unanswered questions! Yes, that’s right, no one ever talks about how the classics have just as many plot holes, unconfirmed events, and inexplicable deaths as modern-day movies and here at GR+ we like answers – or at least, good guesses – which is why I’m running down the list of questions (with major spoilers) I still have after watching The Exorcist. 

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1. What was the significance of the artifact Father Merrin dug up?

The beginning of The Exorcist doesn’t start in Georgetown with the MacNeil family, but on an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq. Father Merrin uncovers an artifact which looks like a small demonic figurine head and it obviously disturbs him. We then spend a good deal of time following him on his travels around Iraq until he eventually comes across a much larger statue of the same demon within some ruins. The whole thing obviously holds some significance to him, but it’s never really explained. The statue reappears later on in the movie during a scene where the possessed Regan is thrashing around on the bed and it’s widely assumed that it’s a depiction of the demon Pazuzu who is possessing her. Did digging up his artifact in Iraq unleash him? If so, then what’s so important about that specific statute when there was a massive one out in the open elsewhere this whole time?

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2. How did Regan become possessed in the first place? 

This element is sort of skimmed over in the movie, which considering it’s a film about exorcising the demon is a bit weird. How did Regan become possessed? Her behavior simply appears to slowly change over time, so much so, that, in the beginning, you could argue she was simply turning into a teenager (that is until the crucifix stabbing). There is a Ouija board and a mention of an imaginary friend – Captain Howdy – in the film but we never see it in action. Having said that, the book which the movie is based on goes into more detail and reveals that it is indeed through the Ouija board which the demon comes to possess Regan. Exorcist 2: The Heretic tried to say that Regan has psychic powers and this is how and why Pazuzu possessed her, but considering how bad that sequel is, let’s pretend it never happened. 

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3. How did Father Karras’ mum die alone when she was in a hospital?

It’s clear how Father Karras’ mum died – she was old and terminally ill – but what’s bothering me is that the movie never explains how she came to die alone in her flat. We hear the news of her death from a friend of Karras who specifically says that she sadly died alone at home and wasn’t found for a few days… While that’s pretty disturbing in it’s own right, it’s also quite confusing because the last time we saw Mama Karras she was tied down to a bed in a mental hospital surrounded by people. I think what probably happened is that Father Karras took his mother out of that hospital just like he said he would, but as the family couldn’t afford to put her into a nice care home, he had no choice but to take her back to her flat where he ultimately had to leave her to go to work. Given that all this happens off-screen it’s just a wild stab in the dark, but I can’t think of any other way to explain it so let’s go with it.

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4. Why did the demon kill Burke Dennings?

Another major event which we never see on screen is the death of Chris MacNeil’s director friend Burke Dennings. He apparently comes round to see Chris and Sharon leaves him watching over Regan while she nips out to pick up some medicine, but when she returns Dennings is dead on the street below having fallen (or been pushed?) from Regan’s bedroom window. Although it’s officially seen as a terrible accident by the authorities, Regan’s mum knows she had something to do with it and even tells Father Karras as much. But why would the demon kill him specifically and no one else? Was it just that it never really had the opportunity to kill anyone else in the household? Did it somehow convince Dennings to untie it and seized it’s opportunity for bloodshed? And if so, why didn’t it escape into the night and how did it tie itself back up? Perhaps Pazuzu was tapping into Regan’s sense of unease about Dennings who she believed might marry her mum, but that still doesn’t explain how it forced him out of the window. 

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5. How did Father Merrin die?

It’s pretty obvious that his heart gave out as he attempts to exorcise the demon from Regan, but given that we don’t see it happen, I feel like it’s worth mentioning. Father Karras simply walks in to find Merrin face down on the bed with the possessed Regan cackling in the corner – did she kill him? Probably not… at least, not directly. We know Merrin is old, the priests who recommend him say as much, and he takes (heart?) pills through the film suggesting he’s not in the best of health. It’s probably all just a bit too much for the old fella and he conked out there and then. Case closed. 

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6. Where did the demon go when Father Karras died?

It feels veeeeeeeeery convenient to me that forcing the demon into himself and then committing suicide got rid of Pazuzu. Surely the demon would have just jumped into the nearest person he could possess once he realised his host was dying – there were certainly plenty around at the time. On the other hand, I’m no possession expert and perhaps the demon has to have a living host to stay in our world and as soon as Karras died he was sent back to wherever (presumable hell?) he came from. Or… maybe he’s still out there!

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7. Why doesn’t Regan remember anything?

Shock-horror: another movie ends with the victim having no memory of the traumatising events which happened to them… do we really believe that? I guess you could argue that it was really Pazuzu the whole time who did those things, so why would Regan remember? But in the rebooted TV show – spoilers to come if you want to remain surprised – it’s revealed that she’s the mum of the possessed girl at the centre of that story and that she remembers everything from her own possession all those years ago. So, was she lying? Well, maybe… denial would certainly be more appealing than the alternative, but I think it’s more likely that the memories simply came back to her over time. And probably made for some interesting therapy sessions…

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