The Rite: From A Writer’s Perspective

It’s four months in Rome. What could go wrong? Oh, you’d be surprised.

They say reality doesn’t need to make sense but fiction does, which makes me wonder what exactly happened in the real lives of the real Frs. Michael Kovak and Lucas because I had a hard time believing (and accepting) the storyline of The Rite. I could be biased; anytime I hear a movie is based on or inspired by true events, I tend to think they’re making it up just to increase sales. I mean, did we learn nothing from The Blair Witch Project?

Not that there is anything wrong with the actual elements of The Rite–most of them seem to be there: catalyst, internal need, external goal, opposition, darkest moment–it’s just that they are all squished into the last 2o (or 30 if we’re lucky) minutes of the film.

Enter Michael Kovak: a priest-in-training with no faith. Father Superior gets the brilliant idea to send him to exorcism school in Rome cuz, ya, that will help him. Maybe lectures aren’t Michael’s thing, so his teacher sends him to a little village in Florence to witness a real live exorcism. I’m fairly gullible, but even I don’t believe Rosaria is possessed. I think Michael hits the nail on the head (pun intended) when he states she was internalizing her guilt over being raped by her father and carrying his demon seed.

(One thing I would like to know is why doesn’t this happen more often? The possession part, I mean.  The other, I’m sure, happens more often than we know, and it does seem like the work of the devil, but not all victims go around speaking in foreign tongues. I guess I want to know why Satan/Beelzebub/Baal chose to inhabit a 16 year-old Italian girl. What exactly did he get out of it? She and the baby died, so…it seems rather anticlimactic and not really worth the trouble.)

We witness a few more possessions, a few more exorcisms, some of which are hoaxes, none of which are believable enough to force Michael to believe in God and take a stand.  What exactly pushes him over the edge? Is it realizing he just talked to his already-dead father on the phone? (I think I might have reacted a bit differently than sobbing on the bed if that happened to me. Just saying.) Is it the random voices in his hotel room or el mulo with the red eyes in the courtyard? Maybe it’s hearing Fr. Lucas himself tell us he’s possessed. (Again, I have to wonder why the devil chose him. Aside from the fact that Anthony Hopkins is a brilliant actor with a bit of crazy in him.)

Regardless, we finally hit our first plot point. Michael now has a goal, we know he’s searching for his own faith, why he has none, and that he’s recruited his friend, Angelsomething, to help him out.

The screenwriter shoots off the rest of the elements in rapid fire, wasting no time because he’s already over budget. Michael performs an exorcism on Fr. Lucas, it doesn’t work, his faith is tested, Angelsomething has to convince him to get back in there–he can do it, he’s not alone. (Usually, the opposition has much greater resources and is much stronger than the protagonist; however, Michael has the power of God on his side. Seems a lot like cheating, doesn’t it?) Michael tries again, this time he gets the devil to give up his name. (Baal’s screwed now.) Oh, it worked! Story’s over.

I’m not really buying that Michael suddenly finds his faith in God either. I don’t know if it’s just bad acting or not, but I tend to think it’s because we don’t get to see him really search for it, to really want it. The majority of Act Two should be the protagonist fighting against all odds to achieve his goal. Instead, Michael pretty much complains and denies his faith throughout the whole storyline until the very end, and actions speak louder than words. One can’t go from having no faith, to realizing you have no faith, to suddenly achieving faith. You kind of have to work at finding it. (In contrast, I totally believe Anthony Hopkins is possessed. The way he smacked that girl–freaking brilliant writing.)

I’m thinking the screenwriter could have gone back for a few more rewrites, weeded out some of the inconsequential details, worked on pacing, and found more creative ways to handle the amazing amount of backstory we had to watch for the first 82 minutes of the film.

The good news, though, is that Michael doesn’t have to pay back his student loans.

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