The Exorcism of Emily Rose

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Produced by Tom Rosenberg
Gary Lucchesi
Paul Harris Boardman
Tripp Vinson
Beau Flynn
Written by Scott Derrickson
Paul Harris Boardman
Starring Laura Linney
Tom Wilkinson
Campbell Scott
Colm Feore
Jennifer Carpenter
Mary Beth Hurt
Henry Czerny
Shohreh Aghdashloo
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Tom Stern
Edited by Jeff Betancourt
Distributed by Screen Gems
Release dates
  • September 9, 2005 (2005-09-09)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19.3 million
Box office $144.2 million

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (marketed as The Exorcism of Emily Rose-Bognot in some Asian countries) is a 2005 American courtroom drama horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson. The film is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel and follows a self-proclaimed agnostic who acts as defense counsel (Linney) representing a parish priest (Wilkinson), accused by the state of negligent homicide after he performed an exorcism. The film, which largely takes place in a courtroom, depicts the events leading up to and including the exorcism through flashbacks.


Lawyer Erin Bruner defends a priest, Father Richard Moore, charged with negligent homicide for his spiritual oversight over a girl named Emily Rose, which included a failed exorcism and which supposedly led to her death. During the trial, the prosecution's primary hypothesis is that Emily could have suffered from both epilepsy and psychosis, and that she was medically neglected. Defense counsel Bruner explains that it was when both medicine and psychology had failed Emily, that her family had to seek help through the Church.

Scenes from Emily's life are shown as flashbacks as the witnesses testify. Several scenes show Emily having episodes when she felt she was being taken over by a demon, these experiences being especially intense around 3:00 AM. After these incidents, she leaves school and returns to live with her parents, none of whom believe she is suffering from any medical condition. They seek help from Father Moore, who obtains permission from the Church to perform an exorcism. But the exorcism failed.

As the trial proceeds, Bruner also begins to experience strange occurrences at 3:00 AM. Moore warns her that she may be targeted by demons for her involvement in the case. Moore later explains that 3:00 AM is the "devil's hour", which evil spirits use to mock the Holy Trinity, being the opposite of 3:00 PM, traditionally thought to be the hour at which Jesus died.

Bruner then decides to call Dr. Sadira Adani to testify, a professor of anthropology and psychiatry. Adani goes on to testify about various cultures' religious and spiritual beliefs regarding spiritual possession and quotes Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality, validating the possibility of Emily's possession. The prosecution objects, dismissing the testimony as pseudoscience.

It is also then proposed that the exorcism failed because the medical treatment prevented it from having an effect on the brain. Mysteriously, Emily refused another attempt at exorcism.

Dr. Cartwright, a medical doctor present during the exorcism, reluctantly comes forward and shows Bruner an audio recording made during the rite. Moore is called to the stand to testify. As the recording is played, the film flashes back to the exorcism. It is performed on a rainy Halloween night, because Moore believes "All Saints' Eve might be easier to draw out the demons". Emily is initially restrained, but she breaks her bonds and jumps out a window, running into a barn. They follow her there, where they encounter unnatural gusts of wind and demonic screams. As the exorcism resumes, it is ultimately revealed that there are actually six demons residing inside Emily. Compelled to identify themselves, they identify themselves as the demons who possessed Cain, Nero, and Judas Iscariot, as well as the demons Legion, Belial, and Lucifer himself, each speaking in its own native language.

When Dr. Cartwright does not appear in court when scheduled to testify, Bruner finds him standing outside the back of the courthouse, where he fearfully apologizes for backing out of testifying. As he starts to flee, he is hit and killed by a car.

With their key eyewitness and expert dead, Bruner calls Moore back to the stand. He reads a letter that Emily wrote before she died, in which Emily describes an experience she had had the morning after the exorcism. Emily is shown tremblingly walking outside and in an out of body experience, she experiences a Marian apparition, which tells her that the demons will not leave her, so she can choose to die and end her suffering, or live and be living proof of the existence of God and the devil. Emily chooses to live, and she then receives stigmata, which Moore believes is a sign of God's love for her. To this, the prosecutor argues that she could have just hurt herself in barbed wire.

Father Moore is ultimately found guilty; however, on a recommendation from the jury, the judge agrees to a sentence of time served. Bruner is offered a partnership at her firm, which had originally opposed her defense, but she refuses and resigns. She goes with Moore to Emily's grave, where he engraved a quote that Emily recited to him the night before she died: from the second chapter, twelfth verse of the Epistle to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".



The screenplay was written by director Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman; in honor of the contributions of Boardman and other collaborators on the film, Derrickson chose to forgo the traditional "film by" credit. According to Derrickson's DVD commentary, he chose Boardman as his co-writer because Derrickson sees himself as a believer and Boardman as a skeptic, and believed the pairing would provide the screenplay with two different perspectives, thus providing the film some ambiguity as to whether it supports a religious/supernatural interpretation of the events depicted, or a more secular/medical interpretation.

The character of Emily Rose was inspired by the story of Anneliese Michel, a young German Catholic woman who died in 1976 after unsuccessful attempts to perform an exorcism upon her with psychotropic drugs. The court accepted the version according to which she was epileptic, refusing to accept the idea of supernatural involvement in this case. Two priests involved in the exorcism, as well as her parents, were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and received prison time (which was suspended), generating controversy. Michel's grave has become a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics who believe she atoned for wayward priests and sinful youth, and honor her as an unofficial saint.[1] The film is based on Felicitas Goodman's book The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel.[citation needed]

German director Hans-Christian Schmid launched his own treatment of Michel's story, Requiem, around the same time in late 2006.


As of April 2012, The Exorcism of Emily Rose had made $144,216,468 worldwide.[2] In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association listed the film in their Top 100 Scariest Films Ever Made at #86.[3] Jennifer Carpenter, whose "demonic" bodily contortions were often achieved without the aid of visual effects, won "Best Frightened Performance" at the MTV Movie Awards in 2006;[4] however, according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, critical reception to the film was overall mixed.[5] As emphasized by Roger Ebert, who described The Exorcism of Emily Rose as "intriguing and perplexing", the film "asks a secular institution, the court, to decide a question that hinges on matters the court cannot have an opinion on".[6] Ebert noted that "the screenplay is intelligent and open to occasional refreshing wit".[6] Paul Arendt from BBC outlined that "the flashback story... is high-octane schlock that occasionally works your nerves, thanks to a committed performance from Jennifer Carpenter".[7]

The general consensus between 150 critics was that "[the film] mixes compelling courtroom drama with generally gore-free scares in a ho-hum take on demonic cinema." It holds a 45% 'rotten' approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 150 reviews. On Metacritic, it has an overall score of 46 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.[8]

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