Based On True Events: The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Fact Or Fiction?, Reviews
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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

What they claimed was real: The film is loosely based on a real court case, held after a German woman named Anneliese Michel died after exorcism rites. Of course, in the movie, the young woman who died—now called Emily Rose—was really possessed, and the implication in saying the movie is “based on a true story” is that the possession could have been real. The film focuses on the trial with the exorcism shown in flashbacks, with six demons—including the ones who possessed Cain, Judas Iscariot, and Nero—possessing Emily. Rather than end her suffering, Emily chooses to live in order to be living proof of the existence of God and the devil, but her possession causes her to continue to harm herself and not eat, eventually leading to her death. The priest who performed the exorcism is convicted of negligent homicide, but the judge agrees to a sentence of time served.

Fact Check: Are These Horror Films Really "Based On Actual Events"?

The Facts: The real story of Anneliese Michel is a rather sad one. She was a deeply religious girl living in Bavaria when, at age 16, she suffered a severe convulsion and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital to treat her seizures, but the treatments didn’t alleviate her symptoms and she began suffering from hallucinations. With the treatments not working, Michel began to attribute her symptoms to demonic possession, and she and her family eventually requested an exorcism. The priests they sought out refused, insisting that she was epileptic, not possessed, at least until 1975, when a bishop permitted Arnold Renz to perform an exorcism. Michel went through 67 exorcism sessions over ten months and talked about dying to atone for the wayward youth and false priests of the modern church. She eventually died of malnutrition and dehydration. The priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz were charged with negligent homicide and, at trial, they claimed that (like the fictional Emily Rose) Michel was possessed by six demons—including Adolf Hitler, Judas Iscariot, and Nero. The priests were convicted of manslaughter, but they received a relatively light sentence—six months in jail (which was suspended) and three months probation. Later, a Vatican commission declared that Michel had been mentally ill and not possessed, but her grave still attracts pilgrims who believe that she was truly possessed.

The Verdict: The movie does take many details from Michel case, including claims that Alt and Renz made during trial. But this is likely just a tragic case of a young woman who suffered a neurological illness and suffered in her search for a spiritual solution.

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