Monstrous bodily excess in The Exorcist as a supplement to law’s accounts of culpability

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Griffith Law Review, 2015, 24 (3), pp. 372 - 394
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© 2016 Griffith University. The Exorcist is an exemplar of the classic horror film trope of possession in the 1960s–;70s. In the film, Regan's gradual possession by the devil is depicted by signs of transformation. This article explores how the criminal law would categorise and respond to a case of possession. How does the criminal law conceptualise out-of-control bodies? And who (if anyone) is to blame for harm done? The film suggests that Regan's transformation takes place through an agency that lies outside Regan's will, upsetting the Cartesian assumptions that underlie both the law and mainstream culture, concerning the division between mind/body and the supremacy of the mind in its regulation of physical states. Bodies out of control are categorised at law as involuntary. The concept of voluntariness is itself transgressive of organising concepts within criminal law, including the oppositional structures of actus reus and mens rea, and offences and defences. Additionally, I highlight the ways in which voluntariness operates at the fissures of structural distinctions of criminal law, including the therapeutic and the punitive, tort and crime, and the structural separation of suffering and wickedness.
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