Movie: The Exorcist Dream Interpretation Breakdown

One of the greatest American horror movies ever existed “The Exorcist”, emerged 1973 was the beginning of subliminal and pure psychological horror. The Exorcist isn’t just some run-of-the-mill horror movie, but a classic that still has the ability to frighten generation to come despite its age.

Written by the great William Peter Blatty from his 1971 together with William Friedkin they not only made a movie masterpiece, but one of the highest grossing horrors of all time.

One scene in particular that stood out was the dream Father Karris experienced half way through the movie. This nightmare was more than just a premonition foreboding his demise, but relates to his own repressed feelings and inner conflicts – projected in an archetypal manner.

His dream confirms that the battle is not with the devil or some possessed girl, but his own unresolved issues. Since our dreams like to speak to us in a metaphoric language, in just 38 seconds we see how the symbols not only foreshadows his death, but relates to his mother.

The Exorcist Dream Analysis

Before we start dissecting the Father Karras nightmare we will give you a brief description on his current situation. Father Karras is a Jesuit Psychiatrist who is handling a case which involves a young girl being possessed by a demon.  In his own personal life he is battling his own demons; suffering from a loss of faith mixed with having “left” his mother to die alone in a home who he truly loved.

Father Karras vivid nightmare has all the right ingredients to mimic what a nightmare feels like, and this is what Friedkin was able to capture in this scene. The scene masterfully captures all the images, symbols and dreadful feelings that are associated with nightmares. We have all been in the same dream predicament that Father Karras was experiencing as he was trying to save his mother.

St Christopher Connection

Lets break down with one of the first symbols of Karras dream that shows up the falling chain of St Christopher (The Saint of the travelers). This powerful symbol shows his loss of faith metaphorically by falling to the ground.  St Christopher main role is to protect us on our journey, commonly used in cars when we drive.

His most famous story which is mainly known from the West and may draw from Ancient Greek mythology, tells that he carried a child, who was unknown to him, across a river before the child revealed himself as Christ.  Father Karras is fighting trying to save Regan’s life, though this might be metaphoric to saving his own inner child. Alternatively he is unable to safe the child that is trapped within.

The Wolf

Next was the image of the black dog that looked similar to a wolf attacking. Similar to mythology or classic children stories “little red riding hood” shows the menacing big bad wolf. It is chasing his mother back down to the depths of hell just as Pazuzu said were she was.

However in dreams the wolf resides in the unconscious part of the dreamer – the unconscious masculine instincts. It can be considered the ‘wild’ or ‘not tamed’ part of his personality that needs to be integrated. It also connects him to his shadow that he is pitifully unaware of. He wears the mask of a priest but just like Regan he is possessed by his own anima – the unconscious feminine side of a man.

Unable To Reach

A next common nightmare we all tend to experience is trying to run as fast as we can but are unable to get to where we need to go. The movie had a get ability to capture what it is like when we try and remember our nightmares.

Our dreams tend to  hyper-focus on the one you love in danger as the world moving around you is just a blur; just like this dream of Karras.  He is trying to wave and get the attention of his mother in danger as he tries to run to her but fails.

The Devouring Mother

From a psychological perspective the devouring mother is the woman that consumes her kids keeping them close to her. She is afraid to be alone; afraid of solitude in the guise of loneliness, essentially afraid of herself. Having served others for so long she becomes obsessive, controlling… even violent in her need to assert her control on the rest of us.

In the movie Karris was single and living with his mother making sure her needs were met. In the dream his inability to save her as she descends to the underground subway. In order to save himself must descend into the underworld to find his mother.

The Ticking Clock

The clock ticking would be symbolic to the time he has left on earth. The steps to the underground are metaphoric to the unconscious, he unknown parts of Karras that he doesn’t want to confront; time is of the essence.

Train Station

According to Sigmund Freud is felt that travelling on a train was the symbol of death. Since his theories are currently outdated this might have been displayed in the 1970’s when he was still relevant.

The train station might mean the last stop suggesting his death.  Evidently famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud donated trains as a symbol of death.  Though he did have a fear of trains.  A next interesting dream symbol was his mother descend to the unknown.  Could this be a sign of the unconscious to conscious?

We know so far in the movie that Father Karris was having issues with his faith and upset over the fact he left his mother to die alone is now appearing in his dream.  Check out the small clip of the movie and judge for yourself.