In October, Biola Connections interviewed Scott Derrickson, via e-mail, about his movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Derrickson graduated from Biola in 1989 with a B.A. in communication and in 1990 with a B.A. in humanities. His wife, Joyce (Ericsson), graduated from Biola in 1988 with a B.S. in nursing. They have a two-year-old son, Atticus, and live in Glendale, Calif. Derrickson taught a class at Biola in the spring of 2004 titled “The History of European Cinema.”
Why did you make this movie?
I was interested in trying to combine two familiar movie genres — courtroom drama and horror. To my knowledge those genres have never been put together in a hybrid film before. I also wanted to make a film that would entertain the audience, but also would leave them thinking about significant spiritual issues.
Would you describe the movie as a success? Has it accomplished what you hoped it would?
It’s been an amazing success. To date, the movie is the highest grossing film of the fall season, and it was the least expensive film of the fall to make. It will end up grossing about $80 million and, given it’s cost of only 19 million, that’s a huge financial profit. And the movie has done exactly what I hoped it would do: entertain audiences and get them thinking and talking about things they may not otherwise think and talk about. The exit polls that the studios conduct, the reviews, and the Internet chatter about the film all indicate that the movie has struck a real chord with audiences and has resulted in a lot of good discussion.
Has it done as well as you expected in the box offices?
I think it surpassed everybody’s expectations. Nobody thought it would be this kind of breakout hit.
Do you think there is an antisupernatural bias in a segment of the church today? Specifically, is there skepticism among some Christians that demonic activity occurs today?
There are certainly a lot of churches that shy away from any real acknowledgement of the supernatural, but there are also plenty that do acknowledge it. I certainly think that uncomfortable subjects like sin and Satan are becoming increasingly less common topics for preachers and teachers in American churches.
Do you believe Anneliese Michel (the real “Emily Rose”) was possessed?
I’m not entirely sure. Her case was so complicated, I don’t think there’s any easy way to look at it. The complexity of it and the way it refuses easy explanation was what made it a good basis for a movie.
Do you believe demon possession is possible today?
In general, have Christians been supportive of the movie?
They’ve been quite supportive — much more so than I expected. I think Christians are opening up their minds in a very positive way with respect to the range of art and entertainment that they appreciate. It’s very encouraging to see.
Did anything about the response to the movie surprise you?
I was very surprised that a handful of critics wanted to politicize the film. It’s a decidedly non-political movie but, because it deals overtly with issues of faith and religion, some reviewers wanted to drag the film into the culture wars, which was ridiculous in my opinion. A.O. Scott from The New York Times went as far as to call it right-wing propaganda, which is funny because I’m quite left wing in my political bent.
Were you expecting the kind of reviews you got from the critics?
The reviews were mixed — about half positive and half negative. I thought they would be more unanimously positive, but I think that most of the critics who didn’t like the film were reacting to its spiritual content. The movie is very fair and balanced and doesn’t propagate a Christian agenda, but because it dared to take issues of faith and spirituality seriously, some liberal critics saw it as one-sided.
How did Biola prepare you for your current work?
I learned how to think at Biola. I was exposed to a universe of ideas there, especially in my literature and philosophy classes. I think I got a better education at Biola than many of the Ivy League students I went to grad school with at USC. They weren’t taught to think critically; they were only taught to be open-minded. I, on the other hand, learned to be open-minded by critically considering the value of different ideas. Without those years at Biola, I would have a very different view of the world.
When you were a student at Biola, what were your career goals? Did you ever imagine you would be the director/writer of a blockbuster movie?
I knew then that I wanted to be a filmmaker and, though I was pretty sure I would become a director, I never knew if my films would be commercially successful. When I started writing Emily Rose, I thought I would have to get it made independently. To make a movie that breaks out commercially like this one is something you really can’t anticipate.