Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist

Ellen Burstyn received her second Oscar nomination for playing Chris MacNeil, a movie star whose child is possessed by the devil in the classic movie of William Friedkin, The Exorcist. What can I say about the Oscar chances of Ellen Busrtyn? I think that if it hadn't been for that Mercedes affair, she would have won her first Oscar for this performance, and Gena Rowlandss would be an Oscar winner, too. It's interesting to speculate, but 1973 was also a very open field with the least likely winner. Very interesting.

The Exorcist is in my Top 5 Best & Favorite movies ever. I saw it countless times and I always find something new and exciting things about it that I did not notice before. Now that I saw it many-many times, the horror part is not that scary anymore (though it's so much fun and the atmosphere is still brilliant), but the drama is so intense in this movie and I simply love it. I can only think of The Silence of the Lambs as another horror (though some argue about its genre) that has such depth. I find it quite offensive that The Sting could beat this and Cries and Whispers at the Oscars. That Oscar win really stinks, to put it in an extremely polite way.

And all this dramatic intensity inside The Exorcist is due to the stellar performances of the members of the cast, and most especially, Ms. Ellen Burstyn, one of my favorite actresses ever, who quite probably gives her most memorable performance along with the one she gave in Requiem for a Dream. That lady is so versatile, always playing very complicated characters with such ease and subtlety, that I am always amazed by her extraordinary talent (OK, I did not like her that much in Same Time, Next Year, if you're thinking about that). She takes very ordinary characters and shows layers that do not seem to exist at the first glance. This is probably the strongest part of Ellen Burstyn's career. I keep marvelling at her great abilities and it' nothing different in The Exorcist, where she probably gives my favorite performance of hers.

Chris MacNeil seems to be quite a cliché: a movie star with an adorable daughter, an ex-hubby not calling at the child's birthday, who is always nice to her fans, cares about their opinion, always signs autographs, smiles at children at the street etc. So the first task of Ms. Burstyn was simply to be charming and loveable. Not only did Ellen make this happen, but she also wins you over instantly. There's something soothing and lovely about her presence and I cannot get it across. She just feels right there and that was very comforting for me. I know that this sounds very stupid, but I actually felt that way.

However, as the movie progresses, Ellen gives more (and sinister) layers to the character of Chris. She becomes more and more nervous, she everything that felt right disappears so fast. At first, she thinks that her daughter has health problems and hopes that it's gonna be all right, but her enthusiasm dies down quite firmly. And yet we also feel so much hope inside her and the maternal instincts of Chris become visable in Ellen's acting. Chris only wants to save her daughter from anything that's bad and her fight is so heartbreaking and devastating. It's full of dramatic intesity.

Although the comparision might seem to be extremely odd, but she reminded me of Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys: whenever she's off-screen, you can still feel her strong presence and you just don't realize that the screentime is working against her. It's quite probably the greatest thing am actress (or any performer) can achieve: making such a lasting impression, that you're amazed even if she's not on the screen. It is breathtaking.

Ellen isn't scary in this movie (I think she could have been had that been needed), but her presence is so electrifying and dazzling that you become shocked along with her. It's not only amazing, but also extremely tricky. I just loved it.

After all, I can say that one of my favorite actresses gives my favorite performance of hers in a movie that's an old favorite. This 3 favorites resulted in real amazement on my side. This is truly an amazing achievement by Ms. Burstyn, who's really at the top of her game. Excellent, extremely effective acting.
So what do you think?


joe burns said...

She has a good chance of winning, but Glenda could still win.

Can you do Marsha or Barbara next?

Anonymous said...

She came extremely close to a 5 for me! Loved her in this.

Brandon (Twister) said...

She was really great in this and so was Jason Miller -- both of them would get wins from me.

I didn't really care for the movie though -- the pacing was drab and boring and only really foot footing in the last third.

Fritz said...

Nice review. Personally, I don't care for either her or the movie.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Fritz – I just find a lot of the movie absurd so her performance just doesn't do anything for me. But I completely understand your thoughts!