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Chris MacNeil and her daughter are living in Georgetown while Chris is filming a new movie. The energetic and happy child, Regan, suddenly begins to change. Strange things begin to happen in the house - rustling noises are heard at night, objects seem to disappear and reappear in strange places, and Regan begins to complain about her bed shaking at night. When Regan's state of mind begins to deteriorate, Chris seeks medical help for her daughter, but the doctors, after a series of complete, agonizing tests, can find no evidence to support their theories of a condition brought about by a lesion in the temporal lobe of the brain. Regan continues to worsen, making wild animal noises, struggling with her caretakers with superhuman strength, cursing like a drunk pirate, speaking with several different voices, projectile vomiting a nasty green substance, claiming to be the devil himself, and - in what is probably the most shocking image of all - hideously violating herself with a religious icon. She eventually has to be strapped into bed for the protection of her as well as those around her. Desperately, the nonreligious Chris turns to the Jesuit priesthood for help, asking for an exorcism to be performed on her daughter. Father Karras studies the case, attempting to find a medical explanation for Regan's behavior even after he witnesses some extraordinary things in Regan's room and converses with the demon claiming to reside within her. In the end, Father Merrin, whom we met in a highly symbolic scene at the beginning of the book, comes to perform an exorcism, engaging once again in battle a demon he had defeated years earlier.