Last night was cold and rainy and so I decided to cue up a decidedly appropriate video to watch – an old episode of the X-Files.
I know that in Romania one of the TV channels shows re-runs (called Dosarele X, a literal translation) so some of you may have seen this before but last night in particular I watched an episode called The Calusari, originally broadcast in America on April 14, 1995.
If you’re from Romania, you often don’t realize what foreigners actually hear or see about Romania. It’s often bizarre TV episodes such as this one that “teach” people about Romania and (usually) subconsciously shape their perceptions of this country. It is precisely this paucity of understanding that drove me to write my book and produce my documentary.
But back to the X-files episode. I’ve gone through the IMDB listing and all it says about who wrote this piece of garbage is that Chris Carter had a hand in it. Honestly, I don’t know who came up with the idea for it because it is beyond the bizarre.
The episode starts off with a 2-year-old boy getting murdered, which as one writer notes is a particularly shocking thing for American TV. Mulder and Scully get involved and pretty soon there are a number of elderly Romanians who are chanting things and casting spells and sprinkling chicken blood everywhere. By the end of the episode there’s a full-blown exorcism.
Frankly, it’s not that good of an episode. But there are several elements which make this all very, very weird. To begin with, the kid, his mother, his grandmother and three “Calusari” (more on them in a moment) all speak some lines in Romanian but it’s patently obvious none of them are native speakers of the language. The pronunciation is horrific (and sometimes dead wrong) and yet there are some long monologues in Romanian and the grammar and syntax is fine. There’s no way to prove this but it’s like they had a real Romanian write the lines and then American actors just memorize them phonetically.
An interesting side note to this is that we learn that there is an “evil twin” who is killing everyone. In English, all the actors call him Michael but in the Romanian lines spoken by the grandmother she clearly calls him Mihai (the Romanian equivalent). That’s an authentic touch by the real Romanian who wrote the script.
The second weird part is that literally nothing that the “Romanians” do with the spells and all the rest is Romanian at all. The grandmother “from the old country” is named Golda, which is clearly a Jewish name. Her daughter is named “Maggie”, probably a variant of “Magda”, which is also not an ethnic Romanian name. One of her acts in the show is to tie a red string around her grandson’s wrist – again this is a Kabbalah/Jewish thing to do. Two of the “Calusari” wear Jewish hats and one of them has the full beard of a Jewish rabbi. Then there’s a weird bit where Grandma draws some Hindu/Buddhist signs on the kid’s hand as well.
Also, the “back story” is that a fat, rich American guy (Steve) meets Magda in 1984 and then marries her and then they move to a palatial house in the rich suburbs of Northern Virginia. Then supposedly her mother is angry that her daughter did this? Uh, if this family were truly Romanian there is no way that they would look at escaping Communism to live in a mansion in America as some kind of bad thing.
Third, there really is a group of people in Romania called the Calusari, although in the episode the supposedly “Romanian” woman mispronounces the word, which correctly spelled would be Căluşari, so she ought to know how to say it if she were truly Romanian, eh? Instead she says “Calusharee” and then Mulder walks around saying “The Calusharee” which means “The The Căluşari”. The X-Files then makes the Calusari into a group of exorcists who deal in magical spells when in reality they’re a kind of specialized dance troupe.
Again, there’s no way to prove this but my guess is that originally this episode was written with the family being Jewish and practicing Kabbalah. Then at the last moment they decided to make them “Romanian” so they hired a real Romanian to write some lines and then dug up the title “Calusari” as the only mysterious and spooky thing to attribute to Romanians. Frankly, since none of the non-English parts were subtitled, they could’ve had the actors chanting in gibberish and it would have made no difference at all.
So there you have it. Millions of people have seen this episode and think the Căluşari are spell-casting exorcists and that Romanians sprinkle chicken blood around as they fight with demons. Yes, I know that this is the X-Files and that all cultures get a turn on the show displaying their mysterious and spooky side but now you can see why exactly it is that a lot of foreigners think of Romania as the home for supernatural and darkly magical occurrences beyond the more well-known vampire stuff.
But it was kind of cool to see a little white American kid scream “Nu puteţi! Nu puteţi!” there at the end :)