The Postponed Redemption of Damien Karras, S.J.

William Peter Blatty’s original Exorcist novel heavily implied that Fr. Karras regained his faith and attained his redemption; and that he, Christ-like, sacrificed his life for the possessed child, Regan MacNeil. A beautiful parable. However, Blatty violated this principle in the film, Exorcist III.

Originally written without demonic possession and without an exorcism, Blatty’s original Exorcist III screenplay – based on his novel, Legion – was deemed incomplete by Morgan Creek Studios, which told Blatty to rewrite the story to include an exorcist and an exorcism.

Shortly after this, Jason Miller, who played Karras in the original Blatty-Friedkin film, became available for the project. Blatty hit on the idea of Miller returning, again in the role of Karras. Blatty achieved this through the idea of having the vengeful demon capture Karras’ soul “on its way to Heaven”, and then stuffing it back into Karras’ body along with the soul of James Vennamun, the Gemini Killer. In this new scenario, an exorcism was required,  1) to put a stop Vennamun’s killing spree and 2) to save Karras from the demon’s grip. This was Blatty’s solution to the studio’s demands.

In one way it’s a poor solution because Karras belonged in, and deserved to go to, Heaven. Taking seriously the premise that the demon prevented Karras’ immediate Heavenly reward falsifies the original premise that Karras went straight to his reward. Blatty went on record very early after the release of The Exorcist that “I don’t want people to think that the Devil won” … but in a sense that’s exactly Exorcist III’s scenario: Karras did initially defeat the demon by taking it out of Regan’s body, but then the demon thwarted Karras’ victory by nabbing his spirit and encasing it in his body, which together the demon and the Gemini Killer gradually resuscitate/heal over a twelve-year period. So Exorcist III is a cheat of the original story.

But in another way, Exorcist III “ups the ante” because instead of just the Gemini Killer inhabiting Karras’ resuscitated corpse (as in the novel Legion), Karras himself is now the endangered soul who must be saved. So we now have the Gemini Killer to hate, but we also – again, for a second time, in a second film – have Damien Karras to cheer for, as the story becomes a tale of the efforts of Detective Wiliam Kinderman and Fr. Paul Morning to solve both problems. Additionally, it was a great asset of the film to have a return of Miller himself as Karras, for even the briefest time. But of course, in a just world ruled by a just God, Blatty’s original destiny for Karras as Heaven-bound is the only morally acceptable solution.

Moreover, all along, it helps to understand the fact that Karras didn’t “get possessed”. Unlike Regan (and assumptively most other possession victims), Karras wasn’t the demon’s passive victim. Rather, he deliberately challenged the demon to a personal fight – which Karras did win, despite Exorcist III’s flawed screenplay. Certainly, in a just universe, Karras would not be punished by capture by the demon or by being taken to Hell, but rewarded. Some say he would go to Hell because he committed suicide, but of course that’s a phenomenally misinformed notion. Clearly, Karras gave his life for Regan, much as a soldier might throw him/herself on a grenade to save the lives of comrades. In a just universe, Hell is simply not designed to hold such noble souls. Come to think of it, in a just universe, Hell probably should not exist in the first place.

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2 thoughts on “The Postponed Redemption of Damien Karras, S.J.

  1. Truther612

    Lots to dissect here

    In defeating the demon by resisting it long enough
    for Kinderman to shoot him, didn’t answer the question
    of whether Karras soul had been redeemed by God or
    not?

    In the original Exorcist Damien told Tom he was
    “unfit” that the assignment he was in wasn’t right
    and that he believed he had lost his “faith”

    you could still see the uncertainty in the face of
    Karras as he questioned Father Merrin about
    why the demon would chose such an innocent
    girl to possess?

    Prelude to his final demise which was asking the
    demon to take him..which it did, before he came
    back in part 3 as both? The Gemini Killer/Karras
    and Pazuzu

    which leaves us the ultimate question

    Was Karras actually possessed? yes
    he hadn’t yet fully manifested into the
    demon however once the demon had
    time to take over due to his coma

    Karras was under the power/will of the
    demon

  2. rennyo01 Post author

    Thanks for dropping by the blog.

    I think that we need to remember that in Blatty’s original novel Legion, Karras AS Karras has – like in the Exorcist novel – escaped the demon and gone on to his heavenly reward; but we also need to consider that in the movie Exorcist III, Blatty violated the “saved Karras” concept of both The Exorcist and Legion.

    However – because he hired Jason Miller for the film, Blatty decided to mess with the original “saved Karras” premise and postulated that Karras’ ascending soul had been captured by the demon on its way heavenward. In the Exorcist and the Legion novels, there is no doubt that Karras broke the demon’s grip and “went to Heaven”. His best friend, Fr. Dyer, detects beatitude and a glint of triumph in Karras’ eyes, which surely would not have been present had he died possessed.

    But Exorcist III unfortunately contradicts and inverts this beautiful premise by presenting that – although Karras did break the demon’s grip when he leapt from the window – the vengeful demon re-asserted itself and captured Karras, and then placed him back into his nearly-dead body – along with the dead soul of Vennamun/the Gemini, as we know.

    As for the Exorcist III scenario, I still do not look on it as Karras being “possessed”. That is, he is not spiritually/mentally “owned” by the demon or by Vennamun.

    He’s still free in the sense that he is fully conscious of his predicament and can send out brief messages or signals that he is really Karras and is really present (“Bill…help me, Bill” … “Save your servant” … “Kill it!”). His mind and spirit are clear all the while that the demon is supporting the Gemini’s Georgetown crime spree. So when Kinderman and Morning show up to liberate Karras, they need to cast out the Gemini and Vennamun, whereas Karras himself is present enough, and free enought, to respond to Morning’s injunction, “Fight him, Damien! Fight!”, with a complete breaking free from the demon’s/Vennamun’s grip with a great cry of “NOooooo!”.

    You wrote, “Was Karras actually possessed? yes
    he hadn’t yet fully manifested into the
    demon however once the demon had
    time to take over due to his coma”.

    No, I don’t think so – exactly the point I’m making: Karras AS Karras is never possessed and he never “manifests into the demon”. On the contrary, Karras is fully Karras all the time, being forced to watch the combined “antics” of the demon and the Gemini. He never assumes the personality of the demon or the Gemini. He’s always Karras. Agreed that the coma gave the demon and the Gemini time to resuscitate and take control of Karras’ body. But Karras’ body is completely different from Karras’ mind and soul, which are never the degraded, soiled vehicles of possession. Only the resuscitated husk or shell of Karras’ body serves that possessive function. Karras AS Karras is imprisoned, but remains himself throughout his torments.

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