|Born||1928 (novel) |
April 12, 1935 (film)
|Died||May 15th, 1971 (novel) |
October 9, 1975 (film)
|Affiliation(s)||Late mother |
Robert Glenister (The Exorcist BBC Radio 4)
|“||"There are no experts. You probably know as much about possession as most priests. Look, your daughter doesn't say she's a demon, she says she's the devil himself. Now, if you've seen as many psychotics as I have, you'd realize that it's the same thing as saying you're Napoleon Bonaparte."||”|
–Damien Karras, The Exorcist
Father Damien Karras, S.J. is a fictional character from the novel The Exorcist, its sequel Legion, and their film adaptations. Portrayed by Jason Miller, Karras is a troubled priest and psychiatric counselor suffering from a crisis of faith, who confronts Pazuzu and is joined by Father Merrin in his attempt to exorcise Regan MacNeil, a young girl the demon possesses.
Damien Karras was born in 1928 (book) or on April 12, 1935 (film) as a first-generation Greek-American.  He was from New York. According to the Exorcist novel, his favorite song since he was a child was "Red River Valley". As a child, he visited his neighbor, Mrs. Choirelli, who had 18 cats. He also had a dog named Reggie that was sick. One day, after school, his mother met him at the corner and told him, "Reggie die...". In his earlier years, he was a boxer and competed in Golden Gloves tournaments. He left his home and his mother to become a priest. He became a Jesuit priest on July 30, 1957. The Jesuits then sent him to medical school at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Bellevue so that he could become a psychiatrist. The church paid for his education. For a year, he taught some classes at Woodstock Seminary in Maryland, where he also played on the lower-class baseball team called the Philosophers. Over the years, the priest began to doubt the existence of God, the Devil, and many Biblical and supernatural beings.
He was assigned a job as a psychiatric counselor at Holy Trinity (in the film, St. Mike's) at Georgetown University, headed by Tom, in Washington DC which happened to be chosen for a film directed by Burke Dennings and starring Chris MacNeil. He also gives lectures about psychiatry and is an expert on witchcraft. On April 1, 1971, on the way home, Chris saw Karras counseling/treating another priest. After attending a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, he visits his terminally ill mother at her apartment on East 21st Street in Manhattan. He requests reassignment from Tom, who offers to move him to New York, but will not relieve him of his psychiatric duties. His mother ends up being put in the neuro-psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York. She is upset by this because she likes living at home and values her independence. Karras' Uncle tells him that he could've been a successful psychiatrist if he hadn't become a priest. Karras boxes to help relieve the frustration. He gets his mother out of the hospital and brings her home, where she passes away from the edema that was affecting her brain. She was living alone and the landlord found her a couple days later, after her neighbors complained about her radio being constantly on. His close friend and fellow Jesuit, Father Joseph Dyer, stole a bottle of Chivas Regal scotch from the University President's office and brought it to Karras in his room at the cottage at Holy Trinity in an effort to cheer him up. That night, he had a dream about his mother and he woke up in the middle of the night, crying.
The next day, after treating/counseling a young Jesuit, the pastor of Holy Trinity stopped by to ask Karras about the desecrations. In the book, Karras was relieved of his psychiatric duties and instead assigned the task of giving one lecture a week about psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School. Sometime after this, he moved from the cottage at Holy Trinity to the Jesuit Residence Hall on the Georgetown University campus so that people would stop seeing him as a psychiatrist. He started running laps around the track daily because it helped ease the pain of losing his mother. On April 30, 1971, William F. Kinderman questioned Karras about the death of Burke Dennings and the desecrations since he is an expert on withcraft. He wrote a paper about witchcraft from the psychiatric end. Karras told Kinderman that he thought it could be witchcraft. Kinderman then started discussing films with him. Karras revealed that some philosophy courses at Woodstock Seminary were taught in Latin.
Karras met Chris for the first time on the Key Bridge walkway, where she asked him how to get an exorcism. He was against the idea, but he agreed to see Regan as a psychiatrist. He met Regan/the demon for the first time and she asked him to remove the straps. She vomited on him. He suggested to Chris that Regan be put in a hospital, but Chris said that she couldn't do that. Chris told Karras all about Regan's symptoms, but he refused to believe that she was possessed, due to his lack of faith. He asked Chris if there was anything, such as letters, that she had of Regan so that he could analyze her normal speech pattern. He asked to see Regan's medical records, especially the one from Barringer. He checked out a lot of books from the Georgetown library to research possession. Father Dyer also got him the keys to the language lab from the janitor. There, he listens to the tape of Regan talking to her father. He could tell from hearing her normal voice that it wasn't really her. The next day, he gave a lecture to his class at Georgetown University Medical School, where he dismissed the class early so that he could get back to his research. He figured out that he could test Regan's possession by sprinkling tap water on her but saying it's holy water. If she reacted, which she did, it would mean that the symptoms are suggestive. He also decided to record Regan/the demon's voice on reel-to-reel tape. Karras took the tape to the Institute of Languages and Linguistics and showed it to the director, Frank. Afterwards, he returned to the Jesuit Residence Hall, where he received Regan's medical records. He decided that Regan needed psychiatric treatment. This caused Chris to reveal to him that Regan killed Burke Dennings.
Father Karras decided to meet with Dr. Klein at his clinic in Rosslyn, an area of Arlington, Virginia. He disguised himself as Doctor Karras. He looked at the graph from the EEG and saw that it was normal, proving that Regan was not a hysteric, supporting the case for possession. He returned to Georgetown and saw Kinderman watching the MacNeil Residence. Kinderman lied and told Karras that he wanted to invite him to Othello at the Crest. He returned to the house after Kinderman left and loosened one of Regan's straps in front of Karl, proving that Karl's fear was genuine. Regan asked Karl in German if his daughter liked to dance. Karras then conversed with Regan in German, Latin, and French. He questioned Sharon about any languages Regan either knew or could've picked up.
Afterwards, he went back to the Jesuit Residence Hall again, where he received a message to call Frank, who told him that the tape was in English and that he needs to play it backwards. He listened to it and discovered that it was an anagram. Around 3:00 in the morning, he received a phone call from Sharon, and she showed him the words "help me" on Regan's stomach, in her handwriting.
At 9:00 that morning, Father Karras met with Bishop Michael to request permission to perform an exorcism. The Bishop talked to Tom, the University President, who decided that the exorcist should be Lankester Merrin, since he had experience. They let Karras know, and he felt disappointed that he couldn't be the exorcist. He thought that they didn't choose him because of his lack of faith. Chris told Karras that Regan used to put a rose on her plate in the morning, but then she remembered that he never met her. Late that night or early the next morning, Father Merrin arrived at the house. Karras got some supplies for him, as he suggested that they start the exorcism right away. They started the exorcism, and after a while, they took a break and discussed why the demon chose to possess Regan.
Karras returned to Regan's room, where she spoke to him in his mother's voice. The demon decided not to let Regan sleep, which could have killed her of cardiac exhaustion. He had a friend of his, Bill, a cardiac specialist from Georgetown University Medical School take a look at Regan, but he said that there was nothing that he could do.
The next day, May 16, 1971 (novel) or October 9, 1975 (film), at 7:00 pm, Regan spoke in his mother's voice again. Merrin told him to rest. He returned to the Jesuit Residence Hall again, where he received word that Kinderman was there to visit him. Kinderman asked him (theoretically) what he would do about the Burke case and he suggested leaving it alone. Kinderman invited him to the movies again, but he turns it down. He returned to the MacNeil Residence, where he saw Chris looking through pictures of Regan. He read a poem that Regan wrote for Chris as a mother's day present and he began to feel compassion and human love towards Regan, which restored his faith. He went up to Regan's room, where he found Merrin on the floor, dead of heart failure, surrounded by his Nitroglycerin pills. Karras decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. He invited the demon to possess him and instead of strangling Regan like the demon wanted him to, he fought the demon inside him and threw himself out the window, seeing it as his chance to purge the world of the evil being; tumbled down the stairs of M Street, where he died right after Father Dyer gave him the Last Rites. 
At the same time that Karras died, a criminal by the name of James Venamun (the infamous "Gemini Killer") was executed. The ambulance team pronounced Karras dead at the scene, however, as he was dying, the demon left his body and placed Venamun's soul into Karras's body as a means of revenge for having been thrown out of Regan MacNeil's. (The Gemini Killer also wanted to shame his father.) Brother Fain was the last one to have seen Karras and he saw Karras' body climb out of the coffin, causing him to die of fright. The police found an amnesiac Karras wandering around M Street unable to talk and without an I.D. He was placed in the care of Georgetown General Hospital, where he was diagnosed as catatonic. According to the novel, he was in the open ward for years, until around January 1, 1983, when he started making sounds like he wanted to talk. He turned violent, so in February 1983, they placed him in a padded cell, wearing a straitjacket and leg restraints. He was kept in cell #12. (Legion took place 12 years after The Exorcist.) In the film, he remained in cell #11 for 15 years.
His brain and bone tissues mended over time, but he alternated between his own personality and that of Venamun. When Nurse Charles gave him his Thorazine, he said to her, "the priest". He also says he has dreams of falling down the steps, but he also has dreams where he's Venamun. There were times when he would fall unconscious, when the spirit of Venamun left Karras's body by night to invade the other patients in the ward, making them commit murders for him without Venamun taking the blame. The Gemini Killer had come back to wreak havoc.
In the novel, Venamun/the Gemini Killer admits to killing Thomas Kintry and Father Dyer, but he tells Kinderman that he is not Father Karras and that Karras was not involved in the murders. It is explained that Karras actually did die spiritually and Venamun was just using his empty body as a host.  Kinderman, in both the book and the movie, finally chooses to believe that he is really the Gemini Killer, not Father Karras.
In the film, during the course of an exorcism, Venamun is forced to abandon Karras's body, and Lt. William Kinderman shoots Karras several times, ending Karras' life for the final time. In the book, Venamun's father passes away from natural causes, and Venamun wills Karras' body to die of heart failure, as he sees no more reason to remain in the world if he cannot continue to shame his father.
Damien comes across as Intense as described by Chris, which Father Dyer attests to. However as the story goes on, it shows there is more to him than that. In terms of his past, he is an expert boxer. As shown through his pictures at his mother's home and when he vents his grief on a punching bag. In terms of his work life, both as a Priest and a Psychiatrist, he takes the work seriously even during his crisis of faith. In his private life he comes across as more softer. Especially around his friends and mother. Despite his work as a Jesuit he does not believe in the existence of Demons, partially due to his crisis of faith and partially due to his work as a Psychiatrist. Believing them to be delusions of a psychotic mind. However despite that, like other priests, he is revered by the presence of people like Father Merrin, whom he considers a great honor to meet. However when it's proven that Regan is indeed possessed and in danger, toppled with the fact that Merrin died trying to save her; his faith is restored, his resolve is strengthened and he becomes a force to be reckoned with. Capable of overpowering a demon like Pazuzu using his skills in Boxing to phyiscally harm the demon and goad it into possessing him. His last act being to die to prevent the demon from harming Regan any further.
There is an inconsistency in Father Karras' birth and death dates between Legion and The Exorcist III. The film states that he was born on April 12, 1935 and died on October 9, 1975. However, Legion shows that he was born in 1928 and died in 1971.  Based on clues about dates in The Exorcist novel, it could be inferred/suggested that he passed away on May 15th, 1971. Interestingly enough, William Peter Blatty was born in 1928 and The Exorcist novel was published in 1971.
Notes and trivia
- Before confronting the demon inside Regan, Father Karras had a brief glimpse of Pazuzu while dreaming about his mother.
- The name "Damien" sounds vaguely like the English "demon", but is not at all etymologically related (meaning "he subdues").Damien is the French form of the English name Damian (Greek Damao, meaning "to tame"), popular as the name of the martyred Christian saint of the third century (Saints Cosmas and Damian). Another prominent Damien was Father Damien of Hawaii, who died while establishing leper colonies there. Karras shares his name with Damien Thorn, the Antichrist (son of the Devil) and the primany antagonist of the similarly themed film series The Omen.
- Jason Miller was in fact educated at the Jesuit-run University of Scranton.
- Stacy Keach and Jack Nicholson was William Friedkin's first choice for Father Karras, until Friedkin saw his play, That Championship Season, and met the playwright/actor after the performance. Miller had never acted in a movie before.
- Miller's look of shock and disgust while wiping away possessed Regan's vomit from his face is genuine. It was supposed to splatter on his chest, but the plastic tubing that sprayed the vomit accidentally misfired. He admitted in an interview that he was very angered by this mistake.
- In an interview, Jason Miller stated that he had a major verbal confrontation with William Friedkin after the director fired a gun near his ear to get an authentic reaction from him. He told Freidkin that he is an actor, and that he didn't need a gun to act surprised or startled.
- Al Pacino was considered among other young leading men for the role of Father Karras.
- According to William Peter Blatty, director William Friedkin also considered Gene Hackman for the role of Father Karras.
- According to William Friedkin, Paul Newman wanted to portray Father Karras.
- William Friedkin, considered Roy Scheider for the role of Father Karras but for some reason, William Peter Blatty vetoed him.
- Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Ryan O'Neal, Peter Fonda, Al Pacino, Jon Voight, Robert Blake, Christopher Walken, Alain Delon, James Caan, Roy Scheider, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando (who was also considered to play Father Lankester Merrin), Elliott Gould, Alan Alda, and George Hamilton were all considered for the role of Father Karras.
- In the film and novel, it is revealed that Karras' mother is named Mary. In the novel, there are flashbacks where the doctors call her Mary. In both the novel and the film, while saying Mass, Father Karras says "Remember also, O Lord, Thy servant, Mary Karras, who has gone before us with the sign of faith, and sleeps the sleep of peace... Lord, I am not worthy to receive You. You will only say the word and I shall be healed. May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life."
- According to the book, William Peter Blatty on "The Exorcist": From Novel to Film, Father Karras was first named Father Thomas; Blatty later renamed him John Henry Carver - he was going to be an African American who became a priest to escape from his childhood in the slums. He wouldn't believe what happens because he rejects superstitions related to his Haitian parents. Blatty chose not to do this because he thought it sounded too much like Sidney Poitier. 
- On Good Morning America in 1984, Jason Miller admitted that, in preparation for the role of Father Karras, he went to Georgetown and lived with the Jesuits for 2 months. He learned how to say Mass and Confessions. He said it was very demanding even though he was raised Catholic. Father Thomas Bermingham taught him how to be a Jesuit. 
- The character of Father Tomas in The Exorcist is an rebooted version of Karras.
- Whitty, Stephen. "The 1973 film 'The Exorcist' has an Old World feel", NJ.com, 03 October 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2016. Web.
- Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Harper & Row. 1971. Print.
- Blatty, William Peter. Legion. New York: Macmillan, 01 February 2011. eBook.
- The Exorcist III (film) - Inconsistencies, The Ninth Configuration, 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2016. Web.
- Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Damian",Behind the Name,1996-2016. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- Blatty, William Peter. "William Peter Blatty on 'The Exorcist': From Novel to Film". New York: Macmillan, March 2015. eBook.
- Good Morning America - Cast Reunion of "The Exorcist" - 1984, YouTube, 15 June 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2016. Web.