Father Karras’ failing faith is a thread worth pulling when trying to piece together what happens at the end of “The Exorcist.” Dark, brooding and melancholic, when we first meet Karras it’s clear he’s a haunted man – his head spinning with doubts that the demon inside Regan is keen to exploit. Any pre-existing existential uncertainty is further compounded by the intense guilt Karras feels for the recent death of his mother, who died alone in an institution. “There hasn’t been a day in my life where I haven’t felt like an impostor,” Karras is heard confessing to a fellow priest. Later, Karras said aloud the quiet part in a conversation with the president of Georgetown University: “I think I’ve lost my faith.” Naturally, the demon immediately recognizes Karras as an easy target – there’s an open wound to poke, prod and goad with impunity.
But at his lowest point, beaten and bullied, Karras proves to himself, to us, and to the demon that his faith is strong. In an ultimate testament to his calling, Karras sacrifices himself to save Regan. It’s a selfless act, done seriously, by a man who really believes in what he’s doing. Like Chris MacNeil, who went from scoffing at New Age rumbles to advocating for an exorcist, Karras’ skepticism turns to belief when he’s pushed against a wall. “The attack is psychological, Damien,” warns Father Merrin. “The goal is to make us despair…to reject the possibility that God might love us.” And yet, when he Is desperation, Karras chooses love – to commit and stay by Regan’s side no matter what. After all, according to the argument, if you think God died because of all the bad in the world, then how do you explain all the good?