Two iconic movies about the devil came out of the 1970s. Both featured a character named Damien. While most of the world remembers the Damien from The Omen, I turn more toward the Damien in The Exorcist. I wish more people would do the same, and so I want to spend a few minutes redeeming that name.
How Damien Has Affected Me
If you're familiar with my books, you may know that I named the main character in Primogénito Damian. Why did I change the spelling? Long story which I won't get into here. I just want to talk about the name in general. But I will tell you that I had just finished reading The Exorcist when I started writing Primogénito and had fallen madly in love with Father Karras, whose first name is Damien. Madly in love with a priest, you say? A little creepy, you say? Maybe, but he's such a great character (much more so in the book than in the movie) that I couldn't help myself. And that ending...ah...best death scene ever. The one in the book, not the movie. I mean, okay, the scene in the movie is pretty great, but you don't know nearly as much about Father Karras in the movie, so his death doesn't have the same depth of meaning it has in the book.
Anyway...long story short...I named the main character of my second book after my favorite character from my favorite horror movie/book. Just with a small spelling change.
What's In a Name?
Like most people who came of age later than 1976, I first heard the name Damien when I watched The Omen. And, like most people from my generation and the generation that came right before mine, I quickly came to associate the name with the devil. After all, it was the only place I'd heard the name, so of course I formed that association. Who wouldn't?
Yes, I'd seen The Exorcist as well, but the Damien in that movie goes by Father Karras most of the time. His first name is only mentioned occasionally, and I, being a child when I watched it, was not able to figure out what they were saying. But now I know. His name is Damien, and that is significant.
Long before Damien was the name of the Antichrist, there was a Saint Damian (spelled the way I spelled it in my book...yay!) who is revered by the Catholic Church as a Christian martyr. But he's far from being the most famous carrier of that name whose picture graces the walls of the Catholic Hall of Fame. There is another who came later and who, I believe, was the inspiration for the character of the same name in The Exorcist.
I won't give you the whole history of Saint Damien of Molokai, often known simply as Father Damien. If you're interested, you can read more about him here. The short version is that he was a Belgian priest who went to work at a leper colony in Hawaii and stayed there until he finally died of the disease sixteen years later.
I have no doubt that this Damien inspired the character of Father Karras in The Exorcist. In fact, if you read the book, he is even mentioned by Father Merrin in a scene close to the end. And what inevitably happens at the end of The Exorcist? Father Karras finds himself possessed by the same demon who had possessed Regan, much as the real Father Damien found himself infected by the same disease which afflicted those he had come to serve.
But the meaning goes even deeper. The ending of The Exorcist is a beautiful depiction of what Jesus was talking about in John 15:13 when he said, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." A popular controversy surrounding The Exorcist is the debate over whether Christians should watch it. Billy Graham is famous for warning that "The devil is in every frame of this film." Well, maybe. There certainly is a whole lot of the devil in that film, but there's God as well. And in the end, God wins. No, it's not a happy ending with sunshine and rainbows and everyone going back to their perfect lives, but it's a satisfying ending. The devil is defeated. But what happens to Father Karras is even more significant. A lot of this is left out of the movie, but the book delves deeply into the doubt and the fear and the disillusionment he's grappling with. In the end it is strongly implied that, through death, he finally receives the answers he's been seeking. He finally finds peace. So you see, it is a happy ending after all. And it's all because of a man named Damien.
Does My Damian Measure Up?
Ooh...do I dare give out spoilers about my book? Hmm...maybe not, but I'll say that I believe my Damian does absolutely measure up to the standard set by those who have gone before. Much like his namesake in The Exorcist, Damian Fuentes must grapple with evil forces which threaten to harm the people he cares about. In order to defeat that evil, he must invite it into himself. He also has to make a pretty profound sacrifice toward the end. So I think I chose his name wisely. I think he wears it well.
So let's remember all the good Damiens in the world and just forget about that pesky little devil-child (but by all means watch The Omen because it's a great movie, regardless of the harm it's done to what was once a beautiful and meaningful name).