Film * Richard Donner * Coming of the Anti-Christ * 1976
When it comes to documenting the inevitable decline and fall of society, there are a tremendous amount of ways to go about doing it. There are good old-fashioned dystopias and cataclysmic disaster events, there are bleak personal tales of detachment from society and larger parables of entropy and collapse. However, before any of these things, you have the Apocalypse. That word is very biblical and very Greek in origin. At the time, it meant “revelation,” as in the last book of the Bible (and that’s a topic I cannot possibly avoid, however I’m not particularly well-versed in this area so it might take a while). To vastly oversimplify, the revelation in question is about how, after an inderterminate amount of time, Jesus is going to return, and how he is going to be really annoyed with evildoers. But first! Oh, but first many bad things will have to transpire, and that’s where the word Apocalypse became conflated with notions of The End of the World as We Know It. This aspect of The Apocalypse, the proper noun version of it, would begin with a creature known as the Anti-Christ. His job, essentially, is to wreck everyone’s shit in a major way. At this point, I’m going to stop talking about this, because as I mentioned it is outside of my comfort zone and will require more research before I can speak much more about it. Suffice to say that while there are very lively scholasitic debates to be had, for the purposes of this film, all that’s really needed is the popular culture version, in which the Anti-Christ is totally going to ruin your day.
This rambling preamble brings us to The Omen. This is one of those classic films that I’ve frankly never got around to seeing before, because, ugh, movies, who even has the time? Anyway, with films like this there are some things that sink in via cultural osmosis. Going in I knew that I’d be watching a little demon-spawn named Damien murder people around him while a chanting choir goes crazy in the background. And while that is certainly a thing that happens, there is also some depth to The Omen that I maybe wasn’t expecting. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Atticus Finch is on set.
The story begins with Damien’s birth, but most of the film is set when the child is five years old and things start going all the way bad. People start dying and creepy things start happening on the periphery and then finally The Church gets involved. Of course, once priests show up, the title of the film comes into full effect and suddenly we’re deep in Christian apocrypha and hidden biblical meaning and all manner of weirdness. There is quite a bit more globe-trotting in the film than I expected, and it’s all beautifully shot. Rome, London, and the Middle East are all shown in their mid-70s glory. However, to counter the often lovely city-scapes, there is also a slow, building sense of impending, inescapable dread which is the backbone of the film. The Omen is not a horror film, at least not in the sense of depicting the simple evils of a single unhinged human or upset ghost. The Omen is, however, a film which deals with the ultimate horror, which goes beyond a fear for the individual into the fear of the soul of humanity itself.
Prophecy is a problem, especially when it comes down from God himself. Robert Thorn learns this the hard way over the course of The Omen. Try as one might, you can’t fight fate, especially when it’s sanctioned by the highest power. This is a truism that is hinted at in the film, but is never explicitly stated. The motivations of the (foster) father of the Anti-Christ are clear: this child will in fact be the downfall of humanity. That, on its face, is bad! 1000 years of war, death, and slaughter? We would hate that. The problem is, when we take the Bible at its word, all that stuff is going to happen. Further, it should happen. It is God’s will. Every effort to kill the child in this movie, while coming from a place of goodness and rightgeousness, are in fact an affront to the Word of God. And bad things happen to those who refute the Word. Robert’s death, and the death of all those around him are not a tragedy. They are the inevitable consequence of crossing a vengeful God.
Look, stabbing a five year old boy to death is a problem, especially when you’ve raised that child from birth, and the fact that the five year old in question has been chosen by God to rain hellfire down on humanity only compounds the issue. However, Robert kind of brought the problem on himself when he was totally fine with taking credit for a mystery baby so his wife wouldn’t be sad. He then makes things much worse when he misinterprets the prophecies of the Bible (of course, he had quite a bit of help on that score). There’s the paradox, though. Nothing happens outside of God’s will. If the Anti-Christ is going to come and wreck up everyone’s biz, that happens because God wants it to happen. Obstructing what God wants to happen is bad. So it seems that the mysterious mother of Damien and the priest who delivered the child were… good? Yeah they’re witches and Satanists, they murdered a baby and set fire to a hospital, but all was done in order to facilitate a prophecy foretold in the Bible which is clearly the desired outcome. There needs to be an Anti-Christ and 1000 years of Hell on Earth or whatever. If Robert was successful in murdering the demon baby, all that goes out the window. Which, of course, is impossible, because you can’t subvert God’s will. Sorry, Robert.
Robert fails, as he must, although the way in which he fails serves as a commentary on the world in which the Anti-Christ comes to power. The Church was born in antiquity, and it is through these methods that Robert seeks to destroy the child. He goes to the Holy Land and secures some supposed holy murder-spikes from an honestly shady “scholar.” Robert then absconds with the child from his modern home into a nearby cathedral (all the better Robert’s character is a diplomat, so that he has access to sites of historical, holy significance) in order to perform an ancient rite of sacrifice. Then the modern world intrudes. He is tracked down by police, who surround him before he can use his ancient killing device, and cut him down in a hail of gunfire, the most modern of deaths. The last scene of the film, of course, pushes the modern agenda of total supremacy. We see the child, staring into the camera, all creepy and foreboding while in the background we learn that Damien is going to be in the care of the President, and pretty much set up perfectly within the structures of modern super-power. The Anti-Christ will come to power in a modern world of technological and political supremacy unlike the world has ever seen. The United States and by extension the rest of the globalized world have finally arrived at a place where such total domination is possible. This power in itself is an affront to God, so of course he has to shut that shit down, all Tower of Babel style. Thus Damien, who comes unto the world to dominate by the very mechanizations that allowed him to live will return humanity to a very unpleasant, biblical existence. This, of course, sets up the return of Jesus in a thousand years or so. So hang in there!