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Analysis of ‘The Omen’

The Omen is a 1976 supernatural horror film written by David Seltzer (who also wrote the novelization), directed by Richard Donner, and starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Harvey Stephens. It is about a (secretly-adopted) five-year-old who, it turns out, is the Antichrist. Considered one of the scariest movies ever made, it spawned two not-so-well-received sequels, then an even worse-received made-for-TV attempt at a revival of the franchise, and finally, a competent but tepid remake of the original movie.

The soundtrack of the original trilogy, by Jerry Goldsmith, garnered especial praise, particularly with its use of the choral singing of a kind of Satanic (but ungrammatical) Latin liturgy. “Ave Satani” was nominated for the 1976 Best Original Song.

Here are some famous quotes:

Latin (as in the soundtrack) Correct Latin English translation
sanguis bibimus sanguinem bibimus We drink the blood
corpus edimus corpus edimus We eat the body
tolle corpus Satani tolle corpus Satanae Raise the body of Satan
ave, ave Versus Christus! avē, avē Antichriste! Hail, Hail Antichrist!
ave Satani! avē Satana! Hail Satan!

“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” –Keith Jennings

“Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” –young nanny, before hanging herself (Considered one of the scariest moments in horror movie history)

“Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.” –Mrs. Baylock, to Damien

“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / ‘Til man exists no more.” –Father Brennan

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” Book of Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18 (last title card)

The focus for understanding this movie shouldn’t be on the Devil, demons, or spiritual/Biblical issues, but rather the material and political concerns that the religious elements symbolize.

A Brief Digression…

The Biblical Antichrist was, most likely, Nero–the most powerful man in the Graeco-Roman world at the time when the members of the early Church were writing the New Testament manuscripts–a man who persecuted Christians and was believed to be still alive when the Revelation was written. (For more information, see Mays, general ed., the commentary on Revelation chapter 13, page 1197.)

Even the early Church fathers could “count the Number of the Beast,” and with gematria calculated 666 through Aramaic, using Hebrew letters to render (the Greek version of his name as) Neron Kesar, or Nron Qsr in transliterated Hebrew:

Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum
200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666

If you remove the Nun final, of numerical value 50, to spell Nro Qsr (‘Nero Caesar’), you get 616, an alternative version of the Number of the Beast, as given in some of the early manuscripts of the Revelation, which were acknowledged even by Irenaeus, though he preferred 666, and considered 616 to be a textual error.

Then, there was Robert Graves‘s idiosyncratic method of arriving at Nero (or Domitian, who was persecuting Christians around when the Revelation was written), as is found in The White Goddess, pages 342-348: DOMITIANUS [or DOMITIUS] CAESAR LEGATOS XTI [i.e., ‘Christi’] VILITER [or VIOLENTER] INTERFECIT. (i.e., DCLXVI, or 666) “Domitian [or Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus >>> Nero] Caesar basely [or violently] killed the envoys of Christ.”

One shouldn’t need to point out the validity of the preterist interpretation of Revelation, as over the futurist one, except that today’s Christian fundamentalist religious kooks like to link current problems with the Revelation’s cryptic verses.

There are so many interesting reasons why the futurist approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation is so tenacious and popular, though, in spite of how ludicrous it really is. One reason involves how self-absorbed futurists are in thinking everything in the Bible is about their world (in, for example, the US today), rather than about events in the Mediterranean and Middle East from about 1,920-1,950 years ago, when the Revelation was actually written (i.e., written about what the writers were concerned about at the time). I believe another reason for futurism’s popularity is a psychological one, based on an impatient need to believe God will come down and right the wrongs one is suffering right now, including all those modernists who laugh at and scorn the fundamentalists.

…Back to The Omen

I’d rather treat The Omen as an allegory of today’s political world in different ways than the fundamentalists do with the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The Latin text of “Ave Satani”, sung at the beginning of the movie and repeated throughout it, parodies the receiving of the Eucharist. Note the materialist focus: “We drink blood, we eat flesh, raise the body of Satan–hail!” It’s all about the body, not the spirit.

This Satanic parody of the Church represents the connection of the Church with evil (i.e., Church corruption). Such a connection continues with Father Spiletto and the nuns in the Italian hospital giving Robert Thorn (Peck) the baby Damien in place of his dead baby son, whom the priests and nuns have murdered. Spiletto tells Thorn, “God has given you a son.” (Seltzer, page 14)

The implied identifying of God with Satan should tell you something about the Church as understood in this movie. The fact that Fathers Spiletto and Brennan (the latter is Tassone in Seltzer’s novel), as well as Mrs. Baylock (B’aalock, as she’s also called in the novel), are Satanists shows the corruption in the Church (Seltzer, pages 130-131).

One key to understanding the political, materialist meaning of the movie is the poem Brennan/Tassone recites to Thorn (Seltzer, page 140): the Jews have returned to Zion (the creation of the state of Israel); the Holy Roman Empire rising is understood to be the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European Common Market, which would evolve eventually into the EU, which, as a capitalist entity, cannot be a good thing; for the EU in turn has gone hand in hand with US/NATO imperialism.

From the eternal sea, the Antichrist rises (‘he’ representing all that is evil in “the Eternal Sea”, the world of politics. “The Sea that constantly rages with the turmoil and revolution…The Devil’s child will rise from the world of politics.” (Seltzer, page 188) This child will be “creating armies on either shore”, like the buildup of NATO, its armies on one side of the North Atlantic Ocean, and the US army on the other side.

Now consider how, over thirty-five years since the original Omen trilogy was filmed, those “armies on either shore” are even bigger, more numerously manned, and more powerful than ever, with no more substantial ‘communist threat’ for the US/NATO to worry about. Yet we are in a new Cold War with Russia, with a NATO buildup on the Russian border. These tensions–along with the threat of war with North Korea, Iran, and China, and all of this added to the unending “War on Terror” that has destroyed lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria–could very well lead to WWIII.

“Turning man against his brother/’Til man exists no more.”

Seltzer’s story is a true omen.

I argue that this movie is a political story, using Biblical prophesy as an allegory for a real warning of what will happen if we don’t change the direction our world is going in. It isn’t a religious prophesy; it’s an artistic prediction based on the material conditions of our world, the spiritual and supernatural being mere metaphors.

Consider Father Brennan’s admonition to Robert Thorn when they meet in Thorn’s office: Brennan emphasizes drinking Christ’s blood and eating His flesh; the priest means for Thorn to take Communion, of course, but note the implications of emphasizing it in graphic language that sounds like cannibalism. Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus. This is a materialist salvation, the doctrine of the Real Presence, in stark contrast to the non-denominational emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, and the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist, which are much more spiritual. Similarly, Brennan speaks of wanting to save Thorn, so Christ will forgive him: this is salvation by good works (material action), instead of by faith (spirituality).

So the battle between Christ and Antichrist in this movie is a material battle, not a spiritual one. The material battle between contradictions, one that has occurred throughout not just Biblical history, but history in general, is the basis of dialectical materialism. Marx said, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. According to Mao Zedong, everything is made up of contradictions, and Lenin pointed out the paradoxical unity of contradictions.

Note the association I implied, in the paragraph preceding the last one, between Satanist and Christian cannibalism (bearing in mind how Romans from Nero’s reign and onward persecuted Christians because of, among other things, the pagans’ too-literal interpretation of “…eat; this is my body…Drink,…This is my blood.”). Then remember Spiletto telling Thorn that God, rather than the Devil, gave him a son. Then there’s Jennings the photographer (Warner), who–at Damien’s fifth birthday party–says he’s not sure if they have “the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” Are God and the Devil being, in a sense, equated in this film?

Brennan’s death is just outside a church, where one would think he’d have at least some protection from God: a lightning rod from the top of the church falls and impales him. This is during a brief thunderstorm, suggesting that a sky-father-god (a pagan one, like Zeus), in concert with the invisible demons chanting, “Versus Christus! Ave, Satani!”, has caused the priest’s death. Is the sky-father punishing Brennan for abandoning Christ, or Satan? Is it revenge for successively abandoning both?

Six is the number of the Devil, for it is incomplete, whereas seven is complete–hence the seven daggers of Megiddo, which Carl Bugenhagen gives Thorn to kill Damien. There were six days of physical Creation, and a holy, or spiritual, seventh day of rest–the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday night), or the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Six days of Creation without a day of rest suggest the Demiurge rather than the Biblical God; the Demiurge fashioned the physical world, and the physical is associated with evil, as opposed to the crucially missing spiritual world. In an evil world of class war (masters vs. slaves, as in the ancient world of Nero and the other Caesars; feudal lords vs. peasant serfs; and the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat), the poor work and work, never resting (i.e., no Sabbath day). Did the Demiurge kill Brennan?

What makes this movie so horrifying is the seeming absence of the good, Christian God: Damien (Stephens) is given plenty of help, but what spiritual forces help those humans who recognize the boy’s evil? Killing Damien requires the use of the seven daggers; there is no sense of Christ doing battle with the Antichrist in this movie. As in The Exorcist, this is a world of only devils and no angels, of only Satan and no God, of only matter and no spirit.

The three sixes represent the diabolical Trinity: Devil, Antichrist, and false prophet. The Demiurge, though seen as benevolent according to Plato’s Timaeus, is pervasively seen as malevolent in Gnosticism, and thus could be equated with the Devil in this film; and the Demiurge is associated with physicality in how He created the material world. Damien (a pun on ‘demon’) is most physical, born of a jackal, and the dagger that extinguishes his physical life is, according to Bugenhagen, the most important one. The Holy Spirit’s Satanic counterpart is the false prophet, again, a physical being. The Omen‘s world is essentially material.

The materialism of conflicting opposites is symbolically clear in the gory, violent nature of each death. Thorn’s biological son, a newborn baby, is killed with blows to the head with a rock (Seltzer, page 133), smashing a hole in his skull. Damien’s first nanny hangs herself with a loving smile for the boy. Brennan is impaled. The fetus in Kathy’s womb is ‘aborted‘ by Damien making her fall from a balcony. Thorn and Jennings are attacked by Rottweilers in the cemetery, Thorn injuring his arm on a spike on the gate. Kathy (Remick) is thrown from a hospital window by Mrs. Baylock. Jennings is decapitated by a sheet of glass. None of this is overtly supernatural; but it’s all ever so materialistic.

In Seltzer’s novelization, more attention is given to the political issues allegorized with all the Biblical imagery. Thorn’s wish to postpone his trip to Saudi Arabia, just before Brennan/Tassone (Seltzer, pages 78-79) meets him in his office, is expanded on. His staff have worked hard to make the arrangements, and they are annoyed with the ambassador’s sudden changing of his mind. They remind Thorn of how important the US’s relationship is with the Saudis (all that oil!–see also page 107: “…the Arabs, with their oil, were now too powerful for anyone to stand against.”), and a postponement (or outright cancellation) would be seen as an insult.

The importance of the US/Saudi political relationship has become even more evident since the release of the movie; consider how Saudi Arabia, exporter of Wahhabism and home to 15 of the 19 men who hijacked the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, is never fought with in the “War on Terror”. Instead, the US and UK have sold the Saudis billions worth in weapons, and thus with the UK have aided the Saudis in the war in Yemen.

Elsewhere in Seltzer’s novel, Jeremy Thorn (as he’s called in the novel, not Robert) is giving a speech on the issue of world poverty, and a communist heckles him, asking why he doesn’t give of his own enormous wealth to feed the poor (pages 112-115). Liberal-leaning Thorn can’t help but agree with the communist (page 122), though he’d never want to be called a ‘commie’ by the press. Here we see the real, materialist basis of evil and political corruption symbolized by the rise of the Antichrist and his war with God: the material contradictions between the ruling class and the poor–capitalism.

As capital is accumulated, there is a fear that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall will endanger the survival of one’s business; therefore, business must expand, and markets must be sought out in foreign countries when the ability for capital to be accumulated in one’s own country dries up. Accumulating capital in foreign countries (which includes getting cheap, non-unionized labour) leads to imperialism, hence all this warmongering in the Middle East…for oil. The Biblical fundamentalists (who tend to be apologists for capitalism), instead of trying to prove that the Revelation’s prophesies are of things in today’s world, would do well to focus on such verses as this: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

And as for those pro-Trump idiots who think that that lecherous narcissist is in any way religious: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Finally, consider what, according to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus considers to be true Christian behaviour.

Being a good Christian ought to be about helping the poor, downtrodden, and unfortunate, rather than engaging in speculative nonsense about relating Biblical prophesy to today’s world; yet, in the opinion of far too many conservative Christians, helping the poor and disadvantaged is mere “socialism,” the ‘tyranny’ of the state (as if there were no such thing as unaccountable corporate tyranny). They speak of ‘voluntarily‘ helping the poor, but one wonders how often these people actually give this voluntary help, when they often propagandize against such moderate leftism as social democracy.

The conspiracy of devils in The Omen is symbolic of the machinations of the bourgeoisie and the state that protects their interests; in the real world, we needn’t (nor, in the case of the more bigoted manifestations, should we) believe in ‘Illuminati, NWO, Jewish, or Masonic conspiracies’ to see the great evil in the world today, and throughout history. Ignore the spiritual claptrap, and look at the material conditions of the world: whoever has the money, has the power; and whoever hasn’t money is powerless. The conspiracy theorists, again, all too often apologists for capitalism, distract us from the material contradictions that Christian dualism (God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, spirit vs. flesh) represents in the movie.

To give yet another example of the unity of opposites given allegorically in the film and novelization, consider what’s written on the headstones of the graves of the jackal and Thorn’s practically still-born baby son, “Bambino Scianna/Santoya…In Morte et in Nate Amplexrantur Generationes…In death…and birth…generations embrace.” (Seltzer, page 203) Death and birth unite in the embrace of generations (just before being killed herself [pages 132-133], the jackal gave birth to baby Damien in the same moment as Thorn’s newborn baby was murdered), as do God and Satan unite, the flesh and spirit unite, and good and evil unite. All material contradictions embrace, and are one.

In the novel, when Thorn meets Bugenhagen in Megiddo (associated with the word “Armageddon”), it’s pointed out that there have been many apocalypses in history (page 241); so the current one with Damien is merely the latest one (remember when Nero was the Antichrist, and it was believed that Nero would return, as Jesus is expected by Christians to return, even though He said all the events leading to and including the end of the world would pass by within His listeners’ own generation in the first century!)

The evil dealt with in The Omen is a banal, earthly one, not the grandiose one of the Revelation. Still, our mundane, materialist evil is a serious one that could lead to the end of all life here (i.e., global warming, often denied, ironically, by fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists who fear a One-World Government, rather than warily watch the rapacious late-stage capitalism of the real globalists, the sovereignty-defying multinational corporations that, with the help of the bourgeois state, are quite possibly pushing us all [outside of mere fear-mongering to sell weapons and create jobs in the US military] to the nuclear brink of World War Three).

Damien’s birth is supernatural, but also most physical, as was Christ’s birth. Remember that The Omen‘s Satanism parodies every Christian dogma (Three sixes as a parody of the Trinity; the jackal’s name is Maria Scianna–Maria Avedici Santora in the novel [page 203]; “Ave Satani” parodies “Ave Maria” and the rite of Communion, etc.). The Orthodox Church rejected as heresy Gnosticism’s insistence on Christ being pure spirit for soteriological reasons; for Christ to die for our sins, He had to have a body, his literal, physical blood washing away our sins.

The Church is materialist; Satanism is materialist; the war between the two is materialist.

Dialectical materialism and class war: that’s the moral war that The Omen, however allegorically, is warning us about.

David Seltzer, The Omen, Signet, New York, 1976

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, London, 1948

James L. Mays, general editor, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper, San Francisco, 1988

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About Mawr Gorshin

I write and self-publish mostly erotic horror (find me on Amazon and Literotica), but I blog about a variety of topics, including literary and film analyses, anarchism, socialism, libertarian Marxism, and psychoanalysis.

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