Original release: June 6th, 1976
Running time: 106 minutes
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: David Seltzer
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson
“No daddy! No!” 1:41:17 to 1:42:26
The power of Richard Donner’s 1976 supernatural thriller has, over decades, instilled such fear in us about children not being as angelic as they appear. While there are other films that dealt with the idea of evil taking the form of a child, like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, it’s The Omen that’s always stops us in our tracks with the mere mention of a name…Damien!
There just hasn’t been another film like it which managed so successfully to seamlessly tie the world of politics to the rise of evil and viewing it again now, it might not come across as terrifying as it was back then, but it certainly still has the power to chill us to the bone and make us pause for thought.
David Seltzer’s screenplay (based on his own novel) draws us in with the tragic death of Robert Thorn’s (Gregory Peck) newborn son, but instead of informing his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), he lets Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) convince him that the better option is to take an orphaned infant and raise him as their own. Katherine is none the wiser, and as the years pass, the family move to London where Robert accepts the position of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.
Donner employs an effective technique to represent the passing of time here, using still photos while a music box plays “Happy Birthday” we see little Damien growing up until finally it’s his 5th birthday. It’s from this celebratory event we then move to the sinister present his nanny gives him, after she says “It’s all for you”.
From here on in, The Omen builds its tension, putting each of its main characters in peril. The child is evil through and through, and as author Michel Delving notes in his book, The Devil Incarnate, he quite possibly knows it, and he enjoys it:
As Robert grows increasingly concerned about the negative impact his little son is having on everyone, he is forced to accept the possibility that there is evil at work here. Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) tries to warn him and quotes a fictional passage from Revelation to get through to him:
“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.”
Seltzer’s novel tells us that the Caucus of International Theological Sciences interpreted “the eternal sea” to mean the world of politics “the sea that constantly rages with turmoil and revolution. The Devil’s child will come from the world of politics”
Robert eventually finds the birthmark that archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) urges him to look for on the back of Damien’s head, revealing the three sixes – the mark of the beast. Bundling the child into his car after fighting off the demonic new nanny, he takes Damien to an empty church where he prays to end this evil.
Screaming all the way, Damien is then dragged by his arm to the altar where Robert pulls out a dagger, ready to plunge it into him. Yet to look at the seemingly innocent child as he pleads with his father “No daddy! No!” it all comes down to a question of faith doesn’t it? Is this child really the Antichrist? A moment of hesitation as the police arrive gives Damien the opportunity to cement his place in the world and the sound of a gunshot fired echoes through the church.
The tension that has been building throughout the film erupts with the emotion of this climactic scene and the aid of Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score. What we’re left with are the tragic deaths of all those who sensed there was evil among them and tried to stop it.
It’s in these final scenes of The Omen with Robert and Damien in the church that I am reminded of the Biblical story of The Binding of Isaac. God, wanting to test Abraham’s faith, asked him to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah. Having seen that Abraham was loyal, God then sent an angel to intervene just at the moment when the boy lay on the altar, bound and ready to be slaughtered like a lamb.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
Robert wrestles with his doubts before he finally resolves to kill Damien. When he’s then placed on the altar, there’s a part of us that hopes for a divine intervention, a revelation that it was all just a test, but The Omen doesn’t give us that kind of resolve. True evil cannot be killed and it’s one of those rare moments for a film at that time to depict its resilience against the forces of good. In The Omen, evil wins.
While it strikes dread into our hearts and chills our bones with its gripping story, The Omen is also telling us where to look to for the Antichrist. The man, or woman, who bears the mark of the beast, might already be among us, maybe their rise is just beginning. Whatever the case might be, the world of politics seems a good place to be looking as any other, but let’s hope that when the moment comes, there’s no hesitation in absence of any divine intervention.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .