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Archive for the ‘The Omen v.2’ Category

Dear Dad,

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. I hope you are doing well.

Halloween is this weekend so there are lots of scary movies on TV and in the theaters. They remind me of Saturday nights when we lived in Rockford, Ill.

Remember how the whole family would sit on the family room sofa in front of the TV? We’d turn out the lights so the room would be pitch black when we watched “Creature Features.” It was fun and scary at the same time.

One night we were watching The Mummy and during a commercial you left to use the bathroom. When you walked menacingly back into the room, we saw that you had wrapped toilet paper around your head and arms, just like the mummy.

You startled us, but then we laughed. We weren’t afraid any more. Thanks, Dad.

Of course some horror films are so predictable, you can’t help but laugh. “Don’t go in there,” we’d yell, but it was too late. Whatever was waiting inside that dark room would soon make its presence known.

The films that scared me the most were those based upon a realistic premise, especially pseudo-religious films like The Omen and The Exorcist.

When I was finally old enough to watch these films on my own VCR, I got so wrapped up in the films’ pageantry of ancient rituals that I had to repeat “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”

The ExorcistThe Exorcist begins in Northern Iraq where Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is leading an archeological dig for religious relics. He finds a modern-day St. Joseph medal near a small statue of the demon Pazuzu, an ancient Sumerian demigod.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Washington, DC, Father Karras (Jason Miller) is battling a crisis of faith in the wake of his mother’s death.

Nearby in the quiet suburb of Georgetown, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) acts in a film during the day and returns to her rented condo and daughter Regan (Linda Blair) at night. When Regan becomes ill and then psychologically disturbed, Chris contacts Father Karras for help.

After a number of interviews and extraordinary events, Father Karras believes the girl is possessed and petitions the bishop for permission to perform an exorcism. The bishop sends in the experienced Father Merrin, along with Father Karras, to heal the young girl.

According to our cathechism, exorcism, in its simple form, “is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church.” (Ch. 4, Art. 1, #1673 – Cathechism of the Catholic Church, USCCB)

Decades later, the film continues to thrill and frighten viewers. In its archive of film reviews, the film, the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the USCCB states: “Directed by William Friedkin, the movie is on shaky ground theologically and its special effects are horrific but the result is an exciting horror fantasy for those with strong stomachs. Its graphic violence, obscene references and foul language make it strictly adult fare. (A-IV)

Dad, when I was a seminarian at Mundelein, I heard stories about The Exorcist. Author William Peter Blatty visited campus many times, using the vast library resources to research his novel. According to the tales, while he was reading about the rites of exorcism, books fell off shelves when no one was around; gusts of wind blew past him when no windows were open. Could those tales be true?

My favorite scary movies are the ones about the afterlife – movies like Ghost, The Frighteners, The Sixth Sense. Is it possible that our human senses cannot perceive the dimension in which spirits walk among us on earth? We can’t see radio waves or cellular phone signals, but they real, crisscrossing the air all around us.

What if I could see those radio waves? Would I be able to see you Dad? It’s been four years since you left us and I still dream about you. Once I woke up hearing your voice, asking me to take care of Mom.

Were you next to me when you spoke? Is that state halfway between sleep and full consciousness a doorway to where you are?

You could be here in the same room with me right now, checking in before you go back to sit with Mom. Somehow it’s comforting and I’m not afraid any more.

Dad, do you want to watch a movie?

CF
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First published in the October 30, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio

Christopher Fenoglio lives at the end of a dark, dead-end street in the sleepy community of Bellevue near Nashville. Comment on this or other posts now – if you dare.

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Analysis

While the recent release of The Da Vinci Code has garnered worldwide publicity and the scrutiny of Christian clergy and religious groups, the upcoming film The Omen has so far flown under the radar of this same scrutiny.

Yet like The Da Vinci Code, The Omen uses scriptural references and popular culture images to take viewers on a fictional thrill ride while also distorting the symbols and teachings of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it uses news clips of real tragedies to gain a familiarity with the audience in order to make more credible the film’s premise that the Apocalypse and the Anti-Christ, as foretold by the Book of Revelations, may be here – today.

But in director John Moore’s vision, who is causing these horrible events: Satan and the arrival of the Anti-Christ or mankind itself?

The film is an updated version of the 1976 horror classic of the same name that starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and was directed by Richard Donner. The 2006 film stars Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles in the main roles and was directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix). The current remake uses most of the original screenplay written by David Seltzer (TV’s Revelations).

As the story begins, we meet a young diplomat (Schreiber) whose wife (Stiles) is in the hospital delivering their first-born son. However, the father learns from the hospital’s chaplain that his son died in childbirth. In order to spare the mother from the awful truth, after previous unsuccessful pregnancies, perhaps the father will adopt another boy born at the same time, but whose mother died in childbirth.

OmenYears later, as their son Damien grows up in the privileged home of the U.S. Ambassador to England, strange and horrible events start happening. A nanny commits suicide in front of birthday party guests, zoo animals become enraged at the site of Damien, and a mysterious Mrs. Baylock arrives to care for the boy. (In a casting coup, the director enlists Mia Farrow as the new nanny. Her participation is a direct nod to her starring role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the first famous “son of Satan” film).

Meanwhile, the ambassador is visited by a priest who implores him to accept Christ and research the true origins of his son. Aided by a photographer whose photographs foretell horrific events, the ambassador follows the growing warning in his heart and delves deeper into his adopted son’s past.

Convinced by the strange events surrounding Damien (and the “666” birthmark on his scalp, labeled “the mark of the Beast” in Revelations), the ambassador takes steps to end the boy’s life and prevent the maturity of the supposed Anti-Christ on earth.

The majority of the film that deals with the main storyline is a fine, contemporary retelling of the original film. While The Da Vinci Code is a mystery thriller, The Omen is a shock horror film throughout. The director added new dream sequences and rich colors in order to layer psychological terrors onto the horrific events of the film.

The parents, much younger than the stars of the original, are more engaging and thus bring us deeper into their fears and questions about the true nature of their son. Mia Farrow’s nanny adds a creepy, sometimes comedic personality to the film.

To combat the difficulty the director sees in asking “the audience to believe something immediately that’s far fetched, to say the least,” he adds controversial new scenes at the film’s beginning and end to herald the possible beginning of Armageddon.

Historical film clips of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11, the fiery remains of the Challenger explosion streaking across the sky, and the destructive waters of the Tsunami in India and the Gulf Coast floods set an ominous tone for the film.

“There has never been a more salient time to remind people that evil is neither a concept nor a theory,” Moore says in the film’s publicity materials. “It has a human face and it empowers itself through human actions. The true nature of evil has never been more apparent.

“In the past four years alone,” Moore continues, “the world has been hit with devastating events – political, natural and man-made. One can’t help but notice a certain momentum.”

Indeed, the connection of these historical and cinematic events utilizes a dispensational view of Christian history that many fundamentalist Christians have adopted. This view purports that man’s relationship with God is a series of historical events that began in the Old Testament and will continue to the actualization of the Kingdom of God as portrayed in the Book of Revelations. The Left Behind series of books is written around this view.

In contrast, the Church teaches us that the foundation for the Kingdom of God was built upon the covenants that God made with all mankind. In addition, the Kingdom of God is here today, the “redemptive presence of God actualized through the power of God’s reconciling Spirit.”

The final events of this world are “grounded in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and are anticipated even now in faith, hope, charity, in the sacraments, and in the Church itself.” (Catholicism by Richard P. McBrien)

Moore ends the film with a troublesome new scene – a dramatic depiction of Pope John Paul II in bed taking his last breath, a crystal goblet of red wine falling down onto his white cassock, the final blood spilling of the film.

During interviews following a preview of the film in New York, I asked Moore why he used actors to portray the death of the pope instead of news footage. Was he trying to inflame emotions and enhance publicity for the film by making some sort of connection between the pope’s death and the Apocalypse?

“It was simply a visual demonstration of the triumph of dark over light, a moviemaking technique,” said the director. “I struggled with it. I had it in and out of the movie a couple times. (In the end) I wanted to portray a loss in the battle, not just a victory, because it makes (the film) feel all the more chilling.”

There were significant technical and scheduling aspects to completing the film, according to Moore. There were only 10 months between the first phone call from Fox Studios to Moore and the release date. One has to wonder if the film would have been made at all if not for the marketing-driven release date of 6/6/06.

Liev Schreiber said that he played the role of Robert Thorn as a lapsed Catholic who was “familiar with those passages of Scripture but maybe felt some reticence that it held some truth.” Schreiber ably carries the audience along for the ride as he portrays Thorn’s emotional journey from incredulity to possibility to acceptance.

In the end, Thorn believes so much that he draws upon his faith and recites the Lord’s Prayer in the climatic scene, dialogue that was not in the original screenplay. “It was an instinct that I had, it wasn’t scripted. But John liked it and we went with it,” said Schreiber.

“It made sense to me because what he was doing was horrible. In order to accomplish it, he had to put his faith into something. If he accepted the premise that the prophecies of Revelations were true, then he also had to accept the premise of The Lord’s Prayer and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for what he was doing,” recounted Schreiber.

Films like this, according to Schreiber, allow us to “vent our anxieties and our fears” even though it is just a “popcorn thriller.” We are relieved, he says, when we can say at the end that “it’s only a movie.”

CF
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First published in the June 2, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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