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THE OMEN – Superstition of 666 born again

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles and Mia Farrow
Director: John Moore
Rated: MA15+

I THINK I have heard it all now. A print journalist recently interviewed me about the release of The Omen on 6/6/06 and informed me that some Australian mothers were not wanting to deliver their babies, especially their sons, on that date.

I did not believe her so I rang an obstetrician friend of mine who confirmed it.

He had no elective caesarian sections scheduled for June 6, and told me that people whose babies were due around that time were “very conscious of the date”.

Unusually for me, I was speechless.

This remake of the 1976 horror film of the same name narrates the coming of the “Antichrist”.

Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is the US Ambassador to the Court of St James. His wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) gives birth to a boy at the sixth hour of the sixth day in the sixth month.

Unbeknown to the mother, the child is stillborn, and to save her the heartbreak of losing a child, the powerful ambassador arranges for another baby to be substituted. Katherine never suspects a thing. They call their son Damien.

The first few years of the boy’s life are uneventful, but as Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) grows up tragic events seem to surround him.

On his fifth birthday, and without any warning or context, his nanny commits suicide by hanging herself. A priest known to the family is speared to death in a freak accident.

Damien’s parents start to worry about their son, and when the truth comes out about the switch at birth, they discover that their adopted boy is the son of Satan. He has 666 as a birthmark.

Demonologist Fr Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) tells them that the Antichrist can only be stopped from spreading evil throughout the world by being killed with the seven daggers of Meggado.

But Damien has his protectors, principally Mrs Baylock (Mia Farrow), and they will not be stopped.

Given the superstitions of some birthing parents in Australia, it seems we have to take this nonsense more seriously than it deserves.

For a start, I find it extraordinary that parents, the vast majority of whom are not all that attentive to religious observances in the course of their lives, are anxious about the religious connotations of the birth date of their child. They can take heart from the fact that June 6 is not 6/6/06 at all.

Christianity took over the Roman calendar in the 4th century. In 526, a scholarly monk named Dionysius Exiguus compiled a list of the dates of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. He assigned dates in the new Christian calendar for each of these events.

Given the tools at his disposal, he did an extraordinary job.

We know, however, from other historical sources and from the New Testament, where it mentions who the various Jewish and Roman rulers were in Palestine, that Dionysius’ dating was out.

The Church became aware of this mistake in 1582, but to correct it the world would have lost four years. So we have all lived with it ever since.

The millennium, claimed by some people as the day Christ was going to return, was marked on January 1, 2001. It was actually January 1, 1997.

We assume that Satan knows that the sixth day of the sixth month in 06 was in fact June 6, 2002.

In any case we should pay no heed to the so-called “devil’s number”.

The beast is mentioned 40 times in the New Testament, 39 of these are in the Book of Revelation, where in 13:18 we are invited to “… calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six”.

Recent biblical scholarship on Revelations chapters 13-20 concludes that all references to “the beast” are not to personified evil in Satan, but to the Roman Empire which was then the brutal occupying force in the Near East.

As the prophet Daniel had done before, the author of the Book of Revelations understandably uses a coded language for the repressive political regime of the day.

The longer we got away from this era, and the kinder later Emperors were to Christianity, then the more “the beast” was taken to be another, malevolent force in the world, the devil incarnate.

This remake of The Omen is stylish and assured, but it is not a patch on the original, which was absurd enough.

Here the acting is all too earnest, and because it follows the 1976 film so closely it fails to thrill or horrify.

If I had a wife and we were blessed enough to have a son at 6am on 6/6/06, I would be proud to baptise him Damian after the early 3rd Century Christian martyr, or after St Peter Damian of Ravenna or Blessed Damien of Molokai, and superstition be damned.

I take evil far too seriously to think The Omen is telling me anything realistic or important.

When thinking of evil in the world I prefer to reflect on the 32,000 people who, on average, die every day of starvation.

We in the developed world could feed them if we chose to, but we are generally too busy eating ourselves to death. That’s personified evil.

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