what could be wrong with our child, robert?

The Omen again.

That whole parenting thing--leave that to the side for the moment. But, not too far to the side. The changeling child idea--central to the premise of the film--does tie back into the parenting. But it also suggests a larger notion of fear of the unknown, specifically fear of foreign unknowns, of foreign influence. I mean, this film puts us in the realm of international politics at the start. Robert Thorn is made the American ambassador to the UK not long after he and his wife get Damien in their lives. Father Brennan points Thorn and Jennings to Italy and then Israel to find, far from the modern trappings of the Thorns' life in England. Seriously, compare the excess of Damien's fifth birthday party to the ruins seen in Israel later in the film.

But, the real danger here is in the child influenced by... maybe it's foreign powers, maybe just belief systems to which we do not subscribe ourselves.

I was wondering why certain religious themes were prominent in films in the 70s. It's a little before my own meaningful experience. This is before the year of three popes, 1978. I don't know enough about Catholic history around that time to know if there was something else going on. So, I'm thinking what else ties together, say, The Omen and Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, Halloween even--children who do not follow in our footsteps. And, then it hits me--and I feel like an idiot because as a history major as an undergrad, the 1960s were my go-to topic, and just last spring I wrote a paper about the 1960s again, though focusing on a communication angle. It hits me that these movies come after a generation of youths have turned against their parents and the mainstream and set out to do their own thing. Taken this way, then, it's not about religion but about other deeply-rooted beliefs... Belief in America, belief in the status quo, in American exceptionalism and conservative values, in not jumping onto the bandwagon of the sexual revolution or the counterculture. The fear of satanism, like the fear of islam today, seems to come right along with a rise in liberalism and an embrace by a younger generation of ideas abhorrent to the powers that be.

Youths turn to sex, drugs and rock and roll, then adults freak out about the new kids they've got on the way (Rosemary's Baby) or newly arrived (The Omen) or going through puberty (The Exorcist). Coincidence?

Well, maybe, but that's the way zeitgeisty stuff works.


  1. Obviously Vatican II was beginning to sink in and a phenomenon was taking place that might be described as either lots of priests, nuns, theologians and laymen throwing off the shackles of dogma and tradition, or else a mass submission on the part of Catholics to the fashions of the surrounding culture. (Conservative Catholics generally don't blame Vatican II for this-- when you look at the documents themselves, they are all very orthodox and rooted in Christian tradition-- more a 'spirit of the Council' that took hold, and which was really not a true reflection of the documents.) Either way I think it might well have led to a sense of disorientation and anxiety that spawned so many of these types of movie. I know the Exorcist novel was written by a Catholic who quite consciously wanted to reawaken a sense of the supernatural in American society.

    Stephen King, in Danse Macabre, suggests that all horror appeals to the conservative in each one of us. I tend to think this is true.

    1. Ha....here you go, Robert!


    2. vatican ii is one of those things i know of only in the very abstract. it has never really come for study up until now

      thank you for the link

    3. An awful lot of Catholics, including those in holy orders, took it as a signal that radical change was imminent in the Church and that everything was up for grabs (and were deeply disillusioned when this turned out not to be the case). Vocations to the priesthood and to female religious orders plummeted in the years after it, since there was a sense that being Catholic (or a priest or a nun) wasn't special anymore, salvation was a shoe-in, all religions were the same (etc.)-- again, not so much based on the actual Council, as on the misconceptions. Considering the legacy of Vatican II is still being fought over, the seventies were really only a blink of an eye from its closing sessions in 1965. But perhaps even then a sense of the loss of the sacred and supernatural was being felt.


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