We live in a time when the forces of rationalism and irrationalism do perpetual battle on political, artistic, scientific, and psychological fronts. Many believe that the current resurgence of interest in the occult, mysticism, and parapsychology is only a manifestation of a widespread cultural sickness. Others are firmly convinced that there is much more to life than the rational mind we can discern. There are principalities and powers at work in the universe which defy logic.

Quite a few movies have reflected this battle in the last few years. Most have focused on the nature of the demonic and forces of evil beyond human control: The Devils, The Exorcist, Teorema, Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now, The Possession of Joel Delaney, and The Mephisto Waltz. These films have brought us to the horrific realization of the impenetrability of evil and drawn out our very deep anxieties about death and destruction. Watching them, we have sensed that our ordered and sensible lives are always tottering on the brink of chaos.

The Omen is a terrifying film about these issues and much more. For centuries some Christians have expected and feared the appearance on earth of a monster of chaos — the Antichrist. The Bible contains many passages referring to this destroyer, one of the most poignant is found in Revelation 13, a chapter which has been a challenge to the early Church Fathers, writers like Dostoevsky, and countless contemporary believers. What is the meaning of these poetic images? To ponder this text is to realize anew the close connection between faith and imagination. This film undertakes that very process.

The result is a spine-tingling thriller about the Antichrist which both shakes the soul and jars the nerves. Some of the mysterious referents of Revelation 13 are incorporated into a modern story that sets the mind buzzing with images of the demonic. It explores the possible connections between evil and the animal world, flushes out our dread about the vulnerability of political leaders to Satanic purposes, and bring to the surface our often unspoken fright about war, devastation, and anarchy as the shape of the future. The Omen compels our attention with a rare blend of realism and supernaturalism.

A child is born in Rome on the sixth day of the sixth month of the year at six in the morning. (See Revelation 13:18: "Let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.") Through an unusual turn of events this child, though not their own, becomes the son of Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), the American ambassador to England, and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick). Five years later the sophisticated politician is visited by a seemingly deranged priest who tells him that his son Damien is a killer who will eventually "establish his counterfeit kingdom here on earth, receiving his power directly from Satan."

Can Thorn believe the crazed man who speaks in riddles? "From the Eternal Sea he rises/Creating armies on either side;/Turning man against his brother/Till man exists no more." With the suicide of Damien's nanny and the odd death of the priest, Thorn becomes obsessed with the meaning of these words. Together with a photographer (David Warner), he travels to Rome and Jerusalem in an attempt to unravel the metaphysical detective story about the Antichrist. Meanwhile Damien and his ally (Billie Whitelaw) wreck havoc on the Thorn household. Order gives ways to chaos.

Director Richard Donner, in superb command of this material, leads us through the labyrinthine story line masterfully — scaring and surprising us along the way. Gregory Peck does heroic battle with the forces of evil, and we identify with him throughout. The tone of the film is one of unrelieved menace. We are transfixed by the images before us. The Omendoes not aim to convert anyone to a belief in the Antichrist, but by the end of the film even the most skeptical may feel chilled and shaken at the possibility of such a supernatural embodiment of evil.