Things to Come

Picked up The Omen at the library over the weekend and watched it last night. I remembered it being so scary and it really isn’t. What it is: a nicely-done horror movie back from when horror movies still had stories and weren’t just excuses to show people sawing off their own limbs.

It’s Richard Donner, the Banana Splits director. The one time I wrote a play, I had two characters, a brother and sister in their 20s, get in an argument over which came first, the Banana Splits theme song, or Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier. The argument ended in a rather dramatic standoff. I wrote it when I was about 32, and I still really like it.

Anyway, Donner ain’t exactly Orson Welles, but all that kids’ TV seemed to give him a nice sense of pacing. The Eldest Child complained of the movie being too slow, but it really isn’t; it takes a little time, but it’s not Antonioni, where someone looks out a window with no expression on her face for 10 minutes. (I love Antonioni, but if you hated The New World, DO NOT under any circumstances try to watch L’Avventura.) You have Gregory Peck, who just can’t be bad, and Lee Remick, who very definitely can but is quite lovely in this, David Warner as the doomed photographer (who meets his demise in a truly silly but state-of-the-art special effect), and Billie Whitelaw, Harold Pinter’s wife, as the eerily calm Mrs. Baylock. The supporting characters are well-cast, the movie is solemn but also terse enough to not get weighed down, and although the music is probably the reason the expression “over-the-top” was invented, it’s effective in the Bernard Herrmann tradition (Psycho and Citizen Kane are two of his).

I think The Omen was probably the first mainstream presentation of the book of Revelation. Note that I said “mainstream.” Anybody who grew up in the fundamentalist Christian church of a certain age will remember having sat through “Thief in the Night,” a crappy cheapie about waking up and everybody’s gone to heaven and the moon’s blood and there’s general mayhem. At least, that was the hype, but my vague memory tells me that most of the movie was some guy trying to get his wife to church and she ignored him and then she looks over one morning and the bed’s empty and they freeze frame and play that song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” by Larry Norman, a failed rock singer who I think probably did a lot of psychedelics, but in the name of God, of course.

Cut to the 21st century and Left Behind is an enormous franchise. I tried to read one, and they’re so badly written they’re…..well, unreadable. But you don’t really care about that when you’re in high school or middle school or whatever the target demographic is, because basically you’re still in that Nancy Drew stage where it’s all about the plot and lots of exclamation points. And to an adolescent, the moon turning to blood and the Pale Horse signifying death is exciting stuff. I do remember getting fairly geeked when, in church, there was some sheet circulating that mapped all the verses in Revelation to current events, even the really weird ones like, “The fourth stone was jasper.” Mom, thank God, rolled her eyes and hid a smile.

I am SO grateful that Mom and Dad never bought into the coming apocalypse crap. I think they recognized that that really wasn’t what being a Christian was about. But in today’s climate, I’m afraid that’s increasingly rare. Of course, I hope that it’s not and that Christians who truly want to follow Christ’s example are a silent majority (in fact, I think there are a whole lot of people who would never call themselves Christians who are following Christ much more closely than the ones with those stupid Mel Gibson nail necklaces).

I dunno if God chuckles or just shakes his head and rolls his eyes at the whole Left Behind thing, but here’s what I think it is: schlocky horror with enough cross-references to Bible verses to get the “Approved!” stamp from your local right-wing homophobe churchman. Here’s what it also is: a gold mine for Tim La Haye and the chimps that he hires to churn this crap out. Gang, that money ain’t goin’ to charity.

I would say it’s harmless, like Creepy Comics with the name of Jesus thrown in a bunch of times, but that’s the problem. This is, I think, a prime example of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Whether or not you believe in a single one of the ten commandments,  all the people buying these books and supporting this industry would say that they do believe in them, fervently. They are, at best, misguided saps. But La Haye deserves, according to his source material, a millstone around his neck for leading people astray. And if you don’t believe a word in the Bible, his crimes against good writing are enough to get him a stern talking-to and a stint at a really big chalkboard scratching out nothing but “I am a shitty writer” for all eternity. See, then he can’t write any more books but he still gets to write. Win-win, in my book.

There is so much great apocalyptic fiction out there; it’s just called “dystopia.” A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, 1984 (not Orwell’s best, but Orwell’s so good it doesn’t really matter). I also really liked The Children of Men. P.D. James is probably the most interesting mystery writer of the last 50 years, but this isn’t a mystery. We’ve got the movie coming to us soon, and I’ll give a report. And of course I must throw in the lovely Never Let Me Go, which the Eldest also loved. (The trick to getting her love is if it makes her cry a lot, and it did. She and I do love a good cry, and art, for some reason, is an easier path for us than reality. More about that later.)

Meanwhile, check out the spot-on parody of Left Behind done on the Simpsons. And next time someone tells you about how great Left Behind is, see if they’ve actually read Revelation, or anything else by its author, John, truly the greatest of the New Testament writers. Hopefully, after they read the real thing, they’ll throw the crap in the garbage.

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