The late nineties was a great time for movies. Back then men were real men, women were real women and CGI monsters were real fuzzy. It’s only fitting that this era produced The Mummy.
The Mummy, released in 1999, is the sort of PG-13 action flick that was cultivated especially for teenage boys. There are roaring undead monsters, sword fights, gun battles, plane-swallowing sandstorms, hot almost-naked Egyptian temptresses and a lot of wisecracking dialogue.
So it may surprise you to learn that The Mummy is actually a chick flick.
Yeah, you heard me.
The Mummy is a chick flick.
Oh, this film may look like a boy’s film but it’s basically Shakespeare in Love with mummies. And yes, I will explain.
The Mummy opens up 3000 years in the past in ancient Egypt. We see Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I (Aharon Ipale). The Pharoah has ordered that no man besides the Pharaoh is allowed to touch Anck-su-namun. Anck-su-namun, however, has other plans. She will do what she wants with her own body.
We see Anck-su-namun visit the chamber of her lover, High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). She walks into Imhotep’s chamber where Imhotep patiently waits for her, clearly at her request. In the first scene alone we can see that Anck-su-namun is calling all the shots. Imhotep does not touch Anck-su-namun until she touches Imhotep’s face, giving him permission to proceed. They then kiss.
The Pharaoh interrupts Imhotep and Anck-su-namun’s love-making. Before the Pharaoh can really react, however, Anck-su-namun kills him. The Pharaoh’s bodyguards rush to Imhotep’s chamber and Imhotep prepares to protect Anck-su-namun knowing he will probably die in the attempt. Anck-su-namun orders Imhotep to flee instead. “Only you can resurrect me!”
Imhotep does as she asks though he clearly does not want to. Anck-su-namun then faces the Pharaoh’s bodyguards. Before they can kill her, however, she defiantly states “My body is no longer his temple!” and commits suicide.
Technically it’s not really suicide though because Anck-su-namun does not intend to stay dead for long. She knows her boyfriend will steal her body and bring her back from the dead before she loses too much skin tone.
The opening scene is indicative of a theme in The Mummy. The men may be the ones fighting and stabbing and hiding from mummies but the women are the ones who initiate all the action.
We then fast-forward approximately three millennia to 1926. We meet Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), an adorable and brilliant (if rather clumsy) librarian who works at a museum in Cairo. Evelyn is a true scholar and Egyptologist. Her language skills play a massive role in the movie when it comes to fighting the mummy and setting the adventure in motion.
Despite her intelligence, Evelyn is stuck sorting books at the museum library and acting as a semi-caretaker for her impulsive, lazy brother. After translating an ancient map that her brother (John Hannah) stole from a treasure-hunter named O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) Evelyn decides to rescue O’Connell from a local jail and set off to find the legendary lost city of Hamunaptra.
Re-watching The Mummy I am struck by how respectfully the film treats Evelyn. She is not an average action movie hot chick. We do not get any close-ups to her chest or bottom. She never gets her clothes ripped away in a fight scene like what happened with Princess Amidala in Attack of the Clones. Her vintage dresses are not designed for the male gaze. She wears stylish pretty outfits that look exactly like what a woman would choose for herself, not what a man would choose for her.
More interestingly, Evelyn’s skills in this adventure are remarkably feminine strengths. Her grasp of emotional intelligence is high. She rescues the hero O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) from being hanged by cleverly haggling with his executioner. In another scene Evelyn is able to gently persuade twenty men pointing guns at each other to lower their weapons without firing a shot.
The Mummy does not descend into false feminism by pretending that women are as physically strong as men in a fight. We see no stupid Charlie’s Angels-style scenes of Evelyn dropping a man twice her size with one punch. Instead we see Evelyn help her brother finally defeat the mummy by translating the necessary ancient Egyptian text to send the mummy back into the underworld. And yes, studies show that women are better at language skills than men.
Evelyn is also absolutely unapologetic about her feminine status and job in a world dominated by men. Never once does she allow a man to talk down to her, not even the mummy! “I may not be an explorer or an adventurer or a treasure seeker or gunfighter,” she says in one scene while drunkenly flirting with O’Connell, “But I am proud of what I am.”
“And that is?” O’Connell responds.
“I am a librarian!” Evelyn happily proclaims.
And why the the hell not? Be proud!
For my closing argument that The Mummy is a chick flick, I present the men.
Oh yes, there are men in The Mummy. And they are gorgeous. We’re talking Brendan Fraser in his prime (yes children, before Brendan Fraser played a 600 pound dying man in The Whale he was once one of the most handsome men in Hollywood). We’re talking Oded Fehr. Hell, even the mummy was pretty good looking once he was fully resurrected.
The Mummy was made for the straight female gaze. In other words, it’s a chick flick. And a pretty decent chick flick too. I’ll take it over My Best Friend’s Wedding any day of the week.
Julia Roberts may be perky but she’s no librarian.