The Mummy (1932)

As seen through the examples of Vathek and King Kong, race, exoticism, and ethnography contribute greatly to the construction of monstrosity, a fact which holds true in both film and literature. Originally released in 1932, Karl Freund’s The Mummy intricately embodies this particular form of monstrosity relating to race, exoticism, and ethnography.  Serving as the primary source of information on Ancient Egypt for Western audience members at this time period, The Mummy tells the story of an Ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep who is discovered by members of an archaeological expedition (Cowie & Johnson 93). After attempting to bring Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, his forbidden lover, back to life, Imhotep was mummified alive by his fellow Egyptians as a way of punishing him for his misdeeds; however, after being awakened by the members of the archaeological expedition, Imhotep successfully assimilates into Egypt’s new culture and discovers a woman named Helen who he believes is a reincarnation of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. At this point, Imhotep makes an effort to kill and then mummify her so they can be reunited once more. Helen, however, calls upon the Egyptian goddess Isis who then destroys Imhotep once and for all (Striner 48). The Mummy continues to have an astounding impact on the production of many films in the Ancient Egyptian genre to this day (Smith 19).

An application of Edward Said’s Orientalism is perhaps the best route through which to analyze Karl Freund’s The Mummy. Said uses the term Orientalism to describe the ways in which Western artists and scholars depicted the Orient as an inferior and “other”-like culture in comparison to the West (Said 21). In other words, Said argues that the Orient is being represented in Western culture as exotic and unknown, which becomes the basis for the development of Western superiority. In turn, these aspects of otherness and inferiority fuse together to create a unique blend of monstrosity which is evidenced several times throughout The Mummy.  One prime example of Orientalism’s role in the film is seen in the intrusion of British archaeologists onto sacred Ancient Egyptian territory. The archaeologists are not merely visiting, but rather, they are excavating the grounds and crediting themselves with finding the culture, opposed to acknowledging the culture as its own (Scurry 76).  When their findings are placed in a museum later in the film, a plaque is placed at the epicenter of the exhibit which reads as follows: “All objects in the room are from her unplundered tomb, discovered by the British Museum Field Force 1932.”  Again, this establishes Ancient Egypt as an inferior culture and subsequently depicts the Mummy as the monstrous “other.”

Works Cited

Cowie, Suzie, and Tom Johnson. The Mummy in Fact, Fiction and Film. Jefferson: McFarland, 2002. Print.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books Limited, 2003. Print.

Scurry, Samuel. “Orientalism in American Cinema: Providing a Historical and Geographical Context for Post-Colonial Theory.” MA Thesis. Clemson University, 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Smith, Stuart. “Unwrapping the Mummy: Hollywood Fantasies, Egyptian Realities.” Box Office Archaeology: Refining Hollywood’s Portrayals of the Past. Ed. Julie Schablitsky. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2007. 16-33. Print.

Striner, Richard. Supernatural Romance in Film : Tales of Love, Death and the Afterlife. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. Print.


2 responses to “The Mummy (1932)

  1. Your take on the mummy is interesting in its own right. Your analysis on the exploration of the mummy’s exoticism is absolutely consistent with the way films are created to entice an audience. The concept of a mummy was a pre-sold concept in that it is both mysterious and exciting precisely because of the exoticism that surrounds the topic.

    But I also wanted to mention the fact that the idea of the mummy is also interesting in that it possesses qualities of the walking dead. In the film, Imhotep is brutally executed and mummified, but is later reawakened from his deathly slumber to wreak havoc on Egypt. As you can see there are consistencies with my own topic of the sleepwalker. This points to the fact that many monsters are related in their otherness and demonstrates the complications in truly classifying each one.

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