ArteFict #4: The Mummy!

I’m so excited to review this week’s #artefict – it’s one of my all-time favourite films, The Mummy (Universal Pictures: 1999)! The Mummy is set in the 1920s and follows the haps and mishaps of a group of Egyptologists, treasure hunters, adventurers and hangers-on as they roam around the archaeological ruins of Hamunaptra. Up until they accidentally awaken the titular mummy/Egyptian Voldemort there is a fair amount of 1920s-style pickaxe archaeology to review.

The Archaeologist

Rachel Weisz plays Evelyn (Evie) Carnahan, our main character and budding Egyptologist. When we meet her she’s having a rather bad day – she’s just accidentally trashed a library, got told off by her supervisor… err, museum curator, and she found out her application to the Bembridge Scholars has been rejected due to lack of field experience.

Sounds like a pretty standard day as an early-career academic archaeologist to me!

The Plot/Archaeology

Book of Amun Ra
All fictional archaeologists have to have a life’s pursuit after all!

The plot picks up when Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah), whose profession seems to be loveable-rouge-thief-Englishman, ‘acquires’ a puzzle box with a map inside leading to Hamunaptra – the famous City of the Dead. Evelyn becomes fixated on getting there to find the Book of Amun Ra, her life’s pursuit, which is said to be hidden inside the city along with the “wealth of Egypt”. Unfortunately, the map is damaged, so Jonathan introduces his sister and the audience to the puzzle-box’s original owndr – the delightfully American Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser). In return for negotiating his release from prison (and the gallows) he agrees to guide the Carnahans and the self-invited Prison Warden to the city.

On their journey they meet some rather unsavoury characters also trying to find the site – some less delightful Americans lead by another again less delightful English Egyptologist, complete with Fez and poor attitude towards equal opportunities in the workplace. Bets are made, insults are thrown and the race to discover Hamunaptra is on!

“They are led by a woman; what does a woman know?” Dr Fez calling the Karma train

Many shenanigans later everyone arrives at Hamunaptra and decides upon a spot to start digging. O’Connell presents Evie with a new toolkit *swoon* after all their equipment was lost (shenanigans). After some sledgehammering and pickaxing underground Team Camel (O’Connell and the Carnahans) stumble across Team America (Dr Fez and the Treasure Hunters) and there’s something of an altercation (or a Battle of the Bands, either way), which is mediated and dispersed by Evelyn. She is cool-headed in the light of high-tensions from the men, even after being told “Push off, this is our dig site” by Dr Fez.

ALTERCATION: “Chillax bro” the only woman in this movie who isn’t dead

Evelyn cleverly leads Team Camel to a chamber underneath that claimed by Team America. They unearth (un-ceiling?!) a sarcophagus containing “He Who Must Not Be Named” (see, Egyptian Voldemort) but before they can open it they are distracted by the mysterious death-by-scarab of the Prison Warden. Team America also lose a lot of their red-shirt native diggers to ancient booby traps. It is a sombre mood that evening that leads them to the most practised of all archaeological traditions – getting drunk on excavation.

When you’re at a party and someone asks what you’re still doing at university…

The following day Team Camel open the sarcophagus and find a “nice juicy mummy”, which Evelyn magically dates to being more than 3000 years old, presumably using her accelerator mass spectrometer fingers. Team America discover a cursed chest containing the Book of the Dead, which does the opposite of excite the Americans until they also find canopic jars.

“Who cares about the book, where’s the treasure?” … Americans.

Later that evening Evie “borrows” the Book of the Dead and opens it using the puzzle-box. She reads aloud, awakening the Mummy and really signalling the end of any archaeological excavation in the movie.


What I particularly enjoy about The Mummy is the differences in motivation for the teams at Hamunaptra. For the vast majority, including Johnathan and the Prison Warden from Team Camel and the Americans from Team America, it’s treasure. I think main hottie Rick is also motivated by this, although he is primarily there as he owes Evelyn his life. Beni, all-round cowardly scumbag and Imhotep’s right hand man, is certainly motivated by riches.


Our ‘archaeologists’ Dr Fez and Evelyn are more obviously motivated by a different kind of treasure – knowledge treasure – yet they still hack away at ancient ruins to get at it. Neither of them are particularly interested in the day-to-day life of ancient Egyptians – they’re dealing with death and glory.

As a portrayal of a female archaeologist, Evelyn does fit the stereotype of occasional damsel in distress/a dress, but she is shown as being smart, cool under confrontation, hardworking, motivated and not afraid to get stuck in or stand up for herself. She’s not perfect – she’s clumsy, has limited respect for archaeological due process and ignores warnings about Hamunaptra in pursuit of archaeological glory, but she feels responsibility for awakening the Mummy and refuses to leave. In contrast, the film clearly wants you to dislike the stuck up, arrogant Dr Fez. His attitude towards women archaeologists may be reflective of the time period but it serves to antagonise the audience and makes it all the sweeter when Evie is, of course, just as capable an Egyptologist (if not more so) as he is.  I really like her!

The Mummy (1999: Universal Pictures)

Film Rating: 6/5 – best film ever. O’Connell fan girl.

Archaeology Rating: 3/5 – admittedly light on archaeological due process and heavy on treasure hunting…

Archaeologist Rating: 3/5 – I can’t believe I’m giving Evelyn Carnahan the same score as Dilara Kenner, but despite her being a much better character she just doesn’t have the concern for archaeology (wait… field experience?) she needs for a higher score (or apparently to join the Bembridge Scholars). However, she’s a very competent (scholarly) Egyptologist! Dr Fez gets 1/5 because he’s mean.


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