What is really fantastic about director Karl Freund's 1932 classic horror film The Mummy is that it so radically breaks with traditional themes while still retaining all the best of the horror genre: while there is still fear, suspense and the encroaching great 'unknown,' it doesn't utilize the horror genre as a vehicle for sexual pathos the way most horrors do, but it is definitely about pathos and resurrection.
|Original Theatrical Release Poster, 1932.|
|At the moment the mummy regains life and steals the Scroll of Thoth.|
The American Economy.
In the early 1930's, the world-wide Great Depression was here to stay and people everywhere were realizing it. The American economy had bottomed out from a huge percentage of unemployed and poor. At dire times such as these, people begin to question and examine, "What went wrong?" "How did we get here?" and from what's going on in today's economy, we all know the dark, ugly truth of that. The Mummy was one of many films exploring some of the options and fears of American's at that moment in history.
|Bread and soup line during the Great Depression in America.|
|Imhotep as a high priest in ancient Egypt.|
They were the ones who had it in them to get this country through those struggles and trials. The Mummy seems to be saying that, "This is our time, and we have it in us to get out of it and to the place we need to be." The great love that Imhotep has for his princess symbolizes the love the founding fathers had for this country: they all risked being hanged for treason and losing their family and wealth, so they truly sacrificed everything as Imhotep did for the princess. We should follow their example, but not necessarily them, because to utter words "too dark," would be, like the young archaeologist, to resurrect them unwittingly, and they have no more place in today's world than one of us being transported back into their world would have.
So how does it translate symbolically that Imhotep was buried alive, to be dead even in death?
But that's not the only thing that happens.
|Helen Grosvenor wearing the trappings of an Egyptian princess.|
There are two important traits about Helen, who embodies the spirit of the the princess Imhotep loved, that we should note: first, she's half English and half Egyptian and she's under treatment for a disorder that is never elaborated upon. That she is half and half translates to her being "half modern and half ancient": when Imhotep calls her to come to him so he can tell her what his plan is, she enters his dwelling and exclaims, "This is old Egypt," and she easily succumbs to the romanticism of the "old ways."
|Ready to kill Helen as her "mummy" burns in the background.|
She is undergoing treatment but it is never revealed what that treatment is for, which translates symbolically into the American economy that needed "treatment" for crashing the stock market into the ground and using unsound financial principles to guide the country. Because of the horror she undergoes with Ardeth Bey wanting her to be united with him, she makes a definite stand to live in her own identity, in her own time. This basic philosophical commitment to her own individuation is what "cures her" of whatever ailment she had, and this worked on the American economy to live up to the moment (which happened to be World War II) and that's what it's going to take for us today.
That each generation will make its own mistakes, but will necessarily overcome them. The mummy might put a curse on anyone that won't permit it to resurrect the one that it loved, but we have the overwhelming burden of our own identities to bear and explore, to fulfill and realize. As existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, "We are condemned to be free," and that is the curse which each generation bears under the darkest scrutiny of previous generations and those still to come. That is the "death and eternal punishment" of anyone who opens the casket, that you lose your own identity and the chance of being forged in the fire of trials in the making of your own self to resurrect those who have gone before you.