Museums & the Movies: The Mummy

June 6, 2014


You can’t go for long discussing museums and movies before you come across Ancient Egypt and mummies (in fact, we’ve already come across this theme in a previous edition of my ‘Museums & the Movies’ series). One significant movie in this genre is The Mummy itself, which features a museum that makes several appearances. Actually, so does its sequel, but one movie at a time!

The Mummy (1999)

Location: Cairo, Egypt
Starring: Museum of Antiquities

For those not familiar with the story, The Mummy starts out with a flashback to Thebes in Ancient Egypt, where the Pharaoh’s high priest and mistress have fallen in love with each other. Pharaoh finds out, they kill him, the mistress kills herself, the priest steals her body and takes her to the City of the Dead to resurrect her, Pharaoh’s guards intervene the ritual, mummify his disciples alive and condemn the priest himself to the worst of all ancient curses, so horrible it had never been bestowed on anyone before. You know, the usual. I’m not giving much away here, since this all happens at the very beginning of the movie. And you can probably figure out for yourselves that the cursed priest returns as the titular Mummy as the movie progresses.


Fast forward 3000 years, and we find ourselves at the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, where librarian and aspiring Egyptologist Rachel Weisz (a.k.a. Evy) is courting disaster by ignoring all health and safety precautions in her sorting of library books.



If you’re a librarian or have otherwise enamoured with books, you might want to look away. The director of the museum sums it up pretty well:

Sons of the Pharaohs! Give me frogs, flies, locusts, anything but you!! Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy.

Though he may regret those words later. Meanwhile, Evy takes he mind off the library by going to check out a noise she hears in the gallery. What is it with Egyptian exhibitions and open flames in movies? (see also: Hart to Hart – Murder Wrap) I mean, I’ve never been to Egypt or an Egyptian museum, but do they really illuminate their ancient artefacts with open flame torchlights? To be fair, the movie is set in the 1920s, but electricity was around by then. And before it was widely introduced in public buildings, many museums, out of fear of fire from candles or gas lamps, would just close early (e.g. the British Museum). But maybe things really were different in Egypt in the 1920s.


Another recurring theme in movies with Egyptian museum exhibitions, seems to be people’s inclination to hide in coffins. And there we also have the source of the noise Evy is investigating. In this case, it’s John Hannah (a.k.a. Evy’s brother Jonathan), who jumps out of the coffin, skeleton in hand. As Evy puts it, “have you no respect for the dead?” Or, in other words, have you no respect for museum artefacts?


Anyway, Jonathan has acquired an ancient cartouche with a map to the lost City of the Dead, which allegedly holds a treasure chamber with the wealth of Egypt. Evy is particularly interested in finding the golden book of Amun-Ra. The siblings gain the help of Brendan Fraser (a.k.a. “O’Connell”), after saving him from being hanged, who then leads them on an expedition to the mythical city which, lo and behold, exists.



They are pitched against a rival group of American treasure hunters, led by famed Egyptologist Dr. Chamberlain, who are on the same mission. To cut a long story short, after finding and reading aloud from the Book of the Dead (there are two books in the movie – pay attention so you don’t get confused), Evy managed to bring the ancient high priest, now modelling as “The Mummy”, back to life and all hell breaks loose. Sending him back to where he came from unfortunately doesn’t prove as easy, but then, that would make for a rather short and possible boring movie.


I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie for those yet to see it, but I will leave you with a few questions to ponder:

If Evy is such a know-it-all about Ancient Egypt, why does she not know NOT to read aloud from the Book of the Dead?

After losing all her possessions and western-style clothes in a fire, Evy dresses in a ‘traditional’ Egyptian ensemble as there is nothing else available. Yet, soon after she is wearing western style clothes again and several scenes later is seen unpacking books and a typewriter from a suitcase. Where – and when?! – did she get all this stuff?

When the Mummy passes through Evy’s door in a pile of sand, why didn’t he just open the door? It was locked from the outside.

There’s a stone with an inscription in the museum, that’s probably been there for a while, which reveals where the book of Amun-Ra can be found. Why hasn’t anbody – such as Evy’s Egyptologist parents or Dr Chamberlain – transcribed this before her?


Also look out for the scene where crowds of angry citizens storm the museum. Every museum professional’s worst nightmare – and sadly reminiscent of recent events in Cairo.


And finally, some of my favourite quotes from the movie:

Evy’s very professional summary of how a body was prepared for embalming:

O’Connell: Let me get this straight. They ripped out your guts and they stuffed them in jars?
Evy: And then they take out your heart as well. Oh, you know how they took out your brain? (…) They take a sharp, red hot poker, stick it up your nose, scramble things about a bit and then rip it all out through your nostrils.

Some appreciation for the value of books:

Egyptologist: My god. It does exist. The book of the dead.
Treasure hunter: The book. Who cares about a book. Where the hell’s the treasure?
Egyptologist: This, gentlemen, this *is* treasure.


Famous last words:

Evy: I think this may be the book of the dead.
O’Connell: The book of the dead? You sure you want to be playing around with this thing?
Evy: It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.

The best quote of the movie, and one for all the librarians out there:

Evy: I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.
O’Connell: And what is that?
Evy: I am a librarian!


Have you seen The Mummy? What’s your favourite scene or quote?

Image source: All images are screenshots from the movie, taken on my computer. Available as a DVD from and (known in German as ‘Die Mumie’). Please note these are not affiliate links, I just like the movie. 

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