Ancient Egypt resonates in popular culture within movies, like “The Mummy”; books, like “Crocodile on the Sandbank”; and even music, as an artistic form, like Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” music video.
Many people have come to be fascinated by Ancient Egyptian culture because it was so unique in their belief and worship of the gods, their acceptance toward death, and daily rituals. But because the culture was so unique and distinct, people have come to view the ancient culture and its beliefs as extraordinary and mysterious.
Ancient Egypt within pop culture, especially in movies, is usually portrayed to have an eerie vibe, associating its customs with some kind of dark magic/sorcery. For example, in the 1932 movie, “The Mummy,” the mummy was made the antagonist and was given special powers that could kill people and control them. Basically, Imhotep (the mummy) had been mummified alive as punishment for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, princess Ankh-es-en-Amon (which is historically inaccurate since the ancient Egyptians would mummify someone only in hopes that he/she may move on to the afterlife, something they wouldn’t do for a criminal; but that is to be discussed in perhaps another post about the historical inaccuracies of Ancient Egypt in pop culture). Imhotep is resurrected after Ralph Norton reads a passage from the book of the dead. Imhotep lives on and later meets Helen Grosvernor, who greatly resembles the princess. In hopes to finish what he had started years ago to mummify and resurrect her, he does all that he can, including killing anyone who gets in his way, to have Helen. His plan later fall through as Helen prays to the goddess Isis to save her, who then destroys the scroll that brought Imhotep to life, thereby killing him. As much as this sounds like an interesting and exciting story, it actually depicts Ancient Egyptian customs in the opposite view from how they were originally viewed by the ancient Egyptians themselves. In terms of resurrection, the ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, which was meant to have a positive connotation, giving the dead a new full life of peace. But, in this movie, the term resurrection is more associated with terms of haunting and despair. This is because the perspectives on death differ between ancient Egyptians and other people from the modern age. The ancient Egyptians did not necessarily welcome death with a big smile on their faces, but they did accept it and believed in the afterlife. Most people don’t really embrace death like the ancient Egyptians did, to the point that they are uncomfortable talking about death or even being close to the elderly or patients who are near death. The film gives a great portrayal of how some people react and view ancient Egyptian beliefs: odd; thus the spin on the dark magic associated with ancient Egyptian rituals, like resurrection.
Moreover, the ancient Egyptians respected the dead and the book of the dead and mummification were all considered sacred. All the “magic” that comes from resurrection and from the spells of the book of the dead was from and by the gods. To turn these things into something evil and labeled as dark magic may be very misleading. It may draw one to neglect the presence of the gods and label this magic as evil and weird sorcery that the Egyptians do; or to even taint the reputation of the gods who have these great powers that are not really meant to be used or viewed as evil, like the movie depicts of killing people left and right.
Moreover, in the movie “Stargate,” the setting takes place in what looks to be Ancient Egypt and the primitive locals are illiterate and estranged from even the simplest of things like fire and blindly follow and obey Ra, their god, whom they discover to be just a human just like them. This twist actually also changes the original views of the ancient Egyptians held. They obeyed and followed their gods due to respect, not so much due to fear that the gods will kill them or whatnot. Of course, they had their beliefs that they must have their life in order to pass the test of Ma’at, but even in that, their approach was not really pushed by fear, but they actually respected this religion and chose to live this way of life. Moreover, when Jackson revealed that the god Ra was not actually this divine, all powerful god, but just a human, this scene kind of took a jab at the fact that the ancient Egyptians believed their pharaoh, who is biologically just a human being, to be the living god. In the movie, the locals rebel against Ra, after finding out that he was just mortal. This contrasts to the fact that ancient Egyptians knew that their pharaoh were not mortal in their present lives, but to be immortal in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians revered their pharaohs, knowing they were all powerful, due to being god-sent, not that they were brainwashed into this belief and into worshipping the pharaoh. This also rejects the idea of there being all-powerful gods and enforces the idea that the gods could just not have been real at all and was just a political maneuver of each pharaoh.
In both cases of the movies, “The Mummy” and “Stargate,” the writers created an ancient Egyptian setting/ tribute, but not without giving misleading ideas about the views ancient Egyptians had of their religion and inputting more of what the writers, or just onlookers of ancient Egyptian culture think about the rituals and traditions. It almost disrespects the culture of its rituals, and subtly rejects and discredits the religious beliefs that the ancient Egyptians once held to be sacred and true.