Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
I actually didn't want to write this article because Brendan Fraser has been hurt enough. But it is not my intention to hurt him or his reputation. All the evidence so far points to Mr. Fraser being a pretty upstanding guy. No, it's his character, Supreme Dirtbag Rick O'Connell, who will be dressed down in this article.
1999's The Mummy was a romance comedy adventure (my favorite genre!) and was one of my favorite movies for a long time. It wasn't until I grew up that I looked back and realized just how disturbing the romance was between Rick O'Connell and Evie Carnahan. These were two characters whose romance I used to sigh over as an adolescent girl. Now that I have a fully adult brain, I can do nothing but cringe.
All that being said, let's start with Evie and why she was an awful character. Please keep in mind that for this article I will only be addressing The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, as I consider the third film not really worth mentioning (It's my opinion. What ya gonna do?).
Evie Was Constantly Shamed For Being Smart
Aside from the fact that she's one of two remotely important women in the entire story (across both films), Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) was yet another sexist Pandora slash Garden of Eden allegory. This is something I always noticed, being an avid student of mythology even in high school.
Evelyn is the one who sets the mummy free and dooms the world, because intelligent women are a literal curse on men. Intellectual curiosity is clearly good in men and bad in women, who -- darn us -- just aren't emotionally stable enough to handle that sort of power. Even though, like, every war ever was started by someone with a penis.
It seems like a woman just can't win. Whether you're an idiot like Buttercup or a super nerd brain like Evelyn, you are still scolded and shamed for possessing those traits and at the same time having a vagina. (While Buttercup's brand of stupidity was indeed frustrating, it wouldn't have been a big deal had she ever contributed to the plot. She did not.)
I am not saying it's bad that they portrayed realistic sexism through some of the male characters. I'm saying it's bad that the story itself reinforces the idea that Evelyn doomed everyone because she has a vagina. The entire film is framed as her fault for being a curious woman like Eve in the Garden of Eden.
That being said, I recognize that a well written character should have flaws, and I always felt Evie's clumsiness was hers. It's just a shame her clumsiness never contributed to the plot in an interesting way beyond "Lol, she knocked over bookcases! So cute!"
Evie's other flaw, however, was really unfortunate and should not have been presented in the film at all.
I am talking, of course, about the fact that Evie is easily the smartest person in the film, and yet she is still ditsy enough to fall for a man who forced a hairy, sweaty kiss on her.
Not ten minutes later, we see her in her night gown on the boat, brushing her hair and daydreaming about Rick O'Connell's sexual assault of her back at the prison.
Really? What was the difference between what the warden did to her and what O'Connell did to her? Nothing. Both of them touched her in a sexual way without her consent, but because Brendan Fraser was hot, Evie is presented as liking his assault on her.
Please hold my laptop while I retch in the toilet.
Romanticizing sexual assault seems to be part and parcel for the 80's-90's era romantic comedy adventures, in which men are predators and women are prey, in which "no" means "yes" and "stop" means "kiss me."
This also happened in The Mask of Zorro, The Fifth Element, and basically any Harrison Ford film.
Fast forward to The Mummy Returns, and it seems the writers realized they did something bad with Evelyn but just couldn't figure out what. Like most confused male writers who have no idea how to depict women as human beings, they decided to amp Evie up from clumsy librarian to badass warrior princess.
I always felt this was the wrong move and was a classic example of a Strong Female Character gone awry.
Because we live in a culture where men value physical strength above all else, there is this prevalent assumption that making a female character strong means making her literally strong. But Evelyn did not need to become a mystical warrior princess to be a great character. She just needed to not fall in love with someone who assaulted her. Aside from that, I always felt she was a pretty strong character in her own right.
Unlike her contemporaries -- such as Elena from The Mask of Zorro -- Evie might have been a damsel in distress more than once, but she did things that helped move the plot forward. She wasn't constantly helpless. Her intellect allowed the male heroes to make big leaps toward putting the mummy back in his coffin, and early on in the film, when the two treasure hunting groups almost shot each other, it was Evie who convinced them to play nice like good children.
In short, Evie was not completely useless, was not even objectified, as she had her own reasons outside of Rick O'Connell for seeking out Hamunaptra. She didn't exist solely to help Rick and her hopeless brother Jonathan (John Hannah), nor was she there solely to look sexy for the teenage boys and men who were imagined in the audience.
Evie was already pretty much a strong female lead without ever having to pick up a sword!
So even though Evie's action scenes in the second film were pretty damn awesome, they were still really unnecessary and were not worth watering her character down to a trope.
I remember those action scenes in The Mummy Returns more than anything Evie actually said . . . and that's bad.
Rick O'Connell Was Rapey
Looking back as an adult twenty years later, I think the biggest reason I ignored most of Rick O'Connell's questionable behavior was the fact that Brendan Fraser is just so darn likable.
Sadly, that's usually how it winds up being in real life. It's seldom the masked stranger in the alley who assaults a woman. Most of the time, it's the charming, likable guy who has gained her trust and then abuses it.
I grew up with Brendan's movies and loved a great deal of them -- especially Encino Man -- so it was hard to imagine a character played by Brendan as capable of being a sleazebag.
Unfortunately, Rick O'Connell was a sleazebag.
Given that the other man in Evie's life -- Jonathan the drunk -- was also a sleazebag, it leaves you wondering what sort of father Evelyn had. Maybe she learned to romanticize sexual assault from Daddy. It all starts in the home.
When Rick and Evie first meet, Rick is in prison, having been arrested for having "a very good time." This should be a red flag right here, but Evie still falls in love with this creep.
Rick tricks Evie into leaning close so he can force a kiss on her, and I am cringing just thinking about it as I type this.
For the men rolling their eyes as they read this . . . Imagine that you are minding your business when a big, hairy man grabs you by the face and kisses you. If you retaliate and shove him off, then you are treated like an awful person -- not the guy who just violated you. And all the men around you laugh and say you're overreacting.
Sounds like fun, right?
That is exactly how Evie is treated. She initially -- and rightfully -- doesn't think Rick O'Connell is anything more than a dirty scoundrel, but she is shamed for her very rational outrage and disgust over and over. Not by the other characters, mind you, but by the narrative that gave her amnesia.
Later when she sees Rick, he's cleaned up and handsome, so somehow, this means she should just forget he assaulted her, instead babbling and tripping over herself like it never happened.
That evening on the ship, Evie is reading on the deck alone when Rick barges over to her, uncaring that she is reading a book and doesn't appear to want discourse. When Evie displays anger at the fact that Rick kissed her, he doesn't offer an apology, instead handwaving it as the right thing to do because he was about to be hanged.
Assaulting a woman was the right thing to do because he was about to be hanged.
Let that sink in a moment.
An angry Rick decides to throw a tantrum because Evie insulted his kissing ability after he sexually assaulted her. He's not going to let her return in peace to her book. He slams his weapons down to disturb her and get her attention, and the similarity between strange men approaching obviously busy women in public places is . . . painfully striking.
Later, after the warden dies in a horrible accident, Evie and Jonathan get drunk on his wine while Rick watches and remains 100% sober.
Evie is ridiculously, obviously drunk, wobbling around and waving her finger in the air. For some reason, Rick thinks it's okay to keep pouring booze down her throat in the hope of eventually kissing her.
This is pretty much Date Rape 101.
Rick tried to take advantage of Evie while she was helpless and unable to consent. In the film, you can clearly see him encouraging her drinking. He's enjoying the fact that she's hanging all over him in a sheer top with no bra -- something she would never, ever do if she weren't drunk.
To be clear, Evie is the one who actually tries to kiss Rick, but he doesn't even try stopping her. Why would he? He was the one who kept encouraging her to drink in the hope that she would make a move on him, absolving him completely from starting the assault himself.
Consent is not "sexy." It's a basic human right.
We often ask ourselves why young girls and even grown women romanticize rapey, toxic stories of emotional and physical abuse.
Is it because women are so stupid and inferior that we enjoy being abused? Or is it because society molds people at a very young age to accept abuse, both emotional and physical, as love?
The media has the power to brainwash the masses and it works damn well.
Even though I have continuously fought against groping, leering, "harmless" forced hugs, and catcalling since I was eleven years old (and been demonized for it), I still never questioned what movies like The Mummy taught me about sexual assault until I was a very grown woman who had lived it.
And that frightens me.
© 2018 Lee