Magazine article The Christian Century

Moral Outing. (Arts)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Moral Outing. (Arts)

Article excerpt

FROM HELL begins with Jack the Ripper's infamous claim that he gave birth to the 20th century. The prominent position that the filmmakers, Allen and Albert Hughes, give this claim implies that they intend to offer proof of it as the movie's action plays out. Their subversive film takes seriously the idea that the seeds of Auschwitz and the cold war were sown in the bigotry and secretive violence of late Victorian society.

In the opening sequence, the camera pans down a building into the streets of Whitechapel, pausing at windows to look into scenes of squalor. When it reaches the street it pans over prostitutes on the corner and drunks urinating against the walls of buildings, entering the metaphorical hell at the film's center. We are introduced first to Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her cadre of fellow prostitutes, whose livelihood has been put in jeopardy by a local gang's demands for protection money. They are threatened, insulted and beaten by the people around them.

When they emerge into the daylight we are introduced to the one prostitute for whom life seems to contain some joy. She has a child by a rich gentleman who is supporting her. Within moments of her appearance on the screen, she is interrupted in a tryst with her lover and whisked away by mysterious men. That the men are well-dressed gentlemen is not lost on Mary Kelly, who witnesses the abduction.

The Ripper murders begin shortly after, with Mary and her friends as the targets. The citizens of Whitechapel blame the Jews who live among them, and the police seem entirely willing to sanction this scapegoating--with the exception of Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp), who is convinced almost from the first that the murders are the work of an educated member of Britain's ruling classes.

From Whitechapel the action moves into the sanctuaries of the rich, a transition that does nothing to lighten the mood of the film. …

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