Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles - Women: 1.5 Stars
Mary Kelly is as tough as her situation allows. She puts on a hard face when she's threatened by the Nichols boys and she's demanding with the investigators who are hunting Jack the Ripper, but she's ultimately powerless. She can't protect herself from being assaulted, or even killed, and can barely afford to keep herself off of Whitechapel's filthy streets. The money she does make comes from selling her body to the very same predators that may end up killing her. She has the hint of a dream - of one day living in a small cottage by the seashore and possibly even becoming a mother. But her future is bleak, and she can count herself lucky to simply survive.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Inspector Abberline has a certain sensitivity to him. He’s clearly pained by his work, and isn’t any less sympathetic to these women’s deaths because they are prostitutes. He sees the full humanity in Mary Kelly, and even finds himself falling in love for the first time since his wife’s death. From Hell creates a beautiful redemption story out of a series of brutal murders, which could only be possible with such a respectful and compassionate male lead.
What From Hell doesn’t do, however, is give Inspector Abberline the freedom to mourn. Whether he’s waking up from dreams of his late wife or returning from a bloody crime scene, the inspector never takes a moment to break down, or weep. There is a suggestion that he’s turned to opium instead to cope with the pain. This sort of substance abuse has become a common device for making male heroes appear human without making them soft. But these depictions only further the idea that men lose some of their masculinity by expressing their emotions.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Mary Kelly doesn’t seem ashamed of her circumstances, but she is clearly aware of how others see her. And on a few occasions, appears genuinely hurt by their judgment. Under the circumstances, Mary Kelly has a greater sense of self-worth than one might expect, but she’s still susceptible to damaging thoughts and feelings about her own value in this world.
Mary herself is never seen in the act of prostitution, and therefore retains a bit more of her dignity than the other women in From Hell. It’s possible that the film’s directors felt that such a demeaning scene would have made it too difficult for audiences to relate to her, or to accept her as a serious love interest for Inspector Abberline. Even without such a scene however, Mary Kelly has to fight to take the focus from her body, and make her spirit and heart a more dominant presence.
Plot: 1 Star
Mary Kelly isn’t given many opportunities to showcase her strength or her virtues. For the most part, she is the undefended prey of a vicious killer and grossly in need of a hero. She is determined and brave when she can be, and is in many ways a compelling and compassionate character. But she is clearly no match for the powerful forces that intend to harm her.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Mary Kelly doesn’t have any history that tells us how she ended up alone and destitute in Whitechapel. We know nothing of her parents or past loves. Only that she is where she is, and seems to have no escape. Mary seems afraid to even hope that she might have a normal life someday. That she might even be a mother, raising a child in her forgotten cottage by the sea. Too much of her story is focused on simply staying alive and never really digs into her dreams or her personality.
Love: 2 Stars
It's likely that Mary falls in love with Inspector Abberline simply because he is the only man to treat her like a human being. Likewise, it's possible that Inspector Abberline feels comfortable and safe with Mary because she is someone that won't judge him for his struggle with addiction. But most of this is pulled from the subtext, since they never share any truly intimate conversations. Theirs is a love affair that is rooted in passion and insecurity, rather than stability or trust. It doesn't make their connection any less real, but it's anyone's guess whether they ever truly had a chance of saving each other.
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars
The women in From Hell are frequently referred to as “whores,” though the term doesn’t seem to carry the same viciousness that it does in modern use. It is less of a badge of shame than a description of someone’s status and profession. But it is still degrading enough that Inspector Abberline becomes angry when his colleague uses the term against Mary Kelly. His passive defense of her isn’t enough to undo the rest of the rough language in From Hell, but coupled with his love for Mary, it sends a clear message about the humanity of the women behind the harsh term.
The sexual content in From Hell is both sweet and vulgar. In one scene, Ann Crook is enjoying a sensual and intimate moment with her husband, while in another, Polly is selling herself to a heavy, drunken man in an alleyway. The contrast is vivid and salient. Although we may prefer the more idealized depictions of sex that encourage respectful engagement by both partners, there is also some social value in the ugly scene that brings home the harsh reality of Polly’s condition. From Hell neither glamorizes nor ignores prostitution, but forces us to endure everything unpleasant about it, and still finds a way to show us what true intimacy can and should look like.
Violence Against Women: 3 Stars
From Hell is a film about a brutal killer of women who makes a disturbing exhibition of his crimes. But the story itself is centered on the lives of the women of Whitechapel, and the police inspector attempting to solve the case. The film doesn’t give much screen time to the unknown killer. He isn’t even exposed until the very end, and even then, he is depicted as more of a demon than a man. The violence in From Hell is brief and often shrouded in darkness. And although the brutality of the murders is sensationalized to some degree, the story remains a cultural staple specifically because this sort of atrocity still shocks us. The story is still unnerving, but that doesn’t mean that it should not be told.The impact depends on how the story is told. And in this case, the story is more of a tribute to the victims, than a glorification of the killer.
From Hell is a fictional account of the investigation into the Whitechapel murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper. Inspector Abberline is a clairvoyant and an opium addict, who sees the brutal murders in his dreams before they occur. During his investigation, he crosses paths with Mary Kelly, a local prostitute and friend of Jack the Ripper’s first victims. As Inspector Abberline unravels the mystery behind the murders, he finds himself falling in love with Mary, and intends to do everything in his power to keep her safe from the madman who is closing in on her.
Kelly is a labor law