Caveat Lector: Possible movie spoilers in this review; I didn't try to avoid them.

I really enjoyed From Hell as a piece of entertainment. As a Mason, I didn't find it particularly damning of the institution, nor compromising of our secrets.

The “Masonic conspiracy” around Jack the Ripper makes a fun yarn, but I don't find it too credible. It is a thesis first advanced (I think) by Stephen Knight, a notorious anti-Masonic hack conspiracy writer from England. His books, of which the foremost is The Brotherhood, can often be found on remainder stacks.

Many of the Ripper mutilations had no similarity or connection to the symbolic penalties of Freemasonry. The twaddle in the movie about the “pentacle star” was particularly off-base, seeing as the neither the term “pentacle” nor the figure (a pentagram inscribed in a circle) are used in Masonry. The pentagram (usually called a “pentalpha”) crops up from time to time, as do other five-pointed stars–like those on the US flag.

In the movie, the Masons-as-Masons were rightly horrified at the crimes, and saw them punished. It wasn't the fault of Freemasonry, or even a rogue lodge. It was one guy who had perverted the teachings he had received. Neither Masonry nor surgery were responsible for their abuse.

The accusations regarding the royal family and the political cover- up, while unprovable, make an awfully exciting story, regardless of their credibility. If that much were true, it is nearly inconceivable that Freemasonry would be totally uninvolved, considering its pervasiveness in the English society of the time. I found it especially not believable that the Johnny Depp character would be not a Mason as a police inspector in London at that date.

In fact, the protagonist character was an awful cinematic tease; enough detail about him was revealed to show that he was an oddity with curious personal history, but the personal history never came out. Maybe if I want that, I'll have to read the comic book that the movie was based on.

Another issue raised for Masons by From Hell is that of ritual exposure. While the film did appear to show a few accurate details of obsolete English Craft ritual, it was so incomplete that it could hardly serve as an exposure in its own right. I haven't heard that any of the people responsible for the movie were Masons, so there's no point in deriding them for failing to conceal secrets that were never theirs to keep.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the ample and adroit psychotropic cinematography, with great impressionistic treatments of opium highs and absinthe intoxication (and maybe mercury-toxicity delirium for the villain). The gore was a little more ample than I generally prefer, but I don't know how anyone would do justice to the topic with less bloody mess. I give the whole thing three pentacle stars.


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