The great thing about long plane flights is catching up on movies you missed. Flying back from Slovakia last week, I was able to catch up on a couple of things, one of them being Ron Howard’s Inferno – something I meant to see in the theater, but somehow missed.
Inferno is the third film based on the Dan Brown novels of the adventures of symbologist Robert Langdon. The first movie was the second book – The Da Vinci Code. The Second movie was the first book (and my personal favorite) Angels and Demons. This one is the third movie and based on the fourth book, Inferno. Incidentally – the third book, The Lost Symbol, is just not as good as the others. The fifth book, Origin, should be out later this year. I love Dan Brown’s books, mainly because they are heavily based in Italian Renaissance Art History, which is what I minored in college. I still dream of writing an exhaustive study of the Announciation in Italian Renaissance Art.
One of the preeminent artists of the renaissance was Sandro Botticelli. He very famously painted a vision of Hell as described in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. If you are unfamiliar with the Divine Comedy, essentially, Dante dreamed he was guided through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. His journey through hell was guided by the poet Virgil, and is the most vivid description of hell put to paper.
Dante describes hell in nine circles growing ever smaller as they head down to the center. Each contains souls guilty of various sins. The first circle was Limbo, meant for those who were not necessarily sinful, but did not accept Christ. Limbo is not that bad, but it’s not heaven either. The second circle holds those guilty of lust – whose poetic justice punishment is to be constantly pushed around by terrible winds. The third circle holds the glutton sinners, who have to lie in a slush of garbage while Cerberus flays them from time to time. The fourth circle holds the greedy, who constantly have to push around really heavy money bags. The fifth circle holds the wrathful, who constantly fight each other over the river Styx. Passing over the Styx, the sixth circle is for those guilty of heresy, who are trapped in flaming tombs.
Once you get over the Styx, the circles get a little more complicated and the layers have sub-circles. The seventh circle holds those guilty of violence, and has three sub-circles – violence against others first (submerged in boiling blood), violence against self second (fed upon by harpies), and against God, Art, and Nature third (the Plains of Burning Sand). The eighth circle holds those guilty of fraud and again has 10 sub-circles – 1, panderers and seducers (whipped by horned demons); 2, flatterers (buried in excrement); 3, simoniacs, or those who sell religious favors (placed head down in holes with flames at their feet); 4, sorcerers and fortune tellers (heads twisted around on their bodies and so have to walk backwards for eternity); 5, barrators or corrupt politicians (immersed in a lake of boiling pitch); 6, hypocrites (walking with heavy lead robes); 7, thieves (pursed and bitten by snakes and lizards); 8, fraudulent advisers (inside individual flames); 9, sowers of discord (hacked and mutilated by a large demon); 10, falsifiers (horrible diseases).
The final circle, the ninth, is all ice and contains those guilty of treachery and is divided into 4 sub-circles: 1, traitors to their kindred (trapped in ice); 2, traitors to their country (also trapped in ice); 3, traitors to their guests (lying down in ice, crying tears of ice); 4, traitors to their lords (fully trapped in ice with their bodies contorted). At the very center of the bottom of the circles is the Well of Malebolge – containing Satan himself, who has three faces, and in each of his mouths is constantly chewing a great betrayer: Brutus, Cassius, and in the center face with the worst of all punishments - Judas Iscariot.
Now, what does this have to do with the movie? Nothing, really. But now that’s information you have and can use to impress folks at dinner parties. At one point in the movie, Langdon uses Botticelli’s illustration as a clue.
This movie begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence with a head injury. He can’t quite remember how he got there or what he was doing. He’s talking with doctor Sienna Brooks, and she helps break him out of the hospital as someone is about to shoot him. At her place, he finds a projection device that shows Botticelli’s map of hell, but with extra letters hidden in it hat then lead them to the Uffizi Gallery. There, he slowly pieces together where he was and what he was doing. Encountering a staff member who is surprised to see him back so soon, she leads them to Dante’s death mask, which she says he and his friend were looking at the other night. However, the mask Is gone, but in looking at security video, they realize that he and his friend stole the mask.
They learn they are also being pursued by the World Health Organization. Once all the pieces come together, Robert finally learns he was helping the WHO solve a riddle started by a billionaire named Zobrist, who had become obsessed with the idea that that world is critically overpopulated. Zobrist created a virus that would wipe out a huge chunk of the earth’s population. Zobrist was working with a collection of people called the Consortium, but once they realize the madness of his plan, they assist Robert in finding the hidden location of the virus and attempting to stop it before it is released.
Inferno, like the other two movies in the series, is directed by Ron Howard. Ron Howard is the perfect director for these stories. Usually, the format is that someone approaches Langdon for assistance with solving a riddle or clue that is based in art history symbology in one way or another. In this one, the twist of Langdon not knowing what that situation is at the beginning adds a sense of desperation to the story. The action is well done, and the puzzle is entertaining. I do not think it is as good as Angels and Demons, but I do think it is as good as The DaVinci code. At this point, Howard and Hanks have worked together so often that they are a clearly reliable combination for a quality movie. The rest of the cast is also pretty good.
- Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon for the third time, and while Langdon should still be David Duchovny, Hanks is just fine, and you can easily believe him as the smart riddle-solver, I’m just not sure on the action bits.
- Felicity Jones plays Sienna Brooks, the doctor who assists Langdon in the front half of this adventure. She’s capable and interesting, and provides a great partner to Hanks.
- French actor Omar Sy plays Christoph Bouchard, who works for the WHO and is trying to assist Langdon – or is he?
- Irrfan Khan plays Harry Sims, the leader of the Consortium who, once he learns what Zobrist’s plans were, does his best to make sure they do not happen.
- Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Elizabeth Sinskey – another WHO agent who is really trying to assist Langdon - or is she? The WHO agents are a little confusing in this.
- Ben Foster plays Bertrand Zobrist – a crazed billionaire convinced that killing millions is the only way to save billions. I found him eerily believable in this role, and it may be the first role I’ve seen him in that his slightly crazed demeanor really fits perfectly, and doesn’t work against the character.
- Ana Ularu plays Vayentha, who is essentially an assassin after Sienna and Robert.
Overall, the story is pretty good – and yes, there are some major differences from the book, but honestly, in this case, I liked the differences and thought they made the story move a little quicker.
7 out of 10 – it’s fine, not spectacular, but entertaining enough. Gained points for Omar Sy and Irrfan Kahn reuniting after Jurassic World.
Bonus – Cast Interviews!