Overview: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) must solve a mystery in order to prevent a virus from infecting the world’s population. Columbia Pictures; 2016; PG-13; 121 minutes.
Anagram of Hell: Back for his third cinematic mystery hunt, Langdon must solve a mystery that is rooted in Dante’s Inferno. The iconic piece of literature focuses on Dante, a lost soul, and his journey through Hell. Similarly, the film focuses on Langdon, suffering through short-term memory loss, as he navigates a series of historical puzzles and a multiple party pursuit in order to save the world.
This simple thriller plot is complemented well by Director Ron Howard’s purposely shaky approach to the material. Characters have to solve time-sensitive mysteries as they are hunted by unknown people they assume are villains, while we, as the audience, try to put the pieces together while also trying to navigate the mostly incoherent and choppy editing of the film. We are put in the same mental situation as the characters. As a result, action sequences are heightened in intensity, the few moments to catch breath are relished, and twists deliver the same shock to the audience, as it does the characters in the story. Chaotic may seem like an unappealing way to present a film, but Inferno is successful in its attempt to let the audience actually experience the hellish events depicted in author Dan Brown’s story.
End is Nigh: Howard’s visuals also help immerse the audience in the feeling of the situation by evoking the sense of uncertain dread. This is most evident in the Langdon’s vision sequences, but it’s also just as effective in minor scenes where airports and train stations serve as backdrop to characters discussing the threat of a virus spreading. The plot is being conveyed through dialogue between characters in the foreground, while the background serves as a reminder of what’s at stake as well as what the characters are fighting for.
Faith and Love: What the film presents is an extensive variation of the Trolley problem. In the film, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) poses the situation where a person is given a choice: kill half the world’s population now or witness the complete extinction of the human race in the near-future. Many philosophical and ethical discussions have surrounded simpler versions of this thought experiment (e.g. the Trolley problem), but Inferno takes a simpler and uncontroversial stance by making a drastic change to the source material. Instead of debating whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, the film simply advocates that faith in humanity to innovate and improve will be the savior at the end of the day, not radical change. Instead of deciding who lives and who dies, it argues that we should all live to do better and to be better. It’s definitely PG-13 fare from a film series that once had the reputation of making people question their faith, but it’s hard to blame an optimistic message with today’s ever-increasing amount of problems.
Changes were made to the characters of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) as well. These changes were presumably made in order to more effectively flesh out each character’s motivations and to add the discussion point of whether radical acts are justified when they’re rooted in love. With the changes, there could’ve been an interesting contrast made between Langdon and his relationship with one character and the relationship between the two main antagonists. However, these changes only prove to be a mix of muddled ideas that are inconsequential to any sort of character or theme exploration.
Overall: With Inferno, Ron Howard takes a rather generic thriller plot and turns it into an immersive experience worth supporting for its entertainment and positive spirit alone.
Featured Image: Columbia Pictures