This week I watched the film ‘Inferno’. This is the latest of Dan Brown’s books to be adapted into a movie directed by Ron Howard. Before watching this, I recapped by watching the first 2 instalements of this series; ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2006) and ‘Angels and Demons’ (2009).
For those who have not watched either film, both (like ‘Inferno’) centre around the protagonist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an American Professor of Religious Iconography and Symbology. Within both, Professor Langdon becomes part of different scavenger hunts across Europe in order to solve different murders and clear his name/discover hidden truths and save the world.
- ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is predominantly based in Paris, where Langdon has to uncover hidden secrets involving the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei (an illusive religious cult) within Da Vinci’s artwork.
- ‘Angels and Demons’ is set in Vatican City’, where Langdon has to uncover secrets set forth by terrorists using the Illuminate as a guise to accomplish their goals.
Although these plots are part of a series, they are not in chronological order, nor synched – they just follow Professor Langdon’s work independently. Consequently, if you have not watched the previous 2 films, it does not matter.
So, ‘Inferno’ begins with Bertrand Zorbist (a billionaire entrepreneur played by Ben Foster) jumping to his death from the top of a tower in Florence after being asked ‘what is Inferno?’ In line with this, Professor Langdon wakes up in hospital with amnesia from a sustained head injury. He lost all of his personal possessions except for a package containing the image of the ‘Map of Hell’, a painting inspired by Dante’s Inferno (Dante’s perception of hell). The film unfolds much like the previous 2, with Langdon being pursued around Europe, trying to solve different hidden clues within artworks (this time through artwork influenced by Dante Alighieri’s life), with Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who helps Langdon piece together his short-term memory.
‘Inferno’ was extremely engrossing from the beginning. The opening was composed of a different types of visual media (including youtube videos, CCTV footage and electronic newspaper articles), illustrating Bertrand Zorbist’s nihilistic concept that it is a ”minute to midnight”. This is the idea that the world is overpopulated, and that drastic measures have to take place in order to rectify this. This cinematic technique is very captivating, and implies how extreme and erratic the notion of implementing this idea is through this flickering montage of clips.
Similarly, I really liked the plot jumps to nightmarish scenes of depictions of Dante’s Inferno. These are parts of Langdon’s memories corrupted by horrific hallucinations due to his head injury. Consequently, these images are experiences, intertwined with religious motifs of people or creatures being subjected to the torments of the underworld. As I am a massive fan of the horror genre, I really loved this, and felt that it was done really well. It was graphic at times (which some may not anticipate or appreciate if they are not horror inclined), and definitely brought this ‘Map of Hell’ to life. I do worry, however, that some of the special effects used in these scenes won’t stand the test of time, and will date rather quickly. This is my only criticism of these visual effects (if any).
Another element of the film that I liked was how the director brought to light the clash between modern and old technologies and ideas. For example, in one part of the film, surveillance equipment (like drones) were used to track down Langdon. However, in spite of this high budget, state of the art equipment, the Professor manages to elude both these and trained agents, by using old tunnel systems between notorious ancient buildings in Florence and escapes. Similarly, the agents eventually have to adopt Langdon’s methods in order to try and locate him more efficiently. I have always marvelled at Dan Brown’s ability to write in such a way that embeds fact in fiction, and all these hidden passageways and secrets within century old buildings blows my mind/I spent a good solid hour after the film Googling everything I had just seen.
I am sad to say that I never got round to reading ‘Inferno’ before it came to the cinema. I like reading books before watching them at the pictures, as I like to compare and contrast to see how directors bring certain elements of literary fiction to life on the big screen. However, with this film, I actually enjoyed trying to figure out certain clues/where the plot was leading before Langdon (which of course I couldn’t, as much I am no genius). Similarly, I actually liked most of the characters in this film. I think that Ben Foster (who plays Zorbist), is an underrated actor. He was not featured much (only in flashbacks and references), but he did a great job at carrying his character’s deluded message of it being ”a minute to midnight”, as he seemed extremely unstable yet domineering and influential. Foster is so versatile – I love him in ‘Get Over It’ (a 2001 rom com loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and ‘Alpha Dog’ (a 2006 in which he plays a drug addict who’s brother gets kidnapped). In both films he plays extremely contrasting characters and does a really good job in both, as although either character is worlds apart (literally), the audience is able to believe both characterisations.
Likewise, I thought that Tom Hanks’ role as Langdon was good again too. I did feel as though his character was beginning to get a little stale in ‘Angels and Demons’. I really like ‘The Da Vinci Code’, but there was something a little boring and tired in his portrayal of the Professor that annoyed me in ‘Angels and Demons’. I am glad that they revived him, as he was on top form in this film. I wasn’t irritated by him and could easily connect with him through his frustrations and vulnerability through the film (having to rely on others in order to regain his memory). On the other hand, Felicity Jones (who played Dr Brooks) was just ok. Her character seemed quite one dimensional to me, and for some reason I just didn’t like her (i’m not sure if it was her character or her acting I couldn’t get to grips with). She made me feel uneasy and I just couldn’t trust her – but maybe this was intended?
The soundtrack that accompanies this mystery/suspense thriller/gothic hybrid is extremely compelling, and definitely brought the suspense story to life by Hans Zimmer’s score. This helped the images progress seamlessly, evoked the right emotion at the right time (whether that be notions of romance, twinges of regret or gripping suspense when appropriate), and kept the audience on the edge of their seats. It was so intricate and dynamic at the same time – Zimmer is a musical marvel.
All in all, ‘Inferno’ was very entertaining, kept me and my mum on the edge of our seats, and had the right amount of cheese to compliment (rather than overwhelm) all the background elements of the film. The setting was mesmerising, and the end scene was beautifully shot. I won’t say much on this (as I don’t want to spoil the finale), but I like the lighting, colours and music. I am in no way religious, but European churches and biblical sculptures and culture send a shiver down my spine. It has made me now (more than every) want to explore Europe while I still have the chance, and read the rest of Dan Brown’s books.