A review of Dante’s Inferno

by Tue Vo

A simple version of the plot: Dante, now a generic guy in the fast-paced modern big city, lost his way of life. He is approached by Virgil, who he vaguely remembers as an old dude who wrote Aeneid 2000 years ago, which no one reads. He takes Dante on a journey to hell so that he to see different kinds of suffering. During this time, Dante meets a lot of different people who are historically important or acquaintances of his. Afterwards, they both escape from hell, and Dante chooses to live his life not committing any of the sins he encounters.

The fascinating feature of the film is the adoption of a highly creative visual display of paper puppets on a paper theater. This uniqueness will probably delight viewers who look forward to a new, innovative method of visual expression. However, apart from this technical cleverness, the movie is generic in its plot and message.

Repeated use of humor and linkage to modern figures cloak the film in a “more modern” appearance, but that is as far as it can go. The humor is used in a dull and uncreative way. Probably the funniest of all, JFK in the circle of lust, does not bring any deeper message than mere entertainment. Yet, the entertainment comes at the cost of ignorance and a lack of insight and empathy. Repeated parody of historical figures, especially a malicious portrayal of Dick Cheney, further amplify the generic societal parody of these so-called wicked figures. Stuck too much in the superficial display, unlike the original Inferno, the film fails to provide a sympathetic understanding of the characters and probes any deeper into human nature.

The anti-climatic feature may also disappoint the viewers. The movie is a long, repetitive portrayal of different hell circles. Once viewers get used to the pattern, each upcoming circle looks less and less exciting. The final encounter with the hellish Lucifer looks like just one another trip, with its usual depthless humor and predictable hook via appearances of familiar modern figures.

If there is a place in which the film version can outshine the original, this should be the ending resolution. Originally, Dante crystallized the core of story in the journey and little in the ending. A creative film version may attempt to do otherwise. However, here, the norm of repetition prevails: after observing all the damnations, Dante, as uncreatively as the film version portraying him, simply walks away and tells himself to live a life not messing with any of these sins.

Of course, it’s unfair to judge the movie based on its original book, as different means of expression separate these two realms. The artistic visual display can delight some viewers, but the lack of depth in plot and message will undoubtedly disappoint many critics. In sum, this movie is suited more to Dantean fans who want to relive the original than to hopeful viewers who seek a transforming or inspirational experience.