Inferno

By: Kevin Jordan

The seventh circle of huh?

Inferno poster

I am a big fan of books like Inferno – action/adventure treasure hunts featuring loads of historical references.  James Rollins, Steve Berry, and, of course, Dan Brown are just three of the authors known for these books.  For those of you who missed The Da Vinci Code craze, Inferno is the fourth book in Brown’s Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code is the second in the series) and it has all the elements of the previous installments.  There’s plenty of action and chasing, there are people who aren’t who they seem, there’s symbologist Langdon (Tom Hanks) who must follow a series of clues hidden in religious and historical art to discover the location of something that could end the world, and there’s a girl on Langdon’s hip for much of the adventure.  It’s exactly what everyone wants from Dan Brown.  And, if you don’t scratch the surface of the plot, it’s a very entertaining movie.

(Since I think this movie is worth a viewing – well, almost worth a viewing – you should probably stop reading at this point or skip to the last paragraph because I’m going to scratch the surface.  In other words, SPOILER ALERT for the rest of the review.)

The premise of the film is that a crazy, billionaire, geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) believes the human race is in danger of extinction because of overpopulation so he’s going to release a custom-designed virus to kill half of the human race.  Yes, it sounds contradictory, but when he explains it, you’re still confused.  I think he’s trying to say that overpopulation will render the entire planet uninhabitable (and in less than 100 years, no less), so everyone will die, but all he can talk about are previous plagues and a clock measuring the existence of humans (we’re currently at 11:59, he says).  Plus, how does he know the virus won’t just kill everyone rather than the conveniently round number of half?  As a bonus, during a lecture he points out that population growth went from 4 billion in the 1970’s to almost 8 billion in just 40 years, so his plan is…to set humans back to disco?  He wants to kill 4 billion people just to buy the human race 40 years?  I’m not sure you’ve fully thought this one out, Berty.

I love treasure hunts.

I love treasure hunts.

Unfortunately, that’s the easy part of the story.  As the film progresses, the plot turns into a tangle of confusion as the curtains are pulled back on various groups, individuals, motives, and events.  The film begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence with a slight case of amnesia.  Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is explaining his situation to him when an Italian Carabinieri (national police) officer starts shooting at them.  That’s right, we’re getting right to the action in this film.  After Robert and Sienna escape, Langdon discovers a cylinder in his pocket containing a special flashlight that projects Botticelli’s depiction of Dante’s map of hell from Dante’s Inferno – aka, the first clue.  Thus begins the hunt where the prize is the virus.  Oh, and the virus is in a special water-soluble bag that will burst at midnight (it’s submerged in water) because every treasure hunt needs a timer and James Bond-ian doomsday device.

I know this means something, I just can't remember what.

I know this means something, I just can’t remember what.

Also chasing after the virus are a team from the World Health Organization (WHO), a guy who wants to sell the virus to the highest bidder, a security group hired by Bertrand to protect the flashlight, and Bertrand’s girlfriend.  The connections between the various groups change as people die and hidden motivations come to light, but by the end it becomes everyone trying to stop the girlfriend from releasing the virus.  At this point, you have all the information needed to form a plot itch you can’t help but scratch.

Question 1: If Bertrand wants to release the virus, why not just release it when it’s ready?  Why the elaborate setup?

Answer: Maybe Bertrand is a big James Bond fan and likes elaborate doomsday devices.  Yeah, let’s go with that.

Question 2: Why would Bertrand leave clues leading to where he hid the virus if it doesn’t require human interaction to be released or for anyone to find it?  Why create the flashlight at all?

Answer: …

Question 3: Bertrand tells his girlfriend that if anything happens to him, he’s made sure that the flashlight will get to her.  Same question as 2.

Answer: Oh no.

Question 4: Bertrand refuses to tell her where he hid the virus (she asks), so why would the flashlight need to get to her if he doesn’t want her to find the virus?

Answer: He secretly hates her?

You see what I’m getting at?  There is no logical reason for Bertrand to have created the flashlight in the first place or the elaborate treasure hunt.  And, let’s assume for the moment that the virus did need human interaction (which defeats the purpose of hiding it at all) – it wouldn’t make sense to create an elaborate treasure hunt to make it difficult for her to find and release the virus.  I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to conceive of any logical reason, no matter how flimsy, to justify Bertrand creating the flashlight and I can’t do it.  And now my head hurts.

There's always a tomb.

There’s always a tomb.

(Side note: This is the level of plot hole that ruined Signs for me, though I didn’t notice the hole in Signs during the film; my brother brought it up later.)

Like I said, if you don’t look beneath the surface – or first circle, if you will *wink, wink* – the movie is a perfectly fine action flick.  Try not to listen too closely to some of the explanations thrown out there for certain actions.  Do listen closely to Langdon’s historical lectures.  Enjoy another fine Tom Hanks performance.  Smile at Felicity Jones proving she can handle an action role because Star Wars: Rogue One is right around the corner.  Mostly, enjoy the treasure hunt because who doesn’t love a decent treasure hunt, even if it’s existence defies logic?

Rating: Ask for four dollars back and go buy the book.  It has to make more sense than the movie.