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Movie Review

Robert Langdon solves puzzles. It's what he does. If Da Vinci has a code, he'll crack it. If Galileo's banned book holds any secrets, he'll suss them out. The renowned symbologist can solve ancient anagrams and modern-day conspiracies with equal aplomb. And he can presumably polish off The New York Times crossword in 15 minutes flat.

Too bad he can't puzzle out what he's been up to for the last 48 hours.

The last thing Langdon remembers is hanging out at Harvard. Now, suddenly, he's waking up in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, suffering from a scalp wound and a nasty headache—both due to a close call with a bullet, his doctor tells him. It's also why he can't remember anything. Seems the slug tapped his cranium just hard enough to jar his short-term memory loose; the doctor says it'll take a little time for everything to fall back into place again.

For most of us, that wouldn't be a big deal. I mean, what have I done with the last 48 hours of my life? Checked email? Yeah, I can probably wait a coupla days on those recollections.

But for Langdon, the whole trip-to-Florence thing sticks in his craw. Why is he in Italy? Why did someone fire a gun at his noggin? Why does he keep having these terrible visions that look like they were pulled straight from the bowels of Hades? And why is that police officer shooting people in the hallway?! AND WHY IS SHE COMING THIS WAY?!

Thankfully, Langdon's doctor—a young physician named Sienna—seems a resourceful lass. The two escape through a window, Sienna practically heaves Langdon into a taxi, and the pair flees the mysterious assailant.

Clearly, if Langdon hopes to survive his unexpected vacation to Florence, he'll need to remember why he's there. Quickly.

So he rifles through some of his bloodstained clothes (which he fortunately remembered to grab as he was escaping from the hospital's petite Terminator) and discovers a mysterious metal tube—one that can only be opened with a specific thumbprint. Langdon presses his thumb on the censor and, voila! The thing springs open and reveals a Faraday pointer—a tiny projector of sorts—made of human bone. Landgon and Sienna shine the pointer on the wall and discover the Mappa dell'Inferno—a famous illustration by Sandro Botticelli depicting medieval poet Dante Alighieri's nine-circled vision of Hell that he wrote about in his Inferno.

Only, the illustration's been modified. There's a message of some sort embedded in the work. A message that seems tailor-made for Langdon himself.

Seems that Langdon sent himself on a working vacation. He tasked himself with solving yet another puzzle in yet more exotic European locales with yet more people determined to stop him.

But what if Langdon, unwittingly, is working for the bad guys? What if solving this particular puzzle could unleash a Dante-esque nightmare on us all?

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Positive Elements

Spoiler alert: It could! Maybe. It's confusing, quite frankly, but the upshot is this: Langdon's puzzle is the work of a billionaire madman who hopes to release a modern-day plague that, he hopes, will kill about 4 billion people—a necessary sacrifice to ensure humanity's long-term survival.

"Killing billions to save lives?!" Langdon gasps. That's pretty terrible. He and loads of other people are determined to stop this unimaginable catastrophe. And while sometimes their methods can be questioned, the goal is laudable.

Spiritual Content

Dante's Inferno is an inherently spiritual, inherently Catholic bit of classic literature. Written in the 14th century, the epic poem (the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy) depicts hell as nine circles of torment, with sinners punished in ways particularly suited to their misdeeds.

As Langdon recovers from his head wound, he experiences visions seemingly pulled right out of Dante's Inferno. People walk with their heads twisted backwards (a punishment for those who sought to divine the future). Others are shoved into the ground head first, their legs and feet sticking out and ablaze (a punishment for those who sold church offices). A man whom Langdon knows gets bitten by a snake in one of these visions (an echo of how Dante envisioned thieves would be tormented). An apparent artifact is emblazoned with a three-headed Satan—also an image from Dante's Inferno and, Langdon says, a symbol of the Black Death.

Langdon's adventure takes him and Sienna to some famed churches and museums in Europe, where Christian paintings and symbols are everywhere. A woman drapes a scarf over her head in Istanbul, either in respect for the city's Islamic culture or simply to blend in.

Sexual Content

A man and a woman are shown in bed together, passionately kissing and moving their clothed bodies against each other. There are some kisses in other scenes, as well.

Langdon introduces Sienna to a museum curator as his "niece." "You're in Italy, professor," the woman gently chides, suggesting that she believes that Sienna is his lover. "You don't have to say 'niece.'" When Sienna takes Langdon to her apartment, she loans him a man's suit. Langdon asks if the suit's owner lives there. "Sometimes," she says.

Medieval and Renaissance art depicts partial or mostly nude bodies at times.

Violent Content

An assassin specializes in killing people via quick stabs to the back of the neck, and he eliminates at least two people in this manner. (One victim he later beats with an iron hook to make it look like a crude mugging gone wrong.) He engages in blade-riddled battles, too, leading to cuts, blood and death.

A man commits suicide by jumping from an ancient church steeple. (We see his body bounce off rooftops before landing in the square below.) Another person falls from a great height and through a ceiling, winding up dead on the floor. (Pictures are later taken of the body, with the victim's face slightly bloodied and distorted.) Landon thwacks a guy in the face with a fire extinguisher; Sienna follows up the attack by spraying mace in his face. Langdon sees someone gunned down in a hospital hallway, spurts of blood popping from his chest and back. Another man is shot several times. Someone gets caught in an explosion. People wrestle in the water and are nearly drowned. Someone is stabbed in the shoulder with a syringe.

The movie is predicated on a threat to kill billions of people, and the would-be perpetrator says that even the survivors would witness "horrors unknown on this planet." It's suggested that Langdon's stylized, Inferno-like visions may be harbingers of the future, with people walking around with horrifically mottled skin and deformities, sometimes screaming in anguish. He "sees" fire and rivers of blood. Some paintings depict battles and violence (one man is being skewered by a spear), and lead to still more hallucinations for Langdon in which we see similar images of warfare cascade through his mind.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word, two s-words. God's name is misused half a dozen times, once with the word "d--n." We hear a handful of other profanities, including "b--ch," "h---" and "d--n" (with one use of the latter in Italian subtitled on the screen).

Drug and Alcohol Content

Landon's given prescription medication to help him with his injury.

Other Negative Elements

Langdon, Sienna and others occasionally lie, misrepresent themselves and elude authorities (though sometimes because they believe those supposed "authorities" are actually out to kill them). Two people borrow (read: steal) a priceless artifact from a museum.

Conclusion

Dan Brown, author of this Inferno (not to be confused with Dante's), didn't exactly ingratiate himself to the faith community with his biggest bestseller to date, 2003's The Da Vinci Code. In that book—albeit one labeled "fiction"—Brown suggested that Jesus A.) was not divine at all but just a plain ol' guy, and B.) fathered a child and thus sired a line of descendants kept secret for millennia. The book and the subsequent 2006 film directed by Ron Howard sent scads of people scurrying to the Gnostic books Brown name-checked.

Christianity weathered its Da Vinci dilemma, of course. And most people now accept that The Da Vinci Code is, while perhaps a rollicking adventure, certainly a load of theological rubbish.

It's understandable that questions still linger for many regarding Dan Brown's subsequent novels. Does Inferno—another book by Brown and another movie by Howard—tread again on those same sacred truths?

No. While Inferno still makes use of famous Christian works, it uses them simply as a springboard into a modern-day mystery caper. There are no ancient secrets to discover here, no hidden "truths" to unearth. We only have a madman determined to use Dante—who lived during the Black Plague that killed perhaps 200 million people in Europe—to serve as a catalyst for another, even deadlier plague.

The result is a vaguely engaging, sometimes problematic and ultimately ridiculous romp through some of Europe's most beautiful old museums and churches—places full of secret passageways and hidden staircases, subterranean palaces and soaring ceilings. Inferno is one of those movies where the villain seems determined to launch doomsday through the most convoluted manner imaginable … apparently just to give the hero something to do for a couple of hours.

Inferno isn't a good movie. It has some PG-13 content (mostly violence and language, with a smattering of sexuality), and it certainly won't be up for any Oscars. But it can be a fairly entertaining one, a travelogue full of twists and turns and Tom Hanks' furrowed brow.

That said, the book is always better. And if I had my druthers, I'd rather spend my time reading Inferno.

Dante's Inferno, that is.

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