6 May 2019
Inferno Reverberations in Popular Culture
Dante Alighieri’s famous Divine Comedy ranks high amongst the most famous epic poems to be ever written. In fact, Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy is so appreciated that it has been adapted throughout visual arts since its creation and continues to do so. There are numerous famous cinematic works that implement certain elements of Inferno into different characters with similar circumstances. The Harry Potter series of fantasy novels/films
serves as a prime example of implementing ideas from Inferno into their fantasy empire. Pirates of the Caribbean is also another high-grossing adventurous fantasy film series to implement ideas from Inferno. The list extends to many other appreciated visual and literary arts; some reverberations being more subtle than others, but the most obvious film to simultaneously implement exact elements from the Inferno and not be directly based in its entirety to it is the film As Above So Below. Furthermore, we can conclude that although Dante was guilty of pridefulness, his high regard for his poetic talent was not misplaced.
Above all, the most compellingly symmetrical theme to Inferno is the setting of the film. The setting of the movie takes place in the underground Parisian Catacombs of Paris, France. Similar to the idea of Hell, the Parisian Catacombs hold over six million corpses. This epic cemetery’s structure is solely made up of bones and skulls, which makes for a very eerie and unstable setting. Aside from the setting of the film, the characters also make for a compelling emulation for the sinners of Inferno. Perdita Weeks (Scarlett), the protagonist of the film is a tomb raider in search for Nicholas Flamel’s philosophers stone. Dante (1265-1321) predated Flamel (1340-1418) which is why we do not see Flamel’s guest appearance in his comedy. Ben Feldman (George) is a supporting character to Scarlett much like Virgil is to Dante. George knows multiple dead languages that Scarlett does not and plays a well-versed historian when Scarlett fails to do so. Edwin Hodge (Benji) plays the role of the claustrophobic camera-man of this film. The film makes for an intimately empathetic setting due to its documentary style capture. Francois Civil (Papillon) embodies the role of Virgil more literally since he plays the guide that leads them throughout the catacombs. Papillon has ventured throughout the catacombs multiple times in the past and knows which paths are evil and those that are safe. He only agrees to lead them in this venture because there is promised treasure. Along with Papillon is his team Marion Lambert (Souxie) and Ali Marhyar (Zed). Their roles are superficial throughout the film are largely meant to reflect certain contrapassos that occur in Inferno.
In the beginning of Inferno, Dante finds himself in the bitter dark woods. As he journeys on and attempts to turn back, his path is impeded by a she-wolf and a jaguar at the foot of the hill. Similarly when setting off towards the entrance of the catacombs, George is weary and hesitant to journey on with them. However, venturing into restricted parts of the catacombs is illegal and as they are all entering the forbidden entrance Papillion is tackled to the ground. Everyone scurries into the cave fearing capture along with Papillion after he escapes the police officer’s grip. As they make their way through what I interpret to be limbo, a choir of naked women are gathered, singing in alto voices. Benji catches the provocative gaze of the lead conductor and moves on. Now, in retrospect this is the third time that Benji attentively films a woman. The prior two times where once inside of the night club where they find Papillon and the other was the lady that granted them access into the museum that held Flamel’s tombstone. His tombstone led to an important clue for their journey. As they descend from limbo into what I interpret to be the circle of lust, Benji injures his hands badly on his climbing rope because his latch broke off. This is the first hint to the attribution of Benji’s sin.
As they continue their journey they become lost and make a full circle not knowing the true structure of the catacombs. They make a full a circle because they are trying to evade the true path that they must take in order to find the philosophers stone. Scarlett points out that the most efficient way to the treasure area is through a forbidden hole in the wall. However, Papillon is strongly against it claiming that they had a friend named the Mole that went through there and was never heard of again. The mole senses their confusion and tells them that the only way out is further down into the catacombs. Shortly after, the wall collapses and leaves them with no other choice but to go through the forbidden hole. Needless to say, the journey takes a horrible turn after venturing through the hole. They encounter someone who seemed to be their old friend on the other side; he was changed, distorted. The mole aids them on their path to the treasure. However, once they find the treasure and set off the booby trap that comes with it, his body disappears under all of the rubble. Again, they are trapped with only one way out, down. They descend into a lower level with a mirror image to the last; everything the same but in a different order. This is the level that reflects the entrance to the city of Dis in Inferno. Above the entrance to Dis reads “abandon every hope you who enter.” (Canto III. 8). Similarly, in As Above So Below, the entrance reads “abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Furthermore, as they breach the next level, they encounter the Mole again; only this time he was only capable of screeching. Souxie approaches the Mole attemting to reassure him that he is safe, however, once Souxie touches him, he violently picks her up and smashes her head on the ground repeatedly. The Mole can be interpreted a number of ways. Much like Virgil, he often speaks in provocatively ambiguous tones, alluding to their hallucinations insightfully. However, a more compelling comparison would be that of a Malabranche demon. Just as the Malabranche demons guide Dante and Virgil because of the fallen bridge, the Mole guides their group after the ceiling collapses. Only, here the Mole plays another role as well. He plays the role of the sinners that inhabit the circle of violence. Also, he murders Souxie because she feels guilty for the Mole’s death; that they did not come back to look for the Mole after his disappearance and evidently does not repent for it.
They descend into the next level of fraudulence where another tomb raider meets their fate. Again, scaling down the rope last is Benji. However, as he is about to climb down he hears a wailing baby. He pauses, and as a cliché horror movie character, he asks if anyone is there. The camera catches the obscure shape of a woman pass by, and as he picks up the camera to turn around, the woman appears cradling a baby in her arms. This literally frightens him to death as he falls down the hole and dies on impact. I believe that Benji’s sins were that of simple fraud, flattery and seducery which lie in the first bolgia of the eighth circle. Benji was a womanizer guilty of being a neglectful father and abandoning his child in the real world.
Rewinding to an earlier part of the film where the team of tomb raiders had just met each other, Benji notices Papillon’s burned hands and asks Zed how he had gotten those scars. Zed replies, “we do not talk about that.” Further down into the third bolgia of the fraudulent circle, Papillon is confronted with his sin. They find a flaming car with a boy inside of it. It was the same boy that had told Scarlett where to find Papillon. As their eyes see this incredibly terrifying scene, Papillon says, “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do it.” Immediately after saying this, the flaming boy reaches out and pulls Papillon into the car which then sinks into the ground as if it were placed over super quicksand only leaving his legs sticking out of the ground. Throughout the entire film, this scene is the most apparent scene to reflect a contrapasso in Inferno. Dante the poet illustrates in Canto 19, “ I saw, from the mouth of every hole were sticking out a single sinner’s feet, and then the legs up to the calf-the rest was stuffed inside. The soles of every sinner’s feet were flaming; their naked legs were twitching frenziedly they would have broken any chain or rope.”(Canto 19.22-27). Papillon is guilty of simony. Although obscure, viewers can discern that he sold his intangible guidance into the catacombs for the treasure that was to be found.
Finally, they make their way down to the final circle of treachery amid many other obstacles not relevant to this paper. Until, they reach the last hole that leads to their exit and consequent rectification. George, Scarlett and Zedd confess their deepest sin and jump down the hole, but they do not die. With no apparent way out but a manhole at the center they start to scream and panic. Attempting to lift the pot hole, Scarlett mistakenly pushes it down. At this moment everything becomes clear. As they push further down into the man hole and push it aside, they see the illuminated night sky. Everything was as above so below.
Image of the lady that scares Benji to death. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwih38_QtLXiAhVBmeAKHZIsCXIQjhx6BAgBEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.imdb.com%2Ftitle%2Ftt2870612%2Fmediaindex&psig=AOvVaw2R4DIwjXxAmK-14jFC1hQ5&ust=1558830044761342