Lit Hub: “We Sent a Poet To Watch Inferno So You Don’t Have To”

This LitHub critique of the movie version of Inferno by poet Mary Jo Bang was spot on. Excerpts below. Full article here.

Mary Jo Bang Takes in Tom Hanks on a Friday Night in Missouri

November 17, 2016 By Peter Nowogrodzki

Inferno is Ron Howard’s latest attempt to breathe cinema’s magical, animating life-force into the cold corpse that is Dan Brown’s body of writing.

inferno-mary-jo-bang-coverHoward’s film managed to debut at #1, grossing some $5.5 million dollars on its opening night (October 28)—but then, in only one week, reality kicked in. Box office returns plunged by 66.6 percent, a funny little statistical coincidence that is maybe as interesting as anything that happens in the screenplay.

But wait, I know what you’re thinking . . . Is there any actual relationship between Dan Brown’s Inferno and Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, other than the shared title and the authors’ shared birth sign (Gemini)? Who would win in an arm wrestle? Why aren’t we talking more about Moonlight? Or the election?

To get to the bottom of these questions, poet and academic Mary Jo Bang kindly took in the film at 6:30 on a Friday night in Missouri. She’s shared her thoughts below. Continue reading

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The 700 Year Old Lessons of Dante’s Inferno As Applied to the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Op-Ed by Dan Burstein

“Some days our presidential campaign can seem like Dante’s Inferno,” President Obama said to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during the Italian leader’s recent White House visit. Obama’s remark about the Clinton/Trump campaign was in the context of a slew of references to cultural icons aptly chosen for the Italianate occasion, but there is more to the Dante reference than just a random allusion.

Dante and his imagery of Hell figure heavily in Inferno, the Ron Howard/Tom Hanks film that opened last month based on Dan Brown’s 2013 thriller of the same name. Scholars cringe over Dan Brown’s misappropriation of Dante in his pop culture stew—and are undoubtedly cringing even harder at the movie version. But the novel and the film contribute to bringing Dante back into the public conversation. And that is a good thing, especially if that public conversation reaches our nation’s political leadership in Washington.

An actor who dresses up as Dante and recites the Divine Comedy near Dante's family home in Florence. Photo by Julie O'Connor.

An actor who dresses up as Dante and recites the Divine Comedy near Dante’s family home in Florence. Photo by Julie O’Connor.

Re-reading the Divine Comedy myself a few years ago for the first time in more than four decades, I was struck by how important a political epic it is. Known in history primarily for its poetic artistry, theological arguments, and role in encouraging the shift from Latin to vernacular Italian, Dante’s master work is also a major commentary on political leadership and mis-leadership. Democrats as well as Republicans, the White House as well as the Congress, and even the Supreme Court, would all do well to revisit it at this historical juncture. Continue reading

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Battle of the Infernos

Among the curious coincidences surrounding the release of Inferno, the Ron Howard/Sony/Tom Hanks film version of Dan Brown’s 2013 novel of the same title, is the fact that Netflix is premiering another inferno today—Werner Herzog’s documentary Into the Inferno. The big budget Ron Howard Inferno has so far garnered pretty weak reviews, but so too has the Inferno from Herzog, the ultimate indie/arty director. Respective reviewers have questioned why Tom Hanks would risk the fire of the critics to be in a movie this confusing and bad, and what the narrative connection is among all the fires Herzog pursues as he travels around the world in search of erupting volcanos.

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in "Inferno," directed by Ron Howard.

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno

One of the more wickidly insidious critiques of Ron Howard’s Inferno comes from a fictional, parody version of Herzog himself, presented by Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey as if the webzine had landed Herzog to write a critique of the “other” Inferno opening on the same day. Continue reading

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The Secrets of Zobrist, Part 3: Will the Inferno movie make Zobrist more of a villain than Dan Brown himself did in his book?

In the Inferno book, as well as in interviews Dan Brown gave at the time of the book’s publication in 2013, the mega-selling author is clearly undecided on whether Zobrist is as evil as he seems. Yes, Zobrist is made to look utterly evil, but his plot is aimed at warding off a real and looming danger, at least in Brown’s mind: the challenge of increasing human population and decreasing global resources for food, energy, etc.

At the end of the book (spoiler alert), even after Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks in the movie) has heroically attempted to foil Zobrist’s infertility-inducing plague, Langdon himself has mixed feelings about the morality of his own attempted intervention. Since Brown (and now Langdon, after all he has learned) favors taking steps to curb overpopulation, will the success of Zobrist’s plot turn out to be a secret gift to humanity, just as Zobrist envisioned? Continue reading

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The Secrets of Zobrist, Part 2: Tom Hanks sees US election warning in thriller ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks portrayed Chris Wallace as moderator of the third presidential debate on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last weekend. Credit Will Heath/NBC

Tom Hanks portrayed Chris Wallace as moderator of the third presidential debate on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Credit Will Heath/NBC

Tom Hanks, who is reprising his role as Robert Langdon in Inferno, the third movie to have been based on one of Dan Brown’s books, has had some interesting political comments to make about the mad scientist/biotech billionaire anti-hero Bertrand Zobrist, and the character’s implied similarities to a certain 2016 presidential candidate who is also said to be a billionaire.

In a recent AP interview carried by The Seattle Times and other papers, Hanks commented on the thread of similarity he sees between Zobrist and the Republican presidential nominee, particularly about the dangers of seeking simple solutions to complex problems: Continue reading

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The Secrets of Zobrist, Part 1: Dan Brown and the World Series…coincidence or an Inferno synchronicity?

With the movie version of Dan Brown’s 2013 bestseller Inferno set to open October 28, we are mindful of a plot-worthy confluence of time, character, and circumstance.

Ben Zobrist, of the Chicago Cubs, and Ben Foster, who plays Zobrist in the new Inferno movie.

Ben Zobrist, of the Chicago Cubs, and Ben Foster, who plays Zobrist in the new Inferno movie.

In doing the research for our own 2013 book, Secrets of Inferno, we looked into the derivation of the name given by Brown to his fictional evil biohacker, Bertrand Zobrist. While many of the character names in Brown’s Inferno (and indeed, in all Brown’s books) draw on obvious allusions and namesakes, Zobrist baffled us. The only well-known person we could find named Zobrist was the baseball player Ben Zobrist, now with the Chicago Cubs. So is it mere coincidence or an eerie prediction by Dan Brown that the Cubs would be in the World Series for the first time in 71 years, with a player named Zobrist in the lineup—in the same week that the movie Inferno has its premiere?


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Very felicitous: Felicity Jones to star in film version of Dan Brown’s Inferno?

Felicity JonesAccording to well-informed Hollywood sources, British actress Felicity Jones is being romanced to star as Sienna Brooks in the film version of Dan Browns 2013 novel, Inferno.

Close readers of the novel (and those who followed our book, Secrets of Inferno) may be aware that Siennas actual first name is supposed to be Felicity. Her full name, Felicity Sienna Brooks, generates this characters transhumanist code name, FS 2080which becomes a key plot trick in BrownInferno. In transhumanist style, the initials derive from the first and middle name and the numbers derive from the year in which that person would be one hundred years old. (Felicity Sienna Brooks is said to be born in 1980thus the 2080 part of her code name.)  The fictional character is just slightly older than Felicity Jones, who was born in 1983. Continue reading

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Mad Money’s Jim Cramer on bulls, bears, and Dante

CNBC’s Jim Cramer analogized Twitter’s recent earnings call to navigating Dante’s nine circles of hell. After hearing that, we did a little checking and discovered that Cramer frequently alludes to the great Italian poet of the 13th and 14th centuries. Earlier this fall, as ebola and other global crises brought the stock market to its biggest one-day dip in a long time, Cramer wondered if the long-running bull market had finally arrived at its “Dante moment” when investors would be like the dead souls in Dante’s Divine Comedy who encounter the signpost: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Cramer also recently said of the stock of supercomputer and technical server maker Silicon Graphics (ticker: SGI): “I don’t need to go to that circle in Dante’s hell. That is one nasty stock.”

The Dante references are not new. Back in 2005, a profile of Cramer and his Mad Money TV show noted that “Mad Money… is not stock-picking for dummies. Mr. Cramer, always keen to analogize and edify, recently name-dropped Shakespeare, Melville, Dante and Wee Willie Keeler on his audience before slamming a buzzer that unleashed a flurry of roaring electronic bulls or bears to indicate a buy or sell.”

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Dan Brown’s Inferno, Bio-Plagues, Quarantine, and Ebola

One of the bits of incidental information we learned from Dan Brown’s 2013 novel, Inferno, is that the English-language word “quarantine” comes from the Italian word quaranta, meaning forty, which is the number of days ships were required to be isolated at sea outside the Venetian harbor before passengers and crew could go ashore during the 17th century Black Death/bubonic plague epidemic that ravaged Europe. Brown’s fictional character, Robert Langdon, remembers this bit of trivia while in Venice contemplating the new plague he believes is about to be unleashed upon the world owing to the biotech genius/bad guy Zobrist’s decision to try to save the planet from itself on his own.

With plagues, epidemics, virology, and quarantines in the news every day currently as a result of heightened awareness of the ebola virus, we were reminded of this bit of Dan Brown trivia. And while most experts believe that 21 days is appropriate for ebola quarantines, there are a few voices in the research community who have begun to suggest that something longer may be needed…if not the fully 40 days of a 17th century quarantine, then four weeks instead of three.

While there is no connection to ebola in Inferno, Brown does suggest many of the themes and issues that are being discussed in response to the ebola crisis today. For more on plagues and pandemics in thrillers, the UK’s Guardian offers a good list of books.

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Googling Dante

A Google Adventure Pome by Dan Burstein*

My Google Alerts are set to
Pick up news about
Dante Alighieri, that is
The Dante who is
Author of the Divine Comedy
Leading poet of the last Millennium
Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century
Philosopher…Humanist…Political scientist
Father of the Italian language
Thinker and presumptive model
Six hundred years later for
Rodin’s famous sculpture
Pre-Renaissance Renaissance Man
Pre-Luther Reformationist
Imaginer of Heaven and Hell
Florentine citizen, Florentine exile
Lover of Beatrice

My Dante is
Artistic inspirer to so many:
Chaucer Blake Liszt Joyce
Beckett Eliot Botticelli Longfellow
Milton Balzac Borges
Matthew Weiner who mapped
Season Six of
Mad Men to Dante’s Inferno and
Dan Brown whose last
Robert Langdon caper tried to do for
Dante what Brown did a decade ago for

Even though important new scholarship on
Dante is published regularly
Most of the hits I get from my
Google alerts are for other
Dantes Continue reading

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