Inferno, Or How A Mansplainer Almost Killed Half The World

Photo: Jonathan Prime/Columbia Pictures.
Inferno — the latest film adaption of a Dan Brown page-turner — is nominally about a plague that threatens to wipe out half of the world's population. It's a tad darker than your standard thriller: Disease, eugenics, and Dante aren't exactly light fare, after all. But the real threat in this movie is something (or someone, really) far more nefarious.

More on that in a second, though. First: A quick recap for anyone who hasn't read the book (spoilers ahead). Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the Harvard symbology professor you might remember from The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, wakes up in a Florence hospital with a head wound, retrograde amnesia, and very intense visions straight out of Dante's Inferno. He is treated by Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a British doctor and former child prodigy who pretends to help Langdon (someone's trying to kill him again — what else is new?). But Sienna turns out to be a follower of Bernard Zobrist (Ben Foster), an American billionaire who has engineered a deadly plague to cull what he believes to be an irredeemably overpopulated planet.

Long story short, Langdon must fight against time, a secret organization bent on controlling the planet, the World Health Organization, and the overwhelming grief of losing his Mickey Mouse watch in order to prevent Sienna from releasing the virus and triggering a catastrophic pandemic.

And here, friends, is where I get to the real plague: The pervasive sexism that creeps into every aspect of this plot.

It turns out Sienna met Zobrist at a poor man's Ted Talk he gave to warn the globe that it's "one minute to midnight." They fell in love, and she gave up reason and common sense in favor of his insane political beliefs — because that's what women do when they're in love, right?
By the time we meet Sienna, Zobrist has committed suicide, leaving her in charge of releasing the virus he engineered as an ode to Dante's Inferno. Of course, we don't find any of this out until halfway through the film. Sienna tricks Langdon — and the audience — into believing she's helping him find the virus, when in fact she's using him to pinpoint its location and release it. To explain how she became such a devoted follower of Zobrist's, we are treated to a series of flashbacks to their budding love affair. Unfortunately, these mostly consist of Zobrist gesturing aggressively while Sienna silently absorbs his genius (i.e. stuff you could just look up about Dante on Wikipedia).
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They fell in love, and she gave up reason and common sense in favor of his insane political beliefs — because that's what women do when they're in love, right?

In other words, Zobrist just never stops mansplaining the whole time they're getting to know one another. One memorable flashback shows him talking to her while eating, expectorating bits of sandwich as he expands on his theory that overpopulation is the root of all evil and must be stopped at all costs. He's still talking when the camera pans up and follows him up the stairs of what looks like New York's Metropolitan Museum. "You're getting this, right?" he asks an awestruck Sienna. "I need to know I'm not alone."

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached peak mansplainer. This is a man who seeks validation for his crazy ideas through the adoration of women. That in itself would be enough to dismiss him. But beyond that, he talks down to a woman we have been told is a certifiable genius, to the extent that she attended graduate school lectures on religious symbolism at the tender age of 9.

If you previously viewed mansplainers as an offensive, if insignificant, evil, let this film disabuse you of that notion. We have here the inevitable outcome of the mansplainer left unchecked: One who micro-aggresses his way into near-mass murder.

Ultimately, Inferno is exactly as advertised — an amped up action movie based on somewhat shaky historical and literary research. The hellfire scenes are scary, Tom Hanks is Hanks-like, and I have to admit, Sienna Brooks had me fooled, too. If you liked The Da Vinci Code (and I have to say, I really did), this film is probably up your alley. But it's also worth noting that, in general, Dan Brown books are always a little mansplain-y. When you make a Harvard professor specializing in niche Art History your protagonist, he's bound to show off his extensive catalogue of knowledge, often at the expense of your other, less rounded, female characters. In this case, though, it verged on the caricatural. Inferno was never going to be an Oscar contender — but it could have been a smart thriller.

In the end, Langdon saves the day, while Sienna perishes in the name of her cause. Mother Earth is safe again. At least until the next mansplainer comes along.

Inferno hits theaters nationwide on October 28, 2016.
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