Feminist Flicks

Inferno (2016)

The greatest sins in human history were committed in the name of love

Inferno - A Feminist Review
Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno. Image from IMDB.

I went into Inferno, based on the book of the same name by Dan Brown, with very little background. I’ve read The Da Vinci Code, but never saw the movie and I was only about a chapter into the Inferno book. After seeing the movie, I don’t think I’ll finish it.

The third film in the series about professor of symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), Inferno is about the race across multiple countries to find the location of a disease that if released will kill half of the world’s population. The main antagonist is Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire that thinks this plague is necessary due to overpopulation and climate change. Through puzzles based around Dante’s Divine Comedy, more specifically his depiction of the inferno of Hell, Robert Langdon and his cooler, much more capable sidekick Sienna (Felicity Jones), travel throughout Europe looking at rad art and landmarks.

Let’s talk about women. Because this movie certainly doesn’t. With it’s two, maybe three, named female characters who spend all of their time talking about men and none of their time talking to each other, Inferno fails the Bechdel Test so abysmally that it is almost impressive. Not only were there hardly any women in the movie, there were next to none working behind the scenes. Inferno was directed by Ron Howard and the screenplay was unsurprisingly written by two men, Dan Brown (the author of the novel) and David Koepp. Of the nine executive producers, only three were women.

Everything these few women do is for the men in their lives. Therefore, Inferno also fails the Mako Mori Test. When Sienna isn’t trying to impress Robert, she is making decisions based on what her boyfriend would want. She is not an active participant in her life. She is a bystander that is controlled by the men around her. As for Elizabeth, most of her conversations are about how she still loves Robert, even though there are much bigger fish to fry at the moment.This movie is full of more competent women relying on their semi-competent male counterparts. Sienna has been admiring Robert Langdon for her entire life and seems to be a superior puzzle solver, but she takes a backseat to Langdon throughout the film. Inferno so overwhelming plays into the Competent Female Sidekick Trope that it almost hurts.

The one saving grace in relation to the treatment of women, however, is that Robert and Sienna are in no way romantically interested in each other. Hollywood has a disgusting age gap problem that has allowed Emma Stone to be a love interest for Joaquin Phoenix, so the 27 year difference between Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones probably seems reasonable to most of the film industry. Thankfully, Inferno decided to be less awful than it could have.

Inferno was lazy both in it’s plot and it’s portrayal of women. Despite 4 billions lives being on the line, the stakes feel low. None of the characters or their actions are compelling or challenging to the audience. Felicity Jones deserves more. Women deserve more.