‘Lunch break is over, and we’re about to head back to the “Happy Days” rehearsal at Sound Stage 19. I observe that at a taping of the show before an audience that included a large number of industry people, Ron Howard received the most steady applause, and seemed to be recognised as a real professional.
‘”Really? I never noticed,” he responded. “If it’s true, that’s the way I would really like to be remembered. Professionalism is something that is really important to me.It probably goes back to that thing of doing a good job in front of the grownups. I’ve always prided myself on trying to be professional, behave myself and be a good, reliable worker.”‘ – director Ron Howard in a 1980 interview with the Christian Science Monitor’s Randy Shipp.
Director Ron Howard’s 2016 feature film, Inferno, is that rare confluence of material and directorial trademark.
One where the director’s predilection for stories about professionals at work clicks with the plot of people doing what they do (symbologists deciphering symbolism, bioengineers engineering biological organisms and the government attempting to govern) to cinematic, almost Bourne-ian, effect.
The original title for this article was Bourne-ferno but the less said about that now, barring its stylistic implications, the better.
Director Ron Howard makes some points about society in 2016’s Inferno, most visibly that the 21st-century threat is amorphous and unknown (à la Ben Foster’s Bertrand Zobrist and his followers being largely unknown and hard to track and Irrfan Khan’s Sims’ organisation being an unknown private military contractor).
Also, that evil only needs good to be bound by its own rules and bureaucracy in order to succeed (akin to Sims’ declaration that ‘we’re not the government, we get things done’ and Felicity Jones’s Sienna’s belief that ‘I’m not afraid to act, but I’m terrified not to’ during her reveal).
In that vein, that people are often reduced to a statistic or devalued entirely by the powerful (much like Omar Sy’s Bouchard’s ‘life is cheap‘ but life-extinguishing weapons are always expensive and, by implication, Zobrist and Sienna’s lack of concern for those killed by the virus).
Similarly, that fanaticism comes at the expense of reason and, especially, compassion for others (as seen by Sienna’s decision to detonate the device despite risking hers and billions of others’ lives).
Shown more, but discussed less on-screen, is the ability of governments and private organisations (à la Sims’ preference for ‘created reality’ and Sienna’s predilection to dispose of mobile phones quickly) to monitor and subdue people.
All of the above said, the reveal (whether heralded by audience or Langdon’s prior suspicion or lack thereof) of several characters – Bouchard, Sinskey and Sienna among them – to be not what they seem, but with the same powers they possess, is symbolic of the uncertain nature of 21st century geopolitical hostility.
The depiction of Zobrist’s organisation as underdogs against the bureaucratically-depicted World Health Organisation, managed more than led by Sidse Babett Knudsen’s Dr Elizabeth Sinskey, save for the skills of a Turkish sniper, suggest that evil can come through on the sheer ferocity of its fanaticism and, as the film always reminds us, the need to act.
The film’s attempts to carry through don’t carry as much weight as this is the stuff of documentaries and that the audience is very much a part of the de facto protest against the statistical-isation of humanity.
Much like the 21st-century foe, fanaticism comes at a cost and, as demonstrated by Sienna amidst the underground concert, her own life and those of others is little against the weight of her cause.
In the film’s greatest debt to the Bourne franchise – apart from the quick-cuts and shaky-cam – is its use of governmental surveillance powers to follow Langdon and Sienna through Italy. Inferno goes a step further and includes private companies in its surveillance complex thereby taking a little more weight.
Very simplistically, director Ron Howard’s 2016 feature film, Inferno, is a Bourne-ly updated take on Dr Robert Langdon’s hunt for an eco-terrorist’s manmade virus with enough allusions to our time to make it worth the trip to the cinema.
Director Ron Howard’s Trademarks in 2016’s Inferno:
- A historical context or historical situation: there are references to the Middle Ages, the Black Plague, the Renaissance and several allusions to the work of the Italian poet, Dante.
- Men struggling against technology: Dr Robert Langdon is trying to track down and contain a manmade virus hidden by the bioengineer, Zobrist.
- Water is an important element: there are many references to blood-red water and underground waterways which culminate in a showdown in a cistern.
- Professionals dealing with their profession: the symbologist, Dr Langdon, tries to decode the path left to the bioengineer Zobrist’s manmade virus which will be unleashed by his band of fanatics, including Sienna.
(Whilst the opinions and observations above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used for information: Cinelinx.com, ComingSoon.net, CSMonitor.com, Grantland.com, IMDb.com, TheDissolve.com)
The Reverse-Screenwriters’ Club (Spoilers Ensue):
Plot: a symbologist tries to decode a path left by an eco-terrorist billionaire.
Prologue: Bertrand Zobrist speaks about the dangers of overpopulation; Zobrist flees from his pursuers up a bell tower and leaps off.
Act 1: Langdon decides to tell Sienna about his visions; Langdon and Sienna decide to flee the police.
Act 2: Langdon decides to show Sienna the bio-tube recovered from his clothes; Langdon decides to open it.
Act 3: Langdon and Sienna decide to decipher what the Botticelli painting means; Langdon decides to conceal his true location from the consulate.
Act 4: Langdon and Sienna decide to research Zobrist; Langdon and Sienna decide to flee the apartment.
Act 5: Langdon and Sienna decide to head for the Boboli Gardens; Langdon and Sienna decide to inspect the Palazzo Vecchio’s frescoes for clues.
Act 6: Langdon and Sienna decide to meet Marta; Langdon and Sienna decide to go with her to see Dante’s death mask.
Act 7: Langdon and Sienna decide to alert Marta to the stolen mask; Langdon and Sienna decide to flee after discovering that Langdon had stolen it previously.
Act 8: Langdon and Sienna decide to track down Langdon’s co-thief, Ignazio; Langdon and Sienna decide to search in Saint Giovanni’s basilica.
Act 9: Langdon and Sienna decide to approach Bouchard in the basilica; Langdon and Sienna decide to head to Venice with him.
Act 10: Langdon and Sienna decide to subdue Bouchard en route; Langdon and Sienna decide to disembark in Padova instead.
Act 11: Langdon and Sienna decide to head to Istanbul after realising their mistake; Langdon and Sienna decide to evade Bouchard in the lower levels.
Act 12: Langdon decides to talk to Sims after he kills Bouchard; Langdon, Sims and Sinskey decide to head to Istanbul.
Act 13: Langdon, Sims and Sinskey decide to head for the tomb of Enrico Dandolo; Langdon, Sims and Sinskey decide to prepare to enter the cistern beneath.
Act 14: Langdon, Sims and Sinskey decide to enter the cistern; Langdon decides to confront the virus trigger-wielding Sienna there.
Act 15: Langdon decides to convince Sienna to stop, unsuccessfully; Langdon and Sinskey decide to contain the virus within its container; successfully.
Act 16: Langdon decides to see Sinskey off; Langdon decides to return Dante’s death mask to Marta.