Melding the seemingly disparate traditions of apocalyptic live-action graphic novel and charming Victoria-era toy theater, Dante’s Inferno is a subversive, darkly satirical update of the original 14th century literary classic. Retold with the use of intricately hand-drawn paper puppets and miniature sets, and without the use of CGI effects, this unusual travelogue takes viewers on a tour of hell. And what we find there, looks a lot like the modern world.
Sporting a hoodie and a hang-over from the previous night’s debauchery, Dante (voiced by Dermot Mulroney) wakes to find he is lost — physically and metaphorically — in a strange part of town. He asks the first guy he sees for some help: The ancient Roman poet Virgil (voiced by James Cromwell), wearing a mullet and what looks like a brown bathrobe. Having no one else to turn to, Dante’s quickly convinced that his only means for survival is to follow Virgil voyage down, down through the depths of Hell.
The pair cross into the underworld and there Virgil shows Dante the underbelly of the Inferno, which closely resembles the decayed landscape of modern urban life. Dante and Virgil’s chronicles are set against a familiar backdrop of used car lots, strip malls, gated communities, airport security checks, and the U.S. Capitol. Here, hot tubs simmer with sinners, and the river Styx is engorged with sewage swimmers.
Also familiar is the contemporary cast of presidents, politicians, popes and pop-culture icons sentenced to eternal suffering of the most cruel and unusual kind: Heads sewn on backwards, bodies wrenched in half, never-ending blowjobs, dancing to techno for eternity, and last, but certainly not least, an inside look at Lucifer himself, from the point of view of a fondue-dunked human appetizer. Each creatively horrific penance suits the crime, and the soul who perpetrated it.
As Dante spirals through the nine circles of hell, he comes to understand the underworld’s merciless machinery of punishment, emerging a new man destined to change the course of his life. But not, of course, the brand of his beer.
Dante and his Comedy
Born in Florence, Italy, Dante was a poet and politician who is generally credited with “creating” – or standardizing – the Italian language through the popularity of his writings. At age nine, he met Beatrice Portinari – a chance occurrence that had a profound effect on his life, as she came to embody pure Love in his work. Involved in the politics of his day, he was exiled for life from Florence at age 36 and never returned, dying in Ravenna at age 56.
Dante Alighieri’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy” has long been considered one of the most important works in Western literature. Written in the 14th Century in Italy, it incorporated the most profound theological concepts of the day and blended them with a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, and geography into an envisioned tour of the afterlife. Often divided into three books – Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso – the epic poem traces Dante’s imaginary journey through the various levels of the afterlife. Descending first into Hell in “Inferno”, Dante is guided by the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil. Along the way they meet historical personages and people from Dante’s hometown of Florence, witness the tortures and punishments of Hell, and discuss the universal and timeless themes of morality and justice.