Combining a poetic expression and the religious elements of sin and punishment, Dante’s Inferno is given an unreplaceable place in world literature. Despite the fact that Inferno is mostly the invention of Dante’s own imagination instead of the orthodox teaching of the church, it is easy enough for the audience to understand the revolutionary model of hell proposed by Dante in terms of sins and their corresponding punishments. As a result, it has been widely used to convey a moral lesson to the audience ever since it was published.
Interestingly, as the mainstream of the social culture shifts from generation to generation, different versions of the epic are produced to emphasize some moral concerns that are highlighted during a specific period. The animation movie Dante’s Inferno released in 2010 is a recent adaptation of the epic poem. While the framework of the movie is based on the original text, by presenting Dante as a warrior who sacrifices everything in search of his beloved Beatrice, the movie addresses the problem in the declination of two virtues in the society of the 21st century, namely, masculinity in gender identity and selflessness in a romantic relationship.
In short, Inferno depicts an imaginative trip of a perplexed traveler through hell that inspires him to reflect on his own sins. The movie begins the same way that the original poem starts, with Dante getting lost in the forest and encountering the three beasts. Upon defeating them, Dante reaches his house. Surprisingly, he finds all his family killed by an anonymous evil force, and his fianc?e Beatrice, waiting for him with her last breath, is stabbed and lying in the backyard.
Dante witnesses the spirit of Beatrice ascending into heaven, but her soul is soon kidnapped by a shadow who calls itself Satan. In order to free the soul of his lover, Dante decides to enter the gate of hell with the aid of a ghost who reveals himself as Virgil the poet. The rest of the movie proceeds in a similar way as Dante travels through the circles of hell in the epic.
The animated adaptation differs from the original poem mostly in terms of its artistic expressions. Even though the different circles of hell and their sequence are identical to those in the poem, the process by which Dante comes to the realization of his own sin is significantly altered in the adaptation. For instance, in the original text, Dante confesses his sin and shows his regrets in a humorous way by comparing his own thoughts with their potential punishments in hell: Francesca frequently quotes the verses written by Dante, insinuating that it is his idea that leads her to such a sorrowful condition. On the contrary, in the movie, the realization of his sin comes with flashbacks. For example, when passing the circle of lust, Dante recalls that, being told by a priest that all his sin would be forgiven, he cheated on his fianc?e during the crusade, only then he rises to kill all the demons trying to seduce him as a sign of repentance. In general, the original text requires the audience to have some basic knowledge of the poet in order to understand the internal struggle of Dante, while the animated adaptation presents the journey like a biography, making it easier for the audience to understand the essence of the epic, namely, the relative gravity of different sins and their corresponding punishments. However, if the audience interprets the movie literally, believing it to be a simple introduction to the structure of hell proposed by Dante, he or she would fail to recognize a deeper concern implied by the director.
The first concern of the movie maker is the absence of masculine characters in modern society. Unlike the protagonist in the poem, Dante is depicted as a crusader in the movie. He defeats the three beasts and, after entering the gate of hell, instead of being passively led by Virgil, he actively confronts waves and waves of demons. His physical strength eventually leads him to Satan, and it is not until he fights against Satan and realizes the tremendous evil power of it that the director again brings up the religious idea of the original poem, as Dante begins to pray for the help of God. In fact, the majority of the movie is devoted to the battle between Dante and the demons. It is worth noting that, unlike the spirits presented in the poem, the demons in the movie are aggressive. In other words, if he were not strong physically, he would not have had any possibility of saving Beatrice, even with the guidance of Virgil. Therefore, the director is likely stressing the importance of physical strength. This impression is further enhanced by Virgil: as a spirit who is unable to fight, he encourages Dante to kill Charon and praises his battle skills when Dante defeats Minos, indicating that vitality is an admirable quality of a man. Besides physical strength, the director further captures similar masculine characteristics like confidence and emotional resilience in the movie. The emphasis on these traits points towards a greater social problem, the crisis of masculinity.
The loss of manhood has been drawing more attention these years, and countless reports have attempted to find out the causes. Muller describes the modern period as the “Freeway Era” in which the automobile becomes essential for commuting, shopping, and socializing. As a result, people spend less time on physical activity, and they are less likely to possess a muscular body, a typical masculine trait. To make things worse, since it has been a common belief during the period of rapid urbanization that those with a high income spend most of their time in the office, people tend to associate a muscular body to labor, or, low-income jobs, which makes a feeble appearance a preferable condition because it is often interpreted as a sign of high social status. Nevertheless, many people nowadays have realized the danger of an over-effeminate culture. According to Zheng, “the crisis of masculinity in effeminate men is considered a peril to the security of the nation because it reflects powerlessness, inferiority, feminized passivity, and social deterioration reminiscent of the colonial past when China was defeated by the colonizing West” (Zheng, Tiantian) However, the phenomenon is not exclusive to China. Many scholars suggest that the modern worldview calculates the worth of a person in terms of his or her education, occupation, and income, which undermines the natural role of a male as a strong-willed individual who struggles to survive in the wilderness with his physical and emotional strength.
On the other hand, the shift in the relationship between Dante and Beatrice in the animation serves as a warning in response to the dramatic change in romantic relationship in the 2010s. While Beatrice attempts to save Dante by asking Virgil to lead him through hell in the original text, in the movie, she is the victim of Dante’s sin, yet his true love for whom he is willing to sacrifice everything. It is for the love for Beatrice that Dante sacrifices his life on earth and enters the gate of hell. In search of Beatrice, he gives up his pride and acknowledges his sin, showing signs of repentance. In the last battle, he asks the help of God in order to free the soul of Beatrice from Satan, even at the price of the destruction of his own spirit. Through his journey, Dante has become a role model who is responsible for all the faults he commits and attempts to fix them. If the audience take into account the hookup culture of the 21st century, they can easily see how Dante’s sacrifice in the animation serves as an ideal of an intimate relationship. As Alana Varley proposes, the hookup culture might lead to a crisis in the future in a way that those who enjoy participating in casual sex with no responsibilities attached will bring those experiences and understandings of love into their marriages and families.
How many romantic relationships have you had, and how many, among those, are you willing to devote your emotion, time, and money? Ask yourself and you will understand that modern hookup culture has implanted in the mind of the lovers a seed which will eventually grow into a fruit of lust and low self-esteem: as the couple establish a romantic relationship in which no commitment is involved, they are more likely to consider the other in the relationship only as their sexual partner with which they enjoy carnal pleasure, instead of the mutuality that facilitates personal growth, which is the essence of love according to the traditional value. What’s more, the one engaged in such a relationship understand that he himself is nothing more than a sexual partner to the other one in the relationship. This might cause the individual to examine his deficiency, eventually resulting in the misleading belief that the only thing he can contribute to the relationship is his sex because he is not worthy of the real “spiritual love”. Dante’s journey through hell in the animation provides a contrast to the modern idea of romantic love: the end of the journey is the reunion of the soul, not the sexual activity of two bodies; facing obstacles, Dante sacrifices everything to fix his wrongs, unlike those in a hookup relationship who quit loving each other after sexual intercourse. Therefore, the adaptation can be seen as the director’s attempt to correct the modern understanding of romantic love and remind the audience what true love should be like: it is not about pleasure, but commitment.
To conclude, while preserving the basic religious outline of the original epic, the adaptation reflects deeper thinking regarding modern society. The director draws his perspective to the diminishing masculinity in the society and the absence of commitment in modern hookup culture by setting Dante, a strong, confident male who is willing to sacrifice everything for his love, as an ideal masculine figure. Therefore, the animation of Inferno is more than a direct explanation of the model of sin and punishment; it is a lesson that the director deliberately constructs in order to reintroduce to the modern society the traditional social expectation of a man and the Neoplatonic idea of a romantic relationship.
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