One can imagine the surprise of this Dante scholar upon discovering that Warner Bros has purchased a feature pitch for Dante’s Inferno, excited by the “franchise potential” of the three canticles of the Divina Commedia. While it is true that Inferno can certainly provide spectacular moments of Grand Guignol, one wonders how they’re going to stretch it through Purgatorio and Paradiso.
The former reads like a celestial NA meeting were souls dish about their formerly sinful lives and strive to make amends (“I’m Bonagiunta Orbicciani, and I have an eating disorder.” [Hi Bonagiunta!] “I’m Arnaut Daniel, and I’m a nympho.” [Hi Arnaut!]). At best, there might be potential for Purgatorio as an inspirational addiction-recovery film. As for Paradiso, well, just try and write a screenplay on that one. Heavy on both metaphysics and theology, most of Paradiso is caviar to the general. On the other hand, the final vision of the Divine is essentially a kaleidoscopic hallucination of the transcendent, which, as Kubrick showed in 2001, can be cinematic gold. Whether or not that cinematic hallucination could correctly manifest the theologico-philosophical underpinnings that constitute it might be a more difficult endeavor.
But these ramblings are merely the voice of one crying out in a wilderness where nobody is listening. One look at the script’s pitch clarifies exactly how faithfully the producers mean to adhere to the 13th century poem: “It’s based on the epic love story that is at the core of Dante’s Inferno. Dante descends through the nine circles of hell to save the woman he loves.”
No. No no no. Flat out wrong. There is indeed an “epic love story” at the core of the Commedia (though definitely not at the core of the Inferno, where Satan ekes out his days). The entire poem regards a “Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” That “love” is Aristotle’s Prime Mover (Primum Mobile), in other words God, or in other other words (for you groundlings) that big beardy dude in the sky. So no Beatrice, we are sorry to report. In fact, by the time Dante states the above lines on the Love that Moves, he’s already chucked Beatrice to sidle up next to the Christian mystic St. Bernard of Clairvaux, ready to peer into the Everything/Divine Transcendent/DMT trip outlined above. Indeed the Comedy, which is explicitly qualified as Divine (and some of us might add that Dante even calls the poem a teodia — a God Song — at one point), cannot be ever, at any point, a Beatriciad. Which brings us to the second facepalm of the publicist’s blurb: “Dante descends through the nine circles of hell to save the woman he loves.”
No. Just plain wrong. Even Onion’s A.V. Club noted that it is Beatrice that saves Dante, not the other way around. She, already safely housed in Paradise, talks Dante into descending through the Underworld to get him “scared straight,” and turn him away from his previously wayward living. The Divine Comedy without that essential plot point is like Hamlet without the dithering, Raskolnikov without the hatchet, Mad Max without a postapocalyptic wasteland; it is no longer what it was.
The film the producers would make will likely have nothing to do with Dante’s poem except the title. It will — most probably — look more like Dante’s Inferno the video game, for better or (far more likely) for worse.
That said, I bid for Jodorowsky to direct, whose aesthetic is most in keeping with how I like to imagine the Divina Commedia.