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DAN BROWN — TOM HANKS — INFERNO — 2016

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I told the Jehovah Witness militant that the earth is already overcrowded since it overconsumes about forty percent of earthen resources every year, meaning that the Earth will only regenerate 60% of all the resources we consume. That is the formula to a catastrophe, to the famous apocalypse. What can we do about it? But we must remember all we consume, no matter how we produce it, artificially, in labs, in fields, or simply by gathering and hunting it will always come from resources we find on earth and if we consume more than the earth can regenerate the earth will end up dying and us along with it and probably in dire straits, in long years of mutual and reciprocal slaughtering and genocide, and with a big nuclear bang that will explode the earth itself, like the 63-year-old man did in Nashville Tennessee on Christmas Day 2020.

But to cover the stakes of this film we have to look at them in detail even if the film is skimpy on these scientific elements. Our verdict will be that either the terrorists in the film are amateurs, and badly trained ones at that, or Professor Langdon and his associates are pretty genial and superhuman. Actually, it is the last qualifying adjective the film wants us to come to as the concluding characteristic, and this is of course absurd. WHO or no WHO, to prevent such terroristic act from mad scientists there is only one solution: to solve the real problem at stake here, hence, to start reducing the pollution created by humanity and to start taking the strict measures we need to take to stop the growth of the population and try even to start reducing it? I must say that a pandemic is an easy solution. Unluckily with human science, we can slow it down and probably stop it within just a couple of years. But let us examine the case of this “Inferno” that is casually linked to Dante but just for fun since the code and the enigma is shown so fast that we cannot actually capture it, except in the various locations it brings up. This is a case of touristic terrorism.

But let get into some simple questions.

The case — as exposed in the book and echoed in the film — is fast, multiple as for the point of view, very dynamic, sliced into so short chapters that have a high taste of TV series with some of them sliced up a second time like split hairs, that in the end we are confronted with a scattered jigsaw puzzle. I don’t really like that kind of massive loaf of bread chopped up so thin we don’t have time to assess a situation before it is already gone, since there never — or nearly never — is a fully developed situation. Just titbits you have to sort out and assemble the way you want if you are not particular about the storyline, or the way you can or should if you want to keep up with some storyline. With the book, you can stop and go back. With the film, you cannot really do that, and you would need the subtitle to make sure you catch everything, particularly the scientific jargon.

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At the same time, the story is multiple with many points of view and that gives a real dynamism to the tale that a more consistent or continuous story-telling technique would not necessarily produce, would even very probably not produce. Especially when you know it all plays on the eyes that are used to see a character and speak about her or him, the eyes of another character, and not always the same. Some kind of inner voyeurism from one voyeur into another voyeur who pays the same homage to the first one: reciprocal and crisscrossing voyeur’s points of view. One of these voyeurs is struck by some important loss of memory and some other characters are just superficially identified by this or that momentary and transient voyeur, mostly Langdon who is under complete delusion due to his loss of memory, but several others too. That voyeuristic voyeurism — sorry for the redundancy — is becoming literally vertiginous or vertigo-engendering in the audience. If it got collective it would mean panic.

Then the story is complicated. Just the way we like them with multiple riddles, I mean real riddles, to be solved, multiple places and multiple discoveries though some are not credible in the case of Robert Langdon, a top global art specialist and symbologist. For one example let’s consider his lack of competence in the following situation. As soon as he knew about the severed heads of some horses and the context they came up in he should have known they were in Venice, which he did, and that the doge who brought them there was Henricus Dandolo and that his tomb they were looking for was not in Venice but in “Hell on Earth,” one foot in the water and the other underground and the whole thing in Greek and another non-Indo-European language. And that should have been enough for him to know exactly in what city and in what building there the whole riddle was to find its solution. We suspend our disbelief, and we understand it is a story told to dummies and that the main character, the author of a hot-selling book on Christian symbology in Muslim countries (after a long period of Orthodox Christianity), or something like that, can also be a dummy, though he is asserted as the best in his field. I just wonder what the worst could be.

We would be ready to forgive such sloppy moments if the book were not a dystopia so much committed to the famous Malthus, who has an extremely bad reputation, that it becomes a sort of prediction that is actually realized and accepted. We can already see ourselves in our mind’s eye being a 35-billion humanity. And the acceptation of this dramatic prediction about the future of the world tampered with by a crazy mad scientist is fulfilled in less than five hours at the global level implying that the world is in the hands of a mad scientist and a few, very few people who have all powers and can decide of what is good or bad for the whole world, what is acceptable or not for the whole planet, on their own accord and absolute unquestioned power in their isolated minds that are fantasized as giants in a world of midgets. They are like secularized almighty lords or gods. We are reinventing the Greek mythology in which the world was governed by a band of half-crazy sexually perverse and obsessed liars, cheaters, assassins, and criminals of all sorts for whom humanity was nothing g but the backyard of their house of games and casino of sexual phantasies.

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But what is this Malthusian dystopia?

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Since the population of the earth will soon reach or jump over nine billion people, the planet will have reached its maximum population and this overpopulating species known as Homo Sapiens will come to an end, will get extinct like so many other species. Full stop. No discussion, please. Me and I, Zeus, am telling you that is what is going to happen, and I will not do anything to prevent it. It is mathematical, mathematics being the new religion of the modern Pharaohs. At least “my” mathematics, says the mad scientist.

His solution is a whim of his genial mind that is preventing the extinction of the species by managing its fertility. The solution is a viral vector that in eight days contaminates the whole planet from one single point at full Internet speed. This viral vector modifies the DNA of the human beings who are infected, in fact, all of them, in order to make them haphazardly sterile, one out of three. The two non-sterile human beings left are not at all seen as being able to take advantage of the situation. Note it concerns both men and women and apparently it is the same viral vector that is used for both though the fertility of man and that of woman are not at all genetically identical hence carried out by the same genes which would require two different viral vectors The number of children of a society is determined as an average per fertile women but within what this society considers as a total possible feasible maximum, consciously like in China or France in antagonistic directions, or unconsciously like in most other countries. If some women or some men are sterile the total number of children will be the same anyway because it is some unconscious biological rule governed by some ideological vision of what is necessary for the species to survive that is at work, there.

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Dan Brown should know that apart from the strictly Muslim countries and some sections of the American society, the number of children is going down, even in Africa though he seems to say the reverse in a very unfair anti-Catholic diatribe that does not honor his moral integrity nor his civil honesty. It is perfectly feasible to think the human population should stagnate or even go down soon, especially if life expectancy goes on increasing: the pressure of older people seems to bear onto the fertility of the younger ones who have, in a way or another, to take care of these older people. This last movement has reduced the number of deaths in our societies but pretty soon deaths are going to come back into the agenda and older women are no longer producing children. And the older people of today will not last forever, even if Ray Kurzweil is right since his prediction of very long life-expectancy is man-made and will cost a fortune, hence it only concerns the very rich. Even in Africa the number of children goes down and has diminished by about 50% within some thirty years. Even in France, for the worst possible reasons, to economize on family grants and make the income tax rise, the birth boosting family policy is being questioned and the upper-middle class and upper classes will be the first to experiment with the loss of part or all the family-grants benefits. These top income families are not making twelve children per family, but they are those who make three or four. Cut the benefits and that number is going to go down. What’s more, the income tax system is going to be crushed down the same way to reduce the advantages of having many children for the calculation of your income tax. The family policy set up in 1945 is going down the chute and France was unique, as for that, with East Germany that does not exist anymore.

In Africa, it is the struggle of women for their rights to be full political and economic citizens that is bringing down the number of children, and the strict Muslim countries will have to move along the same line and fast: women have just been authorized to drive cars in Saudi Arabia. I guess contraceptives are like alcohol in these countries: highly praised black market and smuggled goods.

The second thing Dan Brown forgets is that Homo Sapiens is not like insects. Homo Sapiens can transform his environment to satisfy his needs and his projects because Homo Sapiens has always had a development project and it is that characteristic of this species that enabled Homo Sapiens to naturally eliminate his competitors like Homo Neanderthals and to populate the whole world and soon move into the cosmos. They sure will have to clean up their mess in the homo-sapiens-sty they have created — and that’s urgent — and they will have to use more and more renewable resources — note food is by definition a renewable resource if food is organic, that is to say, produced as vegetables and animals and not synthetic chemistry. But animal raising is highly polluting, and it eats a tremendous level of natural resources that cannot be regenerated any more entirely, not to speak of the diseases they develop and spread to humans, like COVID-19.

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The solution advocated by the mad scientist, never really rebutted by anyone in the novel or the film, implemented in less than eight days by the mad man of science and accepted by the highest authorities in less than five hours, endorses and fulfills the Malthusian gospel of this mad scientist in the worst possible vision emerging out of the 19th century’s double paranoia: to die trampled down by hungry masses, and to be exploited by capitalism into turning humanity into two different species, the Morlocks and the Eloi. And this Malthusian gospel is accepted and thus advocated by the novel itself, and just the same by the film though in visual and a lot more striking clichés since no real arguments are used to dramatically set up some opposition in any one single character. It is not demographic management. It is not humane enlightenment. It is plain craziness.

But a novelist with a serial character like Robert Langdon cannot do what Dan Brown does. This serial character is fictionally dead since in the next book the human population, with one-third of it sterile and the ensuing catastrophe, will be fully restructured along lines we cannot even imagine. There is some explanation to do on Dan Brown’s side. Is he forcing his own serial character to commit suicide and hara-kiri? Is this novel the last one? Of course not since the plan does not work and the virus is not released. So we are reassured. But this is a deus ex machina, an artificial development to keep the gate open to a future volume, the next opus in mad science ideology and mythology (and we know it since it was published recently and is entitled Origin and has top do with Artificial Intelligence). Even the novel that is his obvious model, Frank Herbert’s “The White Plague,” though based on the same concept of DNA manipulation by a scientist made crazy by some terrorist act in Ireland that kills his wife end child, and he intends to kill a whole section of the population, in this case, women did not dare go that far and in the end, the damage had become curable, repairable, redeemable.

Mr. Dan Brown, you maybe do not write novels to get a prize, but it is slightly too much to write a page-turner, because this novel is one, or produce a frantic chasing/hunting movie, and this one sure is such a movie, that take their readers or audience for a lot of not very swift, vastly illiterate, uneducated fictionally, retarded people. In other words when we turn the last page, when we reach the last sequence, we do not really want to start all over again. Maybe that is done for mainstream Hollywood scenario writers who are not always perfectly well inspired and logical and that might even produce a blockbuster film that will last three months, but the story is basically thwarted by its inner improbable impossibilities, and the DVD will vanish in thin air within two years, or less, and will have to be sold for a pittance before being pulped. Streaming might give it a new life for a while.

Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU

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DAN BROWN — ANGELS AND DEMONS — 2003

Maybe cynical, disquieting for sure! — 2006

But you are taken by surprise when you reach the last leg of the story. The book is trying to analyze a very old conflict between religion and science, from the Catholic point of view. The book shows very clearly how science is a permanent miracle but also how irresponsible scientists are, and first of all, because ethics is not their problem. They do not consider the long-term and human consequences of their inventions. This is very true, and yet very false because science, no matter how pure it can or could be, always answer a social order, a social demand, a social want or need. « Strangely » and « luckily » enough society does not speak with only one voice: it is divided into several groups and science is under several demands, which means any invention is systematically turned into a weapon on one side and a life-saving or life-improving device on the other side, at least because we could and should also consider the third demand which is to produce an explanation of the world and its existence.

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Maybe even some other demands like discovering dark forces, surreal forces and also produce some kind of artistically elegant and even beautiful vision of the world or spying-glasses necessary to look at the world’s strange phenomena. On the other side, religion is supposed to provide humanity with spirituality, a vision in the unknown, an identification for the wider force that animates the world (God), solace in front of hardships and catastrophes, etc. The novel is based on Galileo’s conflict with the church and the famous scientific sect known as the Illuminati. The research is important and interesting, though it is systematically oriented towards the satanic despite the identity of the scientific and artistic founding fathers.

The question of the ethical responsibility of science and scientists is constantly present but never solved of course. The question of the religious dimension of life in our modern 21st century is also constantly present and answered in two successive ways. One is to go back to the sacred texts of the Bible and reenact the tragedy of Jesus. The other is to take a benevolent attitude towards the modern world and accompany people in their angst or fears. The book chooses a final solution and yet the question remains unsolved. It cannot come to any inspiration in those two fields because it is a thriller and nothing else: ethical questions are nothing but a wrapping that finds no roots in our consciousness or intellectual culture. There are even some anachronic elements. P. 243 for example.

The practice of `god-eating’ in the Holy Communion cannot have been borrowed from the Aztecs because when Paul invented it, or when Jesus spoke of it in the Last Supper, the Aztecs were plainly unknown of them and could not be known in any way. Yet this book, published originally in 2000, shows the emergence of the spiritual question among people, but I would advise Dan Brown to do his research about Buddhism in more authentic depth, even if he needs to learn Pali, the original language of the basic texts of Buddhism, to avoid assertions about Buddhism being a religion, for one example, even if this distortion is common among American Buddhists who are over-influenced by the religious brand of Buddhism that grew in Tibet and has emigrated after the arrival of the Communists in Beijing in 1949.

The Buddha is absolutely clear in the Dhammapada for example, there is no God, and we do not need any God because if God answers the question of the creation of the world, then who created God? In the book, this is an important scientific shortcoming: antimatter is declared created from nothing neglecting the fact that enormous quantities of energy are necessary to create that antimatter. So, in the Big Bang, where did the energy come from? That makes the book slightly unbalancing: our disbelief comes back fast with such elements.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU

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TOM HANKS — DAN BROWN — ANGELS AND DEMONS — 2009

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The plot is breath-taking, and the suspense is astonishing. You cannot predict the end ahead of time, though you can feel from the very start that one of the characters, despite the author’s misleading you among various people and events, is not exactly what he seems to be, even if you might give him communion without previous confession. But you are taken by surprise when you reach the last leg of the story. The book is trying to analyze a very old conflict between religion and science, from the Catholic point of view. The book shows very clearly how science is a permanent miracle but also how irresponsible scientists are, and first of all, because ethics is not their problem. They do not consider the long-term and human consequences of their inventions. The film makes this argument even more powerful by taking most of the intellectual arguments and research and elaboration away from the dialogue, at least most of it, and scientific jargon is uttered so fast in such an effete language that you cannot follow what they say.

This is very true, and yet very false because science, no matter how pure it can or could be, always answers a social order, a social demand, a social want or need. “Strangely” and “luckily” enough, society does not speak with only one voice: it is divided into several groups and science is under several demands, which means any invention is systematically turned into a weapon on one side, and a life-saving or life-improving device on the other side, at least, since there can be other situations like only the sake of knowing or explaining something that has no direct utilitarian or destructive or productive implementation possible like why German has three genders when French only has two. Then what about the third demand which is to produce an explanation of the world and its existence? Maybe even some other demands like discovering dark forces, surreal forces and also produce some kind of artistically elegant and even beautiful vision of the world or the spying-glasses necessary to look at the world’s strange phenomena, and at the other levels of reality that are not visible to human eyes.

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On the other side religion is supposed to provide humanity with spirituality, a vision in the unknown, an identification for the wider force that animates the world (God or what you may favor to call it), a solace in front of hardships and catastrophes (God again or some other supernatural being that can dry up your tears and pacify your nervous laughter), etc. The novel is based on Galileo Galilei’s conflict with the church and the famous scientific sect known as the Illuminati (even if some might say they are the figment of some twisted perverted imagination). The research is important and interesting, though it is systematically oriented towards the satanic despite the identity of the scientific and artistic founding fathers. The film is very light on that level of inquiry and discovery. The question of the ethical responsibility of science and scientists is constantly present, but never solved of course in the book, whereas in the film, it is practically entirely absent, though one intervention of the camerlengo calling for some pacification of the debate or conflict, in full contradiction with what we learn at the end of the film.

The question of the religious dimension of life in our modern 21st century is also constantly present and answered in two successive ways. One is to go back to the sacred texts of the Bible and reenact the tragedy of Jesus, and the faith we have to have in all that. The other is to take a benevolent attitude towards the modern world and accompany people in their angst or fears and God becomes some kind of refuge against the changing world. The book chooses a final solution and yet the question remains unsolved. The film evades the question completely and we go back to a well-ordered surface with some brilliant and powerful announcements that kill the debate: the Illuminati is practically sanctified so that no one will speak of it anymore.

It cannot come to any inspiration in those two fields because it is a thriller and nothing else: ethical questions are nothing but a wrapping that finds no roots in our consciousness or intellectual culture. The film expurgates some anachronic elements of the book like page 243 for example, the practice of `god-eating’ in the Holy Communion cannot have been borrowed from the Aztecs because when Paul invented it, or when Jesus spoke of it in the Last Supper, the Aztecs were plainly unknown of them and could not be known in their time, even though they did not exist over there in Mesoamerica, anyway at the time, even if the Mayas and some others did exist. Yet the book, originally published in 2000, shows the emergence of the spiritual question among people whereas the film is far from this spiritual emergence: only masses of people on Saint Peter’s square and mass reactions, but very little piety and fervor and spiritual enlightenment.

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I would advise Dan Brown to do his research about Buddhism in more authentic depth, even if he needs to learn Pali, the original written language of the basic texts of Buddhism, to avoid assertions about Buddhism being a religion, which is understood by a Western audience as being based on the belief in the existence of a god and a creator, whereas Buddhism negates this simple fact, for one example, even if this distortion of meaning is common among American Buddhists who are over-influenced by the religious brand of Buddhism that grew in Tibet and has emigrated after the arrival of the Communists in Beijing in 1949. The Buddha is absolutely clear in the Dhammapada for example, there is no God, and we do not need any God because if God is the answer to the question of the creation of the world, then who created God? The film is quite well-inspired to avoid this debate or such an assertion. In fact, the film is more agnostic than spiritual.

In the book, there is an important scientific shortcoming: antimatter is declared created from nothing neglecting the fact that enormous quantities of energy are necessary to create that antimatter from particles and energy is in itself particles of some sort. The film easily avoids the question and shows us antimatter inside some kind of device. It is nice, brilliant, visual, undeniable, but it is also totally antiscientific. So, in the Big Bang, where did the energy come from, and what “particles” of what “matter” did that energy work on? That makes the book slightly unbalanced: our disbelief comes back fast with such elements. But the film is picturizing this scientific “truth” and it cannot be denied since it is visible. We can practically touch it.

But the film is enjoyable and if you know Rome well, I guess you will find some geographical discrepancies, but that does not count at all with a film: you can move from here to the other side of the universe in just one cut in the editing. It is called an ellipse.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU

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Written by

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, PhD in Germanic Linguistics (University Lille III) and ESP Teaching (University Bordeaux II) has been teaching all types of ESP

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