Every Age Gets Its Own Circles of Hell
I feel great pity for Iva Toguri D'Aquino. Yes, she could have resisted--and doubtless died for it. And possibly had her family killed. And so forth. The US government only prosecuted because of public outcry. It was discovered that the FBI suborned perjury in her trial. It's actually believed that she helped the morale of US troops in the Pacific. [i]And[/i] she was pardoned by Gerald Ford in 1977, presumably in one of those popular last-minute spates of pardons Presidents give out right before leaving office. Leni Reifenstahl actually used slave labour, actively promoted the Nazi agenda even without the same threat as D'Aquino was under. And for all that, the poor woman ends up in a stupid puppet movie as being in Hell. Several of the other people shown in Hell have similar stories. Then again, I suppose enough research into the original would show the same sort of thing, but I haven't read it in fifteen years and didn't really look people up in the encyclopedia at the time. Probably would have taken a pretty specialized encyclopedia, or an extremely detailed one.
As is obvious from a combination of the preceding paragraph combined with the title, this is a modernized puppet show version of Dante's [i]Inferno[/i], part one of [i]The Divine Comedy[/i], his classic work on the afterlife. It is the story of one Dante Alighieri (Dermot Mulroney), who is a living human taken on a tour of the Circles of Hell by Virgil (James Cromwell), a great Roman poet and inspiration to the original Dante. On his path, he descends from the outer borders of Hell, the "Damned but Not That Bad" to the very center, where the Devil (Paul Zaloom) munches on Judas Iscariot and Brutus and Himmler for all eternity. Some of the people shown are the figures the original Dante described in the original [i]Inferno[/i], some are variants supposedly known to this Dante, and some are figures of the last hundred years who committed the crimes relevant to the various circles. There are some liberties taken, of course, with the original work, but by and large, it is a simple adaptation. Just with, you know, puppets.
I do like that, while they're looking across the Seventh (Violence), and Eighth (Fraud) Circles, looking at all sorts of people they should know, one of the figures is unknown to Dante and is identified by Virgil. (That would be Nathuram Godse, the man who killed Gandhi and is arguably condemned by only being known for that, more on which anon.) Of course, most of the figures here are supposed to be obvious. After all, they don't list poor D'Aquino by her real name, just as Tokyo Rose. And when it isn't someone famous, Dante and Virgil generally stop and talk to the person to learn their story. In such cases, it's usually an updated version of a person known to the original Dante, someone turned into a person known to the updated one. Though he does also speak to Francesca da Rimini, an actual figure from both history and the original work. She is also interesting as a figure who predicts that another person will end in Hell in their own time.
I have this theory that political assassins, at least, get the punishment they deserve. John Wilkes Booth is, here, briefly shown in a set of binoculars as one of the traitors. Booth thought he would be honoured as a hero, remember--but I guess he didn't know his Dante, either, because he thought he'd be like Brutus, himself spending eternity being eaten by the Devil. Lee Harvey Oswald--thought killing Kennedy (in the Second Circle with Francesca and her lover) would make him a big shot--doesn't even appear in the movie, no doubt so that the makers wouldn't have to take sides in the debate as to whether he did it or not. Godse was here described as committing violence against his country; he, like Booth, was attempting to save it. (He thought Gandhi's appeasement of the country's Muslim population was a Bad Thing, even though only Gandhi had a chance of preventing the level of bloodshed which followed between Hindu and Muslim.) Stalin (Bill Chott) is continually drowning in the blood of his victims; he, too, thought he was doing only good for the Soviet Union. These people were heroes, but only to themselves.
What I find interesting is that one of the places where the updated Dante is confused about someone's presence is a place where the original one kind of was, too. "Sodomites" appear in the Inner Ring of the Seventh Circle (violence against nature). The updated Dante finds an old teacher of his, Brunetto Latini (John Fleck), there, and the teacher says fairly snarky things about the fact that they're there at all. What's important about the exchange is that, seven hundred years ago, Brunetto Latini was the original Dante's own teacher. There is a belief that Dante only put his enemies into the Inferno, and Latini is considered evidence that this wasn't true. And, indeed, both Dantes say that their respective Latinis were good men and good teachers, but according to the rules, they ended up in Hell. It seems this sin is all it takes. The theology of the [i]Inferno[/i] strikes me as a bit shaky. It seems there is a story, I forget by whom, wherein people end up in Hell because the living think of them as belonging there. Maybe that's what poor D'Aquino is doing there.