Tuesday, June 25, 2013

it's a cannibal world


I have seen lots of blood lately. Not real blood, mind you, it's probably some chemical composition used by Hollywood but still, I've seen lots of it, mainly because I've watched every episode of NBC's Hannibal, plus The Silence of Lambs and Red Dragon (the 2002 version) - and Se7en, thrown in for the sake of comparison, which turned out not to be so useful since they are fundamentally different types of horror (one is about mad people, the other is about a mad world in general). In revisiting the whole Hannibal world, I left out some things: the 2001 Hannibal movie, mainly because I've seen it once and it's so ludicrous and out of tone with the rest of the franchise (and I realise it's not entirely its fault since it's adapted from a ludicrous book - which, as I said before, is not really an excuse), the 2006 Hannibal Rising  movie (because I've never heard a good word about it), the Manhunter movie, just because, and the books, because I really don't have the time. That being said, I believe I have enough material to get inside Hannibal's head.

I remember the first time I saw Hannibal, in a poster hanging on my sister's bedroom. It was the 2001 movie's poster and it depicted Hannibal's face with a red, glowing eye and the  words (in Spanish, since I lived in Argentina back then) "I'm giving very serious thought to eating your wife". It scared me a lot back then (in Spanish, the word "cannibal" is the same, only without two n's, so the similarity with Hannibal's name didn't escape me - just by looking at the poster I could figure out what the movie was about), and it stayed with me. So the first time I actually saw Hannibal on the screen, when I decided to watch The Silence of the Lambs, I remember being scared shitless when the door closed behind Clarice and she walked through that corridor, only to find him standing coolly, just looking at her. To me, Hannibal represented evil incarnate, the embodiment of fear. The ending of the movie, with him implying he would eat Chilton, left me disturbed. In a way, Hannibal won. The cannibal was loose on the world. He was out to get me.

So imagine my surprise when, some days ago, re-watching both Lambs and Dragon before watching the series' finale, I discovered that Hannibal didn't scare me anymore. I saw him waiting for Clarice, I saw him out to eat Chilton, I saw him trying to jump at Will Graham in his walking cell, and I didn't even flinch. And I suddenly realised: I'm not afraid of Hannibal anymore because now I get him; I understand him - and as the saying goes, we only fear what we don't understand.

I believe it is the long exposure to Hannibal's modum operandi in the series that allowed me to get to know him and be able to predict him. Though there are many differences between the TV Hannibal and the movie one, they still are the same cynical, apathetic and highly intelligent cannibal. Hannibal can kill - and eat - anyone, but mostly he needs a motive (being bad at arts, specially music, seems to be the most common one). He doesn't feel guilty of what he does, but he also doesn't want anyone to know it was him who did it. And he likes to be superior. He doesn't want to be outsmarted, cheated, made vulnerable or cornered - and he will do anything to keep people playing his games. "You'll either do this or you won't", say both Clarice and Will in their respective movies, and he complies, not because he is submitting to their will but because he knows it's the only way he can stay involved in their cases.

As with anyone who is very intelligent, Hannibal has begun to let go of this world. His tastes become more and more refined - he only listens to classical music, he only eats (and prepares) complex dishes, he reads and quotes classical writers. Anything ordinary is distasteful to him. He derives most pleasure from logical things, and he treats anyone around him as a puzzle to be solved. He wants to understand why Clarice wants to become an FBI agent (as it turns out, to make the lambs stop screaming), or why Will, being so empathic with killers, is not one himself (at least in the movie - in the series, the dynamic has the added element of Hannibal actively trying to make Will a killer). Sadly so, all this intelligence and taste is marred by a lack of guilt and a will to eat his peers - which, surprisingly, doesn't always stop us from liking him or rooting for him. Also, he doesn't seem to be religious, or at least to think of religion as we do. Both incarnations tell, at different times, the story of 34 Texas catholics who died when the roof of their church fell on them, calling it an act of God - a God that likes to murder and/or feel powerful.

So, while the Hannibals in the both the small and the big screen are mostly the same - with the exception that while Hopkins depicts an evil person, fully conscious of his acts and the fear they inflict on people, Mikkelsen depicts a mad one, who seems at times to have two personnalities (he even cries for the death of Abigail Hobbs, as if wasn't he who killed her) - the same can't be said for other characters.

Will Graham is the best example of this. In both versions, he is a - sort of - detective who has the  ability to get inside a killer's head and assume their point of view with the intent of catching them, and does so reluctantly only because he knows it will save lives (even if it destroys his own). Pretty much anything else is different.

Red Dragon gives us a married man and a father, one who worked alongside Hannibal until he discovered he was the Chesapeake Ripper they were trying to catch - and almost died in the process. This encounter with Hannibal leaves him physically and mentally scarred, and it is only with much effort that Jack Crawford manages to pull him out of his cosy, government-paid life to chase a new killer, the Tooth Fairy (or, has he wishes to be known, the Red Dragon). His empathy with killers consist mostly of being alone in a crime scene at the same time of day the crimes were committed, and sometimes experiencing some epiphanies that tell him what happened. Not really so different form other fictional detectives. Also, this Will has never killed anyone, and, for the duration of the story, only indirectly kills Freddie Lounds, by using him as bait, and wounds the Dragon, but leaves the effective killing to his wife.

The NBC series gives as quite another interpretation of Will. This version has a mental disorder - "closer to Aspengers than autism" - that, while enabling him to relive murders in a very Hollywoodian fashion (with time running backwards and rays of light setting everything back as it was pre-murder) also makes him a little awkward when it comes to people skills. Right in the first episode, he kills Garrett Jacob Hobbs, something that will haunt him for the rest of the season - akin to what Hannibal's attack meant to Red Dragon's Will - and he kills again during the series, so he's no stranger to murder. This Will is single, lives in far away house full of dogs and has a love interest (the now female Dr. Bloom, who went from Alan in the books to Alana in the series) that avoids being alone in a room with him. Adding to this differences is the fact that he has - unknown to him - encephalitis, which makes him hallucinate, loose track of time and have horrible nightmares (some of which he would have anyway, from all the crazy sh*t he sees every day).

This Will has three main driving forces in his life: one, as I said, is Hobbs. Hobbs, who was merely mentioned on the Red Dragon ("I was stuck on Hobbs", says Will, while talking about Hannibal's help) acts as something of an after-death murder mystery on the series. It's funny because the writers could have given us a  season where Will and the gang chase after this serial killer who kills girls, only just missing him every time, until they caught him in the finale. Instead, they catch him in the first 50 minutes. More than that, they kill him, without knowing too much about the murders he committed or the motives behind them. So, they kill the killer but they don't solve the case. And they spend the rest of the season trying to do so. Mostly Will, who feels so disturbed for having killed Hobbs - and liking it. The memory of Hobbs and Will's relationship to his daughter Abigail (who, as we learn later, helped his father lure the girls to the slaughter) are some of the most potent sources of confusion to Will's moral compass.

The second force is, of course, Hannibal. Hannibal, who in the movies helped the FBI to catch killers (not out of good will, mind you) finds in the confused and sick Will the opportunity to create a killer. He constantly makes Will relive Hobb's murder. He talks about Will's "ability" as a way for Will to feel like a killer. He correctly diagnoses Will's encephalitis and doesn't tell him, allowing him to believe his is going insane - and even encouraging him, in a not so subtle way, to kill Dr. Giddeon (a man who, to Hannibal's annoyance, claims to be the Chesapeake Ripper, and later claims to have been brainwashed by Dr. Chilton into believing so).

Though not consciously, Will is aware of Hannibal's negative influence: he constantly has visions of a presence that makes him feel evil and guilty. At first a big, black deer - a reference to Hobbs, the deer hunter - the vision eventually becomes a horned man (a demon, if you will) and at the moment he realises who has been tampering with his head and setting him up, Will looks at Hannibal and sees the horned man instead. He feels "self aware", he says, for the foreign evil presence in his head has been identified (by him, at least, as the rest still believes him to be a murderer by the end of the season).

The last force in Will's life is Jack Crawford, a character who is much changed in each adaptation. In Lambs,  he is as a German-like instigator and observer, rather than a full blown boss. In the course of the Buffalo Bill investigation, he recruits a female FBI trainee to profile Hannibal (with the secret intention of making him provide information on the Buffalo case). He never really pushes Clarice, he guides her - and even apologises at one point when he feels he's wronged her by keeping her out of a conversation. He's something of a mentor to Clarice, though not as much as Hannibal himself.

In Dragon, he is a Jewish cop, a more insistent and instigating one than before. He emotionally blackmails Will into leaving his cosy life to save families, but still he acts more as a colleague than a chief. Also, while the Lamb's version seemed to have serious insights in the case he  was running and something of a long term vision on Clarice's mission, this Jack is completely lost and needs William to help him, acting as a sort of sidekick to Will. His only real contribution is letting Will know that the Dragon didn't die when his house caught fire and alerting him that Will's family is in danger.

In the TV series, on the other hand, he is the embodiment of the word "pushy". The first black iteration of the character, this Jack is a bulldozer, crushing people and facts in his quest to catch killers. He bullies Will into saving lives, only caring for his sanity when he senses Will might become dangerous. He's all too ready to believe Will is a killer - not only of Abigail but of all the Copycat Murders - and gets pissed of when Will suggest he might be the one setting him up, going from promising therapy and cure to blatantly arresting Will for murder. The only time he seems to slow down and feel something is when he discovers his wife has cancer - but even then the biggest issue seems to be that she didn't tell him, not that she is ill.

Another character much changed, albeit a minor one, is Freddie Lounds. He goes from a fat, careless and somewhat unintelligent man that ends up being burned glued to a wheelchair, to a an attractive, intelligent red-haired woman. Fredderika, as she is now called, has a much more important role to play in the TV series. She is not a pawn in Will's game; she is a force to be reckoned with, an agent of her own, going after the big stories wether she has to dig them out or, to a certain extent, invent them. I'm much curious - if a little wary - to see how this character will develop in the series. Let's hope she doesn't suffer the same fate as her male counterpart.

Chilton, while remaining a man, has a fundamental change in significance. The movie's Chilton was a loser; a frustrated doctor whose idea of an accomplishment was torturing Hannibal by taking away his books. The only moment Chilton ever did anything was when he taunted Hannibal by telling him Clarice had deceived him and convinced him to give up information on Buffalo Bill - which turned out to be fake, anyway. The TV's Chilton is another sort of animal. He still wants fame and recognition but doesn't see fit to beg others for it - he convinces Dr. Giddeon, a man who murdered his family and is now his patient, that he is indeed the Chesapeake Reaper, in hope of taking credit for having such a dangerous man in his institution. The plan backfires and Giddeon finds out his mind's been tampered with, and plans to go to court on the matter. I also think there's more to tell of Chilton in the coming seasons - until he (probably) gets eaten.

Last, but not least, are the killers. Both movies and TV series don't put Hannibal on the spotlight when it comes to serial killers. He is the serial killer, some obvious presence that never suffers any investigation, interrogation or any other form of police procedure. Instead, he advises our heroes on how to catch other killers, and boy do they come in spades. I don't have the patience to name and analyse them one by one so here's a quick note: in Lambs and Dragon, the killers were about transformation. Buffalo Bill sought to transform himself onto a woman, sewing himself a suit of female skin (like a butterfly that comes out of a cocoon). The Red Dragon also sought transformation; he changed his teeth, tattooed his back and believed that every murder took him closer to being said dragon (which may also have been a way to get back at his very creepy/disturbed/abusive grandma).

Killers in the series, on the other hand, seem to be all about Will. Maybe it's because we see them through his eyes and he connects so much to them, but all of them affect Will at a level that sometimes lasts for several episodes (for a TV series that has a "killer of the week" routine, that's kind of a big deal). I quite enjoy knowing that these killers - not all, but most - will last longer than a week, at least in Will's mind. Hobbs is the prime example, but another one worth pointing out is Georgia Madchen, the girl who suffered form a rare disease called Cotard's Syndrome, that both makes her believe she is dead and stops her from being able to recognise people's faces (which, incredibly, is sort of real - look it up). Will feels a strong connection to this girl, probably because if she thinks she's dead and in truth she is alive, he, who's starting to believe he is mad, may be sane as well.

There's also a plethora of little references and Easter Eggs ("Your article was impressive, even to a layman", people who died swallowing their tongues at Hannibal's expense, Jack seeing the sketches of the Florence drawing we will later see hanging on Hannibal's cell) that might be fun to catch for those who, like me, have acquired a taste for the franchise. And this franchise, believe me, is all about acquiring tastes.

All of this to say, I now get Hannibal. I get him and the people around him, for I have seen the different versions of them and what remained true of them afterwards. And I'm not scared anymore. Where Hannibal is concerned, my lambs have stopped screaming. At least for now. I can't recommend this show enough. Bon appetit!

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