Happy families: Hannibal Season 1 episode 4 “Œuf” (Fuller, 2013)

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“Œuf” on a French menu means egg, and from eggs of course come children – families. This episode features a woman (played by Molly Shannon) who is abducting children – middle children who have a grievance against their families. She persuades them that she is their family, and that they can only have one family. So she takes them back home to kill their “previous” families. This, as Will would say, is her design.

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Will, by this episode, is in deep psychoanalysis with Hannibal, and is discussing his feeling that he is somehow psychically linked to Abigail’s father, Garret Jacob Hobbs, whom Will shot in Episode 1, a shooting that left will “psychologically incapacitated” as Fuller said in an interview. He feels like he was doing the same things, even perhaps at the same times – having a shower perhaps – as Hobbs. “You could sense his madness, like a bloodhound” Hannibal tells him. “Like – you were becoming him.” Will snaps back “I know who I am. I’m not Garret Jacob Hobbs, Doctor Lecter.” But could he become that? Will, says Hannibal, created a family for himself. No, not his houseful of stray dogs. He is referring to Abigail. She is now on the way to become Will’s family. This, perhaps, is Hannibal’s design.

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Meanwhile, Abigail is immersed in grief and trauma, having lost her family very suddenly (and violently) in Episode 1. Hannibal is determined to do something about that, and of course it involves psychological manipulation – of everyone involved. He takes Abigail to his home, against her doctor’s wishes (Alana Bloom) and cooks her sausages and eggs – the last meal she had with her family, the first meal with him as her new family. He makes her a tea of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, asks if she trusts him, and it produces in her the confusion he has planned.

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She smashes a teacup, a crucial image for Hannibal, representing his longing to be able to turn back time, and restore his eaten sister to life. Hannibal is obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s description of entropy as proof of the “arrow of time” – we “know” that time only flows one way because a shattered teacup does not gather itself back together (Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, pages 152-3). Hannibal likes Hawking’s early theory that, when the universe stops expanding, time will reverse and entropy mend itself; the teacup will rise and become whole again. Mischa will return, uneaten. Hannibal is apparently a believer in Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, although, as he picks up the broken shards, it looks like he might also believe he can break the causal chain and restore his family, but through Abigail and Will.

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When Alana appears, furious, he apologises, tells her she is right, he was wrong, that Abigail was not ready and that he has given her a mild sedative (half a Valium). Now Hannibal does not apologise as a rule, and this is not a genuine apology of course but another manipulation.

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Abigail is not mildly sedated; she is tripping out across the universe, and although she recognises Alana, it is not long before she sees the faces of her parents across the table – the family squabble resolved, she sees – family. She sees mother (Alana) and father (Hannibal) as her dead parents. Can she eventually learn to see two daddies?

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They capture the family-killing gang, and Jack talks to the boy who was (maybe) just about to become the latest family killer. The boy tells Jack that he, Jack, cannot understand families, because he doesn’t have children. In bed that night, we finally meet Jack’s wife Phyllis, whom Jack calls Bella (Gina Torres from Suits, who is Laurence Fishburne’s real life wife). Even Hannibal hasn’t met Bella yet, despite already turning Jack into an “innocent” cannibal with his boudin noir (blood sausage) from Ali Bab’s Gastronomie Practique.

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Jack asks Bella if it’s too late for them to have kids. She turns away, her eyes hooded – “it is for me” she replies. Although he is head of Behavioural Science, Jack cannot understand what problem she is hinting about. We know, of course, or at least we do if we have read or seen Silence of the Lambs.

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Sorry – no more spoilers.

This episode was originally set to be broadcast on April 25, 2013. However, five days earlier, the episode was pulled from the broadcast schedule in the U.S. at the request of creator Bryan Fuller, and instead appeared on the Internet as “webisodes”. The episode was still shown in other countries. It was widely reported that this was in response to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, but in fact, the change had been notified some hours before the bombing happened. It seems likely that this change (they showed episode 5 instead) was due to the Sandy Hook shootings the previous December, in which 20 children aged six or seven and six school staff were gunned down. America was traumatised once again as families were torn apart by gun violence.

The episode is all about families – we find out about Will’s family (poor, moving around as his father looked for work in shipyards), Jack’s (lack of) family, Abigail’s recently killed family, the murdered families of the so-called “lost boys”, the friendly badinage among the Behavioral Analysis Unit who are almost a family themselves. We even get a tiny but delicious taste of Hannibal’s family. He lost his parents when he was very young; he was “the proverbial orphan” until adopted from the orphanage by his uncle at the age of 16. We are suddenly accessing material from the book Hannibal Rising rather than Red Dragon, although of course without World War II to explain the circumstances (this series gives us a much more millennial Hannibal).

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No wonder Hannibal is cooking eggs. No wonder the episode is titled “Œuf”.

 

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Hiding the bodies – HANNIBAL Season 1 Episode 3 “Potage” (Fuller, 2013)

As you probably know by now, the episodes in the series Hannibal are named after courses in fine dining. Episodes one and two were the pilots, the ones that established the characters, let us in on secrets they didn’t know, and gave us a taste of what was to come. No on-going story arc you could really get your teeth into though.

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Episode 3 is called “potage” which is a thick vegetable soup. Can’t really get our teeth into soup, but it is very nourishing and warming. It looked in the earlier episodes as if this was going to be an episodic show: the secret cannibal would lead the hyper-empathetic FBI Special Agent to capture some single-episode outsider – a serial killer whose whole purpose was to be caught by this team while we giggle and point like kids at a pantomime: look Mum, they still haven’t seen the real bad guy! But there is no new serial killer introduced here. This episode is all about Abigail Hobbs, the orphaned daughter of the serial killer shot dead by Will Graham in the first episode. Her father cut her throat before Will filled him full of lead. The mushroom man from episode 2 tried to kidnap her to feed his mycelium. Now she has woken up, to a lot more than the FBI has managed to figure out.

You may remember from episode 2 Hannibal saying:

“I feel a staggering amount of obligation. I feel responsibility. I’ve fantasised about scenarios where my actions may have led to a different fate for Abigail Hobbs.”

Now he gets his chance. Abigail is becoming a surrogate sister to Hannibal who later will admit to eating his real sister Mischa (not to killing her though). He accuses Will of making her a surrogate daughter, which Will does not deny.

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Abigail is smart and sassy and a step ahead of everyone at the FBI, even though she is still deeply traumatised by the death of her parents. In a flashback, she is seen hunting with her father, shooting a deer. She asks him the questions that perhaps we have all asked our parents at some time: was it OK to kill? Wasn’t that deer smart? Don’t they care for each other and their environment? All the reasons we give to valorise human life, applied to those who are like us.

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Her father loved her dearly and hated that she was growing up and would leave him. His response is to kill young girls who look just like Abigail, because he can’t bring himself to kill her.  He answers her question, in a way, saying that he is “honouring” the deer by using ever part of her. This is the carnivore cop-out: as long as the kill is clean and the corpse not wasted, then it’s OK to kill. Her father feels the same way about eating young women; Hannibal feels the same about eating rude people. When Abigail expresses doubts about eating the doe, her father grabs her arm: eating her is honouring her, otherwise it’s just murder. The logic of the serial killer. And factory farm corporation.

Will, Hannibal and Alana take Abigail back to her home where her mother and father died and she almost died; someone has scrawled graffiti all over the doors: the word “cannibals”.

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And there is another complication – the brother of the girl killed by the copycat (really Hannibal of course) has come to accuse Abigail of murder, since most people (including Jack Crawford) consider her an accomplice to her father. Then there’s her best friend from school who tells her that everyone (else) thinks she’s guilty. The extras all end up dead (Abigail, like her surrogate brother Hannibal, wields a mean knife) Hannibal arranges everything so that the distressed brother appears to be the killer, and then they hide the body.

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Abigail is further traumatised – even for a girl who shoots innocent deer, watching your father kill your mother and then cut your throat, finding your best friend’s body and then killing the boy whose sister was the previous victim: these are not soothing experiences. Her brain is working fine though: she realises that dear odd dad was feeding them girl meat; she finds the pillows at home are stuffed with girl hair.

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She escapes from hospital and finds herself on the top level of Hannibal’s library. He gallantly helps her off the ladder and offers to help – but only if she asks. Dracula had a similar line – he had to be invited in.

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Abigail tells Hannibal she knows: Hannibal is the one who called to warn her Dad. And he called as a serial killer.

He has promised to keep her secrets; now she promises to keep his. Just as his real sister Mischa might have done – if she hadn’t been eaten.

 

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Not easy being green (or lunch): THE GREEN INFERNO (Roth, 2013)

Green Inferno (Eli Roth) is a homage to Italian cannibal films of the late 1970s and early ’80s “cannibal boom”, particularly Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which featured a film-within-a-film called, you guessed it, The Green Inferno. The film follows a group of activists who are forced to fight for survival when they are captured by a cannibal tribe. This is a standard trope of the Italian cannibal films, although Roth tries to inject a few twists to bring it up to the 21st century (they are trying to save the tribe).

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The film was made in 2013 but only released on September 25, 2015.

The protagonist is Justine (Chilean actress Lorenza Izzo, at that time soon to be, and since then divorced, wife of Eli Roth). She plays a college freshman, who is a rebel without a cause. As the film opens, she is involved in a hunger strike to win health insurance for campus janitors. She escalates to outrage over female genital mutilation when she attends a lecture on the practice, and rushes off to lobby her father, who is a UN lawyer.

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The trouble starts when Jonah (Aaron Burns) invites her to a meeting of an activist group led by Alejandro (Ariel Levy). The group plans a trip to the Amazon rainforest to stop a big corporation from illegally logging the forest and exterminating the ancient native tribes who live there; their goal is to film the logging crews with cell phones and stream footage, to raise public awareness.

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The operation is funded by a drug dealer named Carlos, who flies them into Peru in a small plane. They arrive in the Amazon and head to a logging site where they begin their protest, chaining themselves to bulldozers while filming the loggers cutting down trees. A private militia arrives, and the protest receives viral attention on the internet when Justine is nearly shot by one of the militia officers. The group is arrested, but Carlos pays the police to let them go.

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In a scene reminiscent of Alive!, the plane crashes into the forest; OK, they are bouncing through trees instead of snow, but like Alive! wings are falling off, people are falling out of the back of the plane, etc. The survivors search for a GPS phone to call for help, but then the cannibals arrive, painted blood red. The group are shot with tranquiliser darts and taken to a small village where they are imprisoned in a bamboo cage.

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The female elder of the cannibal tribe dismembers and decapitates Jonah, in graphic detail, starting with his eyeballs and tongue.

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Tongues traditionally get a beating in cannibal movies, maybe because they represent the human ability to communicate with language, and so are ideal targets for those whose prime directive is not the survival of civilisation. Man From Deep River had a similar scene. Hannibal serves tongue to his friends in episode six of the first season of the television series, and Cordell promises to do the same to Hannibal in Season 3 episode seven:

I’ll boil it, slice it very thin, marinate it in olive oil, garlic, parsley and vinegar.

And of course, Clarice is warned about the time Hannibal ate a nurse’s tongue in Silence of the Lambs.

Here’s the twist: Alejandro had cynically staged the protest to benefit a rival company, and the eventual deforestation of the area is inevitable. If they can survive until the next lot of bulldozers arrive they might be saved – and because they cooked Jonah first, the village may not need to eat any more of them for a while (he’s a big lad).

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OK, no more spoilers – if you like gratuitous gore, go watch the movie. Suffice it to say that female genital mutilation manages to get back into the plot, and people get eaten – one alive, another by ants. Not sure which is worse.

Green Inferno was filmed on location in Chile, the Peruvian Amazon and New York City.

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But to make it feel really authentic, Roth decided to cast the Callanayacu tribe from Peru as the main “stars”. Nearly every person (except the Americans) in the movie is an actual member of the tribe that Roth discovered in the Amazon. A remote, self-sustaining farming (definitely not cannibal) community with no electricity or running water, the Callanayacu had little contact with the outside world beyond the occasional supply boat.

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While Roth had found the perfect cast, he soon found that most of the tribe had no concept of what a movie was, and had never seen one. So Roth brought a generator and a TV and made them watch the 1980 grindhouse film, Cannibal Holocaust.

“We had to explain to them conceptually what a movie was, and showed them Cannibal Holocaust — and they thought it was the funniest thing that they had ever seen” Roth said in an interview.

Roth says the decision to film in the Peruvian jungle paid off.

“The footage looks so spectacular. It’s something you couldn’t get anywhere else in the world. We went farther than any cameras had ever gone before. They call the river gorge ‘Pongo de Aguirre’ because Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God was the last film to shoot there. But we went deeper, to a point where there was nothing but river and jungle. It was an incredible experience.”

Roth’s movies are all tributes to the great horror classics. Green Inferno does not try to say much new – it puts a bunch of (mostly) white people in a jungle full of primitive irrational cannibals, out of their depth, and makes them face their worst fears – the key trope of cannibal films. Probably the majority of cannibal movies do that, including Road to Zanzibar. The twist here is that the cannibals are not the bad guys – they are doing what Roth imagines primitive people did all the time (he is certainly wrong there).

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The people he is condemning are of course the venal corporations, but also the sanctimonious “social justice warriors” as he calls them:

“the film is really about people getting caught up in causes they don’t know anything about and doing it for vanity reasons more than for the cause itself.”

But Roth is not doing much for the locals either, showing them as brutal and merciless killers, and Survivor International said the group was “disturbed” by the depiction of the tribe, explaining, “These stories have created a racist view of uncontacted and isolated groups.” Amazon Watch and AIDESEP voiced similar concerns.

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The film took a hammering by the critics. Variety said:

“A project that boasts all the appeal (and aroma) of a carcass rotting in the rainforest.”

Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a measly 36%, with the audience rating below even that.

Stephen King, on the other hand, who knows a bit about horror, tweeted that the film is:

“like a glorious throwback to the drive-in movies of my youth: bloody, gripping, hard to watch, but you can’t look away.”

 

Incidentally, this is not the only Green Inferno movie. As well as the film within a film in Cannibal Holocaust, the cannibal film genre was supposed to have died with Antonio Climati’s 1988 film  Natura Contro (English: Against Nature), also known in English as The Green Inferno and Cannibal Holocaust II.

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Climati had no intention of making a sequel to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, and the title was used by distributors of the film to cash in on the success and notoriety of the earlier film. In 2002, British distributor VIPCO released Natura Contro on VHS and DVD as Cannibal Holocaust II, the film’s best known name. Not much cannibalism in it though.

Next week: more Hannibal episodes!

 

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Amusing the mouth – HANNIBAL Season 1 Episode 2 (Fuller, 2013)

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The episodes in the series Hannibal are named after courses in fine dining. The first season is based on French recipes – the first episode was the Apéritif – like any good pilot episode, it got us in the mood, intrigued us, gave us an appetite and got us just a bit drunk, so that we could enjoy the courses to come. Episode 2 is the amuse-bouche – literally “amusing the mouth”. It is a small hors d’œuvre which both prepares the guest for the meal and offers a pointer into what the chef has planned for the repast.

This episode is full of tasty teasers for the series to come. Unlike Will Graham and Jack Crawford, most of us viewers know that Hannibal is a cannibal – with a potential rhyme like that, how could he resist? To them, he is a distinguished and brilliant psychiatrist who, they hope, can keep Will sane enough to solve their murder mysteries, but Hannibal has his own plans for Will, and we even get just a small hint of Hannibal’s mysterious past, what drives him. We, the Hannibal aficionados from the books and/or films, are aware of the fate of his sister Mischa when they were both little – she was eaten by Nazi deserters. Hannibal may have unknowingly participated in some of the broth. But this is a later Hannibal, a Gen X Hannibal, who has not lived through a war, but has still lost and maybe eaten a sister, apparently. So, although he is not the kind of personality who lives in the past or wallows in regrets, he tells Will

“I feel a staggering amount of obligation. I feel responsibility. I’ve fantasised about scenarios where my actions may have led to a different fate for Abigail Hobbs.”

He’s referring to what happened to her in episode 1, but also to what he has planned for her later in the season. Hannibal, like a good chess player, works out his moves far in advance of the play.

We also get a lot of amusement, amuse-bouche, in that the jokes are about cannibalism. These early episodes are more episodic than later in the series – they are almost self-contained. There is a central crazy, and Hannibal and Will work together and apart to their own ends: Will to catch the perp, Hannibal to “blood” Will, give him a taste for killing. This particular perp is burying his victims as feed for his mushrooms – he loves the way mushrooms network and know who is coming. They seem in fact rather more aware of what’s going on than most of the characters, except Hannibal and perhaps Freddie Lounds.

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Freddie Lounds, tabloid journalist, is looking for a scoop and hopes to trick Hannibal, who is the ultimate trickster, and unlikely to fall for such shallow pranks. We fall for it, though, when Hannibal finds her recording device, tells her off, and speculates on her punishment.

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Next scene we see Hannibal entertaining Jack, serving loin with a cumberland sauce of red fruits. Jack asks about the cut of meat (and so do we). “Pork”, says Hannibal, offering us the double entendre (or amuse-bouche) of the night:

Is the pork long pig? Well, maybe, but it turns out it isn’t Freddie – she’ll be back.

Will is now more willingly accepting Hannibal’s psychological analyses. They discuss, doctor to patient, the key concepts of the series: killing, appetite, and power. Will admits to enjoying killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs (which happened in episode 1).

They have broken the taboo. Shooting bad guys is something we watch on TV from a very young age, act out on the playground, but no one is supposed to admit to enjoying it. Enjoying it is unmentionable, but Hannibal won’t leave it alone there. Why do we enjoy killing? And this is the crux of Hannibal’s philosophy and his power: God loves to kill, and we are made in his image. Maybe.

Hannibal may or may not believe in some sort of God – I tend to think he agrees with Nietzsche that God is dead – but he certainly believes in power. Power to satisfy his hunger, without bothering about conventional morality.

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That is the journey on which he will take Will for the next 37 episodes (and, dare we hope, Season 4 to come?)

 

NEXT WEEK: ELI ROTH’S GREEN INFERNO

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From the sublime to the ridiculous: LOVE BOAT Season 3 episode 13 (Duchowny & Rafkin, 1979)

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Tom Paine said it is only a small step from the sublime to the ridiculous, so it seems fitting to move from last week’s blog, HANNIBAL, one of the most concise studies of the cannibal psychosis of postmodern society, to a glimpse of the bourgeoisie at play, or at least their aspirations of what that might look like. I refer, of course, to LOVE BOAT, a series that ran for an absurdly long nine years and 250 episodes. Aaron Spelling was the producer – he also made Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Beverley Hills 90210, Charmed and a string of other shows, which always seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the time.

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Why are we watching Love Boat you ask (or wail, while pathetically covering your ears)? Well, there is an interesting cannibal reference in episode 13 of season 3, which went to air on November 24, 1979. The episode has the catchy title of “Not Now, I’m Dying / Eleanor’s Return / Too Young to Love” – there were always a few threads going on at the same time.

Warning: the following theme song is a mind worm and will be running through your head relentlessly during your worst hangovers.

Anyway, getting to the point. One of the main characters on the ship is the Doc (Dr Adam Bricker) played by Bernie Kopell, who also played the KAOS agent Siegfried in Get Smart. On this particular cruise, Lucy, a friend of Doc’s (Barbi Benton), comes on board with her boyfriend Peter (Dack Rambo). She wants a romantic conclusion, a proposal, but Peter keeps on making excuses.

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Eventually, Peter “admits” to having a terminal illness, saying he has Kuru, a disease he spotted on the front of a magazine. Doc calls his bluff, pointing out that Kuru is only contracted by “eating people”. But then Peter drops a pen, can’t hold a book, and Doc realises that he really does have a disease – ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). A sad irony in that Dack Rambo was to die of complications from AIDS only five years after this episode went to air. Barbi Benton, who started off as a Playboy model, is still going strong, as is Bernie Kopell at the time of writing.

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This is interesting not so much for the longevity of the stars but the mention of Kuru. This is a prion disease, a rare, incurable neurodegenerative disorder that was found in the Fore people of Papua New Guinea. Kuru is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, related to the “mad cow” disease that cured people from eating beef for many years and is still tested for when you go to donate blood.

Kuru was first suspected to be related to funerary cannibalism (eating your relatives rather than burying them, to return their life force to the village) after extensive studies by the Australian anthropologist Shirley Lindenbaum starting in 1961. Kuru was found to be eight to nine times more prevalent in women and children than in men. Fore men reported that they considered that consuming human flesh would weaken them in times of conflict or battle, while the women and children were allowed to eat the bodies of the deceased, including the brain, where the prion particles were particularly concentrated. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, a virologist, was later awarded a Nobel prize for mapping the transmission of the disease to chimpanzees by transferring into them parts of the brain of an 11-year-old Fore girl who had died of Kuru.

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From a 2010 documentary of Kuru

Kuru is rare and hard to catch (even the Fore people have a high rate of immunity to the disease). It is, however, very popular among people who write about cannibalism on social media, as they think it proves that human cannibalism is a ‘bad thing’ because it can make you ill (although they don’t mention the bovine version, in case that ruins their dinner). The Nobel prize was the cherry on top of the brain tissue theory of cannibalism.

In 1979, the same year this episode of Love Boat was aired, an American anthropologist, William Arens of Stony Brook University, New York, published his book The Man-Eating Myth, in which he challenged the automatic assumption of cannibalism among those dubbed “savages” by the colonial powers of the West. In fact, Arens caused a major uproar in anthropological circles by saying he could find no adequate documentation of cannibalism as custom in any form for any society – it may have happened, but not as a socially sanctioned system. He was more interested in why people are so fascinated by the depiction or suspicion of it (and so am I, hence this blog). As for the Fore, Arens said “the evidence is circumstantial, since Fore cannibalism has never been observed by an outsider”.

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So, did the Fore get Kuru by eating their dead? We’ll never know for sure, but we can be confident, with Doc, that Peter didn’t.

NEXT WEEK: HANNIBAL Season 1 Episode 2

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Very hard to catch: “HANNIBAL” Episode 1 “Apéritif” (Fuller, 2013)

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This is going to be a long blog, because Hannibal (three seasons 2013-15) really was one of the best shows on television, and although I am only covering the first episode here (out of 39 made), this was the pilot and introduced most of the main characters and themes of the whole “Hanniverse.”

The cancellation of the show after three seasons was apparently due to insufficient ratings. The surveys used to determine such decisions consider total numbers of viewers, but not the fervour of the viewing. Judging by the comments on social media (and some very weird stuff on Tumblr), the fans of Hannibal were fervent and avid (Francis Dolarhyde, the “Red Dragon”, who appears in Season 3,  was of course the first to call himself an “avid fan” of Hannibal Lecter). It has since become a cult series, and far more people have seen it on DVD or streaming services than ever watched it on network television.

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Episodic TV when it began was usually static: the main character, whether cop, lawyer or doctor, tended to be the same at the end of the episode, the antagonist dead or defeated. You could pretty much watch any episode in any order. Such was television before video and streaming: if you missed an episode or came in late, it was important that you could quickly work out what was happening, because there was no way to pause or go back. Streaming has opened this up, to the point where now protagonist can change, learn, grow and even die (think Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones). Hannibal is all about growth. And death.

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Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), the famous psychiatrist and infamous cannibal, is an avid fan of growth, evolution and death. Yet the chief protagonist of the series is ostensibly Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who lectures to FBI rookies, and can recreate mental pictures of the murders being investigated. The first episode starts with a gory crime scene (there is some speculation that Francis Dolarhyde, who does not appear until Season 3, may have committed this particular crime). Will stands and watches the police as they take pictures and collect evidence, then closes his eyes. The heartbeat starts, and then the swinging pendulum, that will become familiar as the series progresses; these props allow him to recreate the murders in his mind, with himself in the disturbing role of perp. He looks for patterns that will help him put a motive and a face to the killer. Each step of each murder is accompanied by his mantra: “this is my design”.

Lecturing his students at the FBI academy, Will tells them: “Everyone has thought about killing someone, one way or another”. At the end of the lecture, Jack Crawford, (Laurence Fishburne), head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI, asks him where he sits “on the spectrum”. Looking away, Will tells him:

“My horse is hitched to a post that is closer to Asperger’s and autistic than narcissist and sociopath”.

Will lives in Wolf Trap, Virginia, and rescues and adopts a multitude of stray dogs (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is also headquartered in Virginia, making it a very animal-friendly place). Will’s talent is empathy, and the imagination to see into the thoughts of others, even those whose dark secrets most of us would rather avoid.

This imagination is what Jack Crawford needs. Eight young women have disappeared, but no bodies have been found. When they find the eighth victim, whom Will discovers has been returned to the bed where she was killed, they discover that her liver has been removed, and then replaced. Why would the killer put it back in? The crime scene investigators Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), Jimmy Price (Scott Thompson) and Brian Zeller (Aaron Abrams) are baffled. Like a Greek chorus, they explicate each mystery, and lay it out for Will to solve.

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Just so, Will figures this one out: they are looking for a cannibal.

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Hannibal Lecter, after whom the series is named, does not even make an appearance until 21 minutes into the first episode. This is the horror genre, so his introduction involves a close-up of his face, which “emphasize(s) its shadows to the point of engulfing it in pitiless darkness” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus). Pity, we will discover, is not one of Hannibal’s attributes. He appears to the music of Bach: the Aria from the Goldberg Variations, the music that Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal requested in Silence of the Lambs, the music that he was playing as he killed and flayed the guards during his escape.

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This new Hannibal is enjoying an exquisitely prepared meal of liver, certainly not a diseased one. He is then shown at work, wearing a perfectly fitted blue three-piece suit, analysing a neurotic patient, and annoyed by the blubbering of this patient, and particularly the snotty tissue he leaves on Hannibal’s perfect side-table. At the end of the session, he is visited by Jack Crawford, who admires his drawings, and compliments him on his academic work. He wants Hannibal to help with the investigation. Hannibal agrees, but it’s a whimsical project (and as Clarice Starling says in the book Hannibal, it’s whimsy that gets him caught). He plays with them – a game of hidden identity .

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Hannibal is the Renaissance man in all aspects – educated, elegant, tasteful. Crawford wants his help with the case, but his brief really is to evaluate Will’s mental stability.

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Will soon realises what is going on: “Jack, whose profile is he working on?” Hannibal is analysing Will. Keeping track of his potential issues. He will use this information later in the season.

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A ninth victim is found in a field, impaled on stag-horns. Velvet from such antlers was found in the wounds of number eight, but possibly was put there as a healing agent, an apology. The police and the gutter press (the gossip paper is now called TattleCrime) start calling the killer the “Minnesota Shrike”, named after a bird that spears its prey on sharp objects and then carries off the flesh for later consumption. Will immediately realises that this is not the work of the same killer.

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The team finds that the victim’s lungs have been removed. In the next scene, Hannibal is preparing, flaming and enjoying a healthy dinner of lungs.

It’s time for Will and Hannibal to go do some FBI investigating (no Supreme Court jokes, please). You may remember that in Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula could never enter a house unless he had been invited. Well, if you don’t remember that, I think Bryan Fuller certainly did:

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Hannibal takes an immediate interest in Will. Later in the series, we will see this develop into something resembling love, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At this stage, Hannibal sees a kindred spirit and wants Will to grow – he wants to (re)create Will in his own image. For Season 1, only we, the audience, know that the image he wants to recreate is that of a serial killer and cannibal. A man of such superior taste and discernment that eating humans is of no more consequence to him than eating a pig. A ‘super-man’, what Nietzsche called an “Übermensch”. He sees that potential in Will:

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The teacup will become a very important plot point later in the show. Hannibal accepts Nietzsche’s “amor fati” (the love of fate) and so is a fatalist, but he also watches Stephen Hawking’s videos and hopes that, if the universe reverses its expansion and time begins to flow backwards, his sister will be resurrected. More on that in a later blog.

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Very few characters in Hannibal or the books or films previous to this series refer to Lecter as anything other than “a monster”. Monsters are supposed to scare us, fill us with dread of the “other” who plans to ambush and devour us alive. The genre owes much of its success to our evolution from the tiny, prototype mammals who lived, hundreds of millions of years ago, in terror of the dominant reptiles. We can go back further; most animals will feel fear when faced with a predator. Fear is a biological necessity, a warning; fear keeps us alive. Monsters are grotesque, horrifying, easily identified. Frankenstein’s creature, Dracula, the Wolfman – these are what monsters should look like.

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But Hannibal is not such a monster. He is a well-respected psychiatrist, a snappy dresser, a renaissance man who loves art, classical music and rare wines. He is also a sophisticated gourmet cook, albeit with a slightly wider range of meats than your average chef. But here’s the main thing about Hannibal – we like him. It’s difficult to like Dracula, or the Wolfman, or the Walking Dead. But it’s hard to dislike Hannibal, and his evident pleasure in his meals only makes us appreciate his skill the more, even as we realise what he’s cooking. He accepts the consequences of his decisions: Hannibal has staged the copycat crime as a mirror image that will lead Will to the killer, and ensure that Will will have to use lethal force, the trauma of which will change him. Change, growth, death. But the serial killer, Garrett Jacob Hobbs, has killed all those girls because he doesn’t have the heart to kill his daughter, for whom he has incestuous feelings (the other taboo that Freud used to lecture us about).

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When Hannibal warns Hobbs that the FBI “know”, Hobbs kills his wife and slits his daughter’s throat, forcing Will to shoot him. Hobbs’ final words to Will are “You see?” Will sees: he sees death, he sees change, he sees the thrill of the chase and of the kill.

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The daughter, Abigail (Kacey Rohl), has been orphaned and almost killed by Hannibal’s ploy. She is collateral damage in Hannibal’s design. Hannibal rarely admits to regret, but he still can take responsibility for this girl, for reasons that will become a little clearer later when he addresses the death of his sister. Will finds Hannibal in Abigail’s hospital room asleep, head bent sideways, clothes crumpled, the devoted parental figure guarding the child.

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The character Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was terrified by his creation.  Similarly, in the foreword to the book upon which the Hannibal series is based, Red Dragon, Thomas Harris considered Hannibal a monster, and was also terrified by him. He described “meeting” his characters as he wrote them:

“I am invisible to my characters when I’m in a room with them and they are deciding their fates with little or no help from me…. Graham and I went on to the Violent Ward and the steel door slammed shut behind us with a terrific noise. Will Graham and I, approaching Dr Lecter’s cell. Graham was tense and I could smell fear on him. I thought Dr Lecter was asleep and I jumped when he recognised Will Graham by scent without opening his eyes. I was enjoying my usual immunity while working, my invisibility to Chilton and Graham and the staff, but I was not comfortable in the presence of Dr Lecter, not sure at all the doctor could not see me.”

Luckily for us, unlike Dr Frankenstein, Harris did not abandon Hannibal to his own devices but gave him brilliance, taste and opportunity. And a massive superiority complex.

Bryan Fuller, the showrunner, reimagined some of the plot and many of the characters. Jack Crawford is now black, Alan Bloom is now Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and is a kind of love interest for Will, the journalist Freddy Lounds is now Fredricka “Freddie” Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki). Many of the other characters we knew from the books and movies will be reinvented in later episodes with different skin colour, sex or other characteristics.

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Hannibal Lecter himself is quite different, and not just because he is now played by a Danish rather than Welsh actor. Hannibal actually grew more complex and nuanced in each textual rendition of the previous stories. In the book Red Dragon, he was called a psychopath, and Will reported that he had tortured animals as a child, which is a very common marker of that affliction. But by Hannibal Rising, the prequel book and film that explained Hannibal’s history, he is a deeply traumatised child who has witnessed (and perhaps indulged in) the cannibalism of his baby sister. However, his cruel responses are never to non-human animals and never to weaker children – Hannibal picks on the bullies at his orphanage, and his first murder is a vulgar and uncouth butcher who insults his aunt. From that time, he prefers to eat the rude – “free range rude” as he calls them. In the films (most of them) Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal as brilliant but twisted, the crazed jester.

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Mads Mikkelsen prefers his Hannibal to be a fallen angel – the devil himself, first diagnosed by a gypsy in the book Hannibal, but brought to full rendition by Bryan Fuller, Mads and the production crew. Director of Photography James Hawkinson explained how this effect was achieved from this first episode, where Hannibal emerges from the chiaroscuro effects that are so prominent in the show:

“He’s basically Satan hiding in plain sight. He’s right there in front of everybody, but no one is able to see him for what he really is. We determined that he should always be shrouded in a certain amount of darkness because of that.”

The use of darkness continues through the whole series. Consider the scene in Will’s motel room, where Hannibal brings Will a breakfast of sausages and almost certainly turns him into an ‘innocent’ cannibal with their first shared meal. What’s in those sausages? What’s really in any sausage?

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Hannibal brings the darkness into the lives of the other characters as he instructs, feeds or kills them. Hannibal has reversed the Frankenstein story: the talented doctor is now the killer, creating serial killers, super-men and women in his own image. Far from running away from his creations, he devises convoluted ordeals to forge their new personas.

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Satan, if he walked among us, would no doubt ensure he was rich, brilliant, and a connoisseur of all the good things of life, those things that the rules of religious humility would disdain. He would also be incredibly powerful. He would be a super-man, an Übermensch. I’ll get to Nietzsche when we arrive at Season 2. That may be a while. Super-men, like psychopaths, are very hard to catch.

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The first cannibal film was made in Australia? “The Devil’s Playground” (Bindley, 1928)

We tend to think of ‘cannibal films’ as starting with the Italians: Ruggero Deodato’s Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1977) or, before that, Umberto Lenzi’s Man From Deep River (Italian title Il Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio, 1972). These followed a formula in which civilised Europeans blundered into savage lands (Lenzi’s film was set in Thailand) and are captured by cannibals, tortured, witness terrible atrocities and then escape.

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Chief Trelua, cannibal king, actually a Sydney lifeguard

But cannibals have appeared in movies well before the Italians invented their special exploitation genre. Tarzan films from the early twentieth century showed the lost British Lord living with apes but killing cannibals – they were prima facie cannibals, because they were savages. But they were background noise, they were the predators in the jungle, assumed to be cannibals by trade, but not usually caught in the act (and, in the books, Tarzan’s British aristocratic breeding stops him tasting human flesh, for reasons he can’t quite understand).

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Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan the podiatrist

One of the very first film to show savages as cannibals, before Johnny Weissmüller hit the vines, was actually an Australian film called The Devil’s Playground, written and directed by Victor A. Bindley.

This is the opening card (it’s a silent movie):

Far off the beaten track, in the South Seas, lies a beautiful island – a jewel of the sea. Its waters, abounding in the low grade island pearl shellfish, have brought a few white traders to its shores. The sinister reputation borne by its native population in fetish and cannibal rites, in the past, and the wild doings of some of its present white population, has earned for the island the name of:

“THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND”

 Not to be confused with Fred Schepisi’s 1976 film of the same name, which revolved about quite different appetites.

Bindley’s silent movie was made with a budget of £2,000, not a fortune even in 1926, when production commenced. This required a certain financial prudence: according to Australian Film 1900–1977, scenes were shot on beaches near Sydney (Bilgola) and interiors in the Mosman Town Hall. Natives were played by Sydney lifeguards in
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The villain, however, is a corrupt white man named Bull Morgan who exploits the natives and forces the heroine, Naneena, to marry him, after murdering her brother. Fun fact: Naneena is played by Elsa Jacoby, later a prominent Sydney socialite, philanthropist and opera singer. Meanwhile, the locals are not content to put up with colonialist discourses:

Trelua seeks counsel of the wise man, Malatai!

“Malatai! Our warriors grow fat and lazy under the white-man’s rule, and our men-children are weaklings!

“Our spears would but splinter against the might of the whitemen, for they are as many as the white sands of the sea! Their great men are wise! Let Trelua seek justice in their councils!”

“Your puny words cannot hold me for long, O Malatai! Better to die fighting like men, than like women upon our sleeping mats!”

The natives rise up, but not to rescue Naneena – they are cannibals and cannot be seen to do too much good. She is rescued by an airman, who calls in a British cruiser to quell the native revolt although, before the cannons roar, the cannibal chief kills Bull, proving that no one is all bad.

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The cannibals attack the grog shop!
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The noble hero

The Sydney Morning Herald of 8 February 1930 reported that the film had been banned from export (another first for the director) under the censorship regulations which included blasphemy, indecency, or obscenity, being injurious to morality, or likely to be offensive to the people of the British Empire. It may be that the violence of Bull whipping poor Naneena was a bit over the top for the censors (although she gave him back as good or better than she got), or that the British navy blasting natives with cannons was “offensive to the people of the British Empire”.

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The navy arrives to put down the cannibal mutiny
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Bull whips Naneena!
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Naneena whips Bull!

But the most likely reason for the ban is that showing the corruption of the white traders, who were widely known to be exploiting and corrupting the indigenous inhabitants of the islands, was a bridge too far. Like most cannibal films, it raises the question: who is eating whom?

At any rate, the film was shelved and did not have a public screening until 1966, by which time it was just a historical oddity. It is available in the NSW State Library on VCR, which led me to spend an excruciating two hours there recently. It’s not much of a cannibal film, really, but then it’s not much of a film. Pretty exciting, for a cannibal film blog, to find a very early specimen, especially when it’s home-grown!

Incidentally, the Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee where Jeffrey Dahmer killed and ate most of the boys and young men who took his fancy in the 1980s was torn down after his arrest and a playground built, but the locals refused to use it, calling it – you guessed it – the devil’s playground”.

 

If you like my blog, please feel free to recommend it (with discretion) to friends on social media.
If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag, or email me  on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.