Cry me a Reaver: “SERENITY” (Whedon, 2005)

Futuristic cannibal movies usually involve social dislocation and roving gangs of urban starvelings, but this one has the added attraction of being set well into the future, and in outer space. Space cannibals, what more could we ask? How about plenty of action, smart, sassy dialogue, and Joss Whedon at the helm, the man behind Buffy and Angel?

Stephen Hawking, among a lot of other people (none as smart as him though), suggested that humans will need to “escape the earth” sooner or later.

Image result for stephen hawking escape the earth

Currently, the pace of climate change seems to suggest sooner rather than later might be a good idea, but in Serenity, it’s several hundred years into the future (the year 2517 to be precise). Humans have escaped an overcrowded planet Earth and colonised a new solar system. The central planets have formed the Alliance and won a war against the outer planet Independents, a war that they see as civilisation against barbarism. Most barbaric of all are the Reavers, They are savage, brutal and primal; as Zoe (Gina Torres from Hannibal) puts it in the TV series Firefly:

“If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing – and if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.”

vlcsnap-00014.jpg
Not pretty, but Reavers have good teeth

The Alliance government denies their existence. But the Reavers, like Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrei Chikatilo and dozens more cannibals in our own times, are real, and are more than ready to eat us. They first appeared in Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly, which sadly was cancelled after one season, only to become cult viewing thereafter. Serenity is the continuation of that story. Look, it’s a complicated plot, quite a lot of which has nothing for a cannibalism blog to chew on so, here, we’re just interested in the Reavers, who are particularly nasty cannibals.

vlcsnap-00011.jpg

More than one critic has described the Firefly/Serenity story as “galactic Cowboys and Indians”, and the Reavers are the “Injuns”, in the sense that, in the old Westerns, they were portrayed as mindlessly aggressive, had no subjectivity in terms of any personal anecdotes, and could be gunned down (“bite the dust”) with no moral qualms. Joss Whedon himself said “Every story needs a monster. In the stories of the old west it was the Apaches.”

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

We can’t do that anymore in movies – First Nation people are far more likely to be the sympathetic protagonists, while cowboys are either unemployed gunfighters, drunks, or psychopathic murderers. The unthinking racism of the early Westerns has been transformed into Reavers, Klingons, Sith lords, and so on. Westerns boldly migrated into space (think Star Wars, Star Trek). But in space, we still need evil degenerates facing off against a noble warrior (who is increasingly likely to be a female).

vlcsnap-00036.jpg

So if we need a new terrifying, mindlessly destructive enemy, who better than the cannibal? The fear of cannibals worked for Columbus 500 years ago, and works for the Alliance 500 years hence. But the curse of modern cannibal films is that the audience, or perhaps just the producers, demand a back story, how did they get that way – or, as Clarice asks Hannibal, “what happened to you?”

This film tells us, at last, how the Reavers got that way, and it doesn’t reflect too well on the civilised parliamentarians of the Alliance. Imagine an experimental chemical distributed globally, that can reduce or remove human aggression. It stops people fighting. It also stops them doing anything, including eating and moving. Without some aggro, we become zombies. But without the appetite.

But on those who are resistant to the chemical, it has the opposite effect. Their aggression levels go through the roof. They become Reavers. So really, any of us could be Reavers, given the opportunity and the right (or wrong) chemicals.

vlcsnap-00028.jpg

What would the government do? Bury the information of course. Pretend the dead world doesn’t exist. Then, sooner or later, come out with another way to make people “better”. As the philosopher John Gray says:

“the idea that humans may one day be more rational requires a greater leap of faith than anything in religion.”

serenity.2005.jpg
IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

“I’m giving very serious thought to eating your wife”: “HANNIBAL” (Scott, 2001)

It is quite extraordinarily, in retrospect, to realise that this 2001 film was the first Hannibal Lecter film to be about Hannibal Lecter. He was very much a bit player in both Manhunter and Red Dragon (both based on the book Red Dragon) – he was in an asylum and visited occasionally by Will Graham, desperate for a clue as to the identity of the serial killer the FBI was hunting. The movie that made him a household name, The Silence of the Lambs, saw him still in that Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane, but now he was a major figure, even though only on screen for a bit under 16 minutes. But very good minutes they were (he won the Oscar for it, and the film won five in total) and, importantly, we saw him escape, to rejoin us, the viewers, in the breathing world, as we crept, with wide eyes, back to the dark parking lot of the cinema after the credits had rolled.

Hannibal.jpg

“I need to come out of retirement and return to public life.”

In Hannibal, he is free, and doing what he loves best – being an expert on Renaissance art and poetry in Florence, drinking fine wines, and occasionally eating people. But, as in the previous movies, and in the TV series, Hannibal takes his sweet time before he actually appears on screen. His image appears at 24 minutes: an archive video of him attacking a nurse who was careless with his ECG (any comments on why he attacks the nurse would be appreciated. It seems out of character for Hannibal: discourteous even).

vlcsnap-00017.jpg

His voice appears at 28 minutes, and his person at 30. Hannibal never rushes things. Instead, the film starts with Hannibal’s nemeses: Mason Verger, intent on revenge and plotting to capture Hannibal and feed him to his pigs, and of course Clarice Starling, her career in tatters due to a combination of law enforcement ineptitude and toxic masculinity working to bring her down. She is caught on the news shooting a woman with a baby, even though that woman was a drug dealer who was shooting at her.

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

Her only possible way to reinstate her career will be to work with Verger to capture Hannibal.

This wasn’t an easy film to make – sequels rarely are, particularly when they are following a film that did a lot better than anyone expected. And this film was made ten years after Silence, so there was a huge, pent up demand. There was also the brilliant book from Thomas Harris on which this was based; it had come out two years previously, and many, including the director of Silence, Jonathan Demme, the screenwriter, Ted Tally, and the star, Jodie Foster, considered the plot a bridge too far. All three declined to be involved in the new film. Lucklily, Anthony Hopkins was ready to get back in the saddle, so the film proceeded – without him, it would seem to have been unlikely.

So, sad not to get Demme back to direct, but hey, Dino di Laurentiis found a substitute: the brilliant Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise), who had just finished Gladiator and at first declined the script, as he thought it was another ancient history epic, and didn’t want to have to direct elephants crossing the Alps. Oh, it’s about a cannibal in Florence? OK then. The screenplay was first drafted by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and then written by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List). And instead of the incomparable Jodie Foster, he chose, from a list of the greatest actors of the time, Julianne Moore, apparently the recommendation of Hopkins. di Laurentiis said of Jodie Foster’s refusal to take part: “when the Pope dies, they get a new Pope”. So it was off to a rollicking start.

Then there’s the supervillain. In Hannibal movies, there is always a much worse monster for us to hate, giving us licence to like Hannibal that much more. In this case, it is Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), heir to a huge fortune built on the cruel pork trade, a sadist and child molester in his youth.

vlcsnap-00012.jpg

He is the only surviving victim of Hannibal: instead of killing him, Hannibal got him whacked on psychotropic drugs and suggested that he slice his own face off and feed it to the dogs. In the book, this is explained: Mason had adopted two dogs who were good friends, and put them in a cage with no food, to see if they would turn to cannibalism. Gratuitous cruelty and cannibalism – not what Hannibal is about at all. Hannibal’s cannibalism contains a nugget of justice. As the Asylum orderly Barney tells Clarice:

He told me that whenever feasible, he prefers to eat the rude. Free range rude, he called them.

Incidentally, Barney is portrayed by Frankie Faison (The Wire) who is the only actor to appear in all four Hannibal films up to this one.

Hannibal manages to communicate with Clarice throughout the film, usually by letter or phone call, explaining his point of view and questioning why she continues to serve her corrupt and venal masters.

Tell me Clarice, would you want to harm those who have forced you to consider it though? It’s perfectly OK to feel this. It’s perfectly au naturel to want to taste the enemy. It just feels so good.

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

The camera lingers lovingly on Mason’s disfigurements: according to the DVD, Oldman spent six hours each day in makeup to make him so lovable. Hopkins, on the other hand, did not bother with makeup for this movie, allowing his advancing years and natural pallor to tell the story of the years since his escape.

vlcsnap-00067.jpg

With Hannibal, there is always the question of who is the cannibal. In Red Dragon, was it Hannibal in his cell or Dolarhyde collecting movies of women he had killed and raped? In Silence, was it the same Hannibal in the same cell, or Jame Gumb, killing and skinning women to make a vest with tits? In this one, is it the Renaissance scholar Hannibal seeking a job as curator of the Capponi library or Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), threatening a local pickpocket into ambushing Hannibal, hoping to sell Hannibal to Verger to be fed to his pigs? The pickpocket loses his femoral artery to a small knife that Hannibal keeps in his sleeve. He dies, but Pazzi gets the fingerprint he needs for the deal to go ahead and in a scene full of Catholic symbolism, washes his bloody hands in the fountain of Il Porcellino, a porcine reference to the greed of Judas and the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, as well as a foretaste of the pigs who have been bred to eat Hannibal. Verger and his thugs get the pigs flown to the US and primed to eat humans (pigs usually prefer not to). Pazzi later gets from Hannibal the same treatment his treasonous ancestor received in Florence 500 years earlier – hanging from the window with his bowels protruding. But not until Hannibal has offered the line of the movie:

vlcsnap-00048.jpg

vlcsnap-00049.jpg

Hannibal has met Pazzi’s wife, Allegra (Francesca Neri), at the sublime opera of Dante’s sonnet A ciascun’alma presa from Vita Nuova, which Hannibal and Allegra recite to each other meaningfully, all about Beatrice eating Dante’s heart, and clearly referencing Hannibal’s growing obsession with Clarice.

vlcsnap-00037.jpg

In a scene that reveals both Pazzi’s desperation to make Allegra happy, including risking his career and life to capture Hannibal, and Hannibal’s own burning love for Clarice, she asks him:

Allegra: Dr Fell, do you believe a man could become so obsessed with a woman from a single encounter?
Hannibal: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for her and find nourishment in the very sight of her? I think so. But would she then see through the bars of his plight and ache for him?

Dante and Beatrice were nine years old when his obsession with her started. Hannibal’s obsession with Clarice started at a more mature age, but burns just as brightly.

The music, Vide Cor Meum, is by Hans Zimmer (Lion King, Gladiator, the Dark Knight trilogy and heaps more) and is so beautiful that it is used again in the TV series Hannibal, in the season finales of both the first two seasons. As she leaves with Pazzi, another couple brush past saying “let’s get something to eat!” Hannibal mutters to himself, and to us, “why not?”

Verger understands that the way to trap Hannibal is by threatening Clarice, and pays Paul Krendler (Ray Liotto), the man who has conspired to destroy Clarice’s career since she first rebuffed his advances, to fabricate evidence of collusion with Hannibal.

vlcsnap-00076.jpg
“But not to help…”

She is suspended from the FBI. Hannibal goes shopping for fine furniture, and burglaring for medical equipment. He breaks into Clarice’s apartment in DC, where she has drunk herself to sleep, and leaves a collage of her face on a fashion shoot in a magazine. The game is afoot. He leads her to Union Station where he engages her in a discussion of her life, her future, and why the forces of the law, the law she loves and respects, have totally betrayed her.

Why are you so resented? You serve the idea of order, Clarice. They don’t. You believe in the oath you took. They don’t. You feel it is your duty to protect the sheep. They don’t.

As he leaves, Verger’s Sardinian hit-men hit him with a tranquiliser dart and drive him off. Now who will save whom?

vlcsnap-00100.jpg

Hannibal is strapped to a forklift in a crucifixion position, his feet are to be fed to the pigs, then he is to be kept alive for several hours until the rest of him is given to them. She cuts him loose, leading to one of the funniest exchanges in the film.

vlcsnap-00107.jpg

Clarice can deal with most of these thugs, but is shot while rescuing Hannibal, who picks her up and walks through the hogs. They leave him alone – since they cannot smell fear on him. He arranges for Verger’s helper to push the furious billionaire into the pig pen. Dinner is served.

vlcsnap-00111.jpg

Krendler returns to his lakehouse, but Hannibal is already there. So is Clarice; Hannibal has removed the bullet and she is sedated. She wakes dressed in full evening gown and high heels and staggers downstairs where, in the most famous scene of the film, Hannibal has sawn Krendler’s cranium off, and is preparing to serve his brain. Of course, the brain has no pain receptors on its surface, so Krendler is awake and joins the meal.

vlcsnap-00117.jpg

Most of this is fairly true to the book. Only the ending was changed, apparently to appeal to those whose morality could stand seeing a man eat his own brains, but not to seeing Starling, so long an honest cop, go over to Lecter’s side – the side of cynicism about authority and enjoyment of the finer things of life. Instead, she rebuffs him and with her remaining strength tries to stop the dinner, and then the escape. She hancuffs the two of them together, Hannibal goes to bite her, then to cut off her hand, but it is he that leaves minus one. That’s love.

vlcsnap-00128.jpg

vlcsnap-00129.jpg

But then, there is the single tear – does she regret the opportunity to dance with the devil?

vlcsnap-00137.jpg

I admit to preferring the story the way the author wrote it in the book. I think Hannibal would have too. Read the book and you will see that is the perfect denouement to the Hannibal saga. I think they compromised on the end to avoid controversy (although they did get away with feeding Krendler his own brain, so they weren’t totally devoid of courage).

I suspect that the idea of amputation of his hand came from Sir Anthony Hopkins, who had starred in Shakespeare’s Titus only two years earlier, in which he cuts off his hand, and his daughter suffers a worse fate involving both hands and her tongue. [I nearly said Hopkins had a hand in the decision, but I restrained myself].

Titus is also a cannibal movie, by the way. You can read my blog about it at Titus.

Why does Hannibal eat people? Clarice speculates on this earlier in the film, while she is still on the case, as Krendler asks her what she’s doing sitting in the dark.

Thinking about cannibalism. Aren’t you curious why he dines on his victims? To show his contempt for those who exasperate him. Or sometimes to perform a public service. In the case of the flutist, Benjamin Raspail, he did it to improve the sound of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra, serving the not so talented flute player’s sweetbreads to the Board with a nice Montrachet at $700 per bottle.

Yes, Clarice, quite right. But also, like any cuisine, it’s a habit, or a preference. Hannibal simply cannot see any reason not to eat people, particularly rude ones. In the final scene, he offers to give it all up for her:

vlcsnap-00130vlcsnap-00131vlcsnap-00132vlcsnap-00135vlcsnap-00134

BTW: note the books on Krendler’s fridge: Southern Cooking and Vegetarian Times. Our ethical choices: what we consider right, or what we consider delicious. Hannibal, unlike everyone else, makes his choices without hesitating. He considers them the same thing.

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.

Hell is in Hello: “MOTEL HELL” (Connor, 1980)

Lee Marvin “sang” these words in the musical Paint Your Wagon:

Do I know where Hell is? Hell is in hello…

Don’t know whether Director Kevin Connor got the idea from Lee Marvin, but he certainly borrowed from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with an actual chainsaw duel between two brothers featuring at the climax of the film. Texas, in its own low budget way, revolutionised the horror genre, introduced slashers, and let us in on the world of the neglected, socially isolated “flyover zone” cannibal.

It’s also a spoof on Psycho – the killer in the motel, the unsuspecting travellers. You might also call it a precursor of the film Delicatessen that was considered on this blog last week: once again there are rooms for rent, human meat for sale.

220px-POSTER_-_MOTEL_HELL.jpg

The motel is actually called MOTEL HELLO but the “O” keeps flickering off, thus giving the sinister name, and the title of the film.

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

Vincent (Rory Calhoun) is a neo-lib dream: an entrepreneur who relishes his freedom to do whatever he likes in the name of business. The hidden hand of the market is his, and that hand carries a shotgun, or sometimes a chainsaw. Vincent runs the motel, but in his spare time (of which he has plenty) he ambushes motorists and stores them until he slaughters them and sells their flesh in his butcher shop as FARMER VINCENT’S SMOKED MEATS.

Simpsons fans will know Rory Calhoun of course!

Farmer Vincent’s is a family business, and Vincent’s sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) is involved in the process, which involves burying the victims up to their necks in the garden and cutting their vocal chords so they can’t make a fuss, then feeding them up like hogs until they are fat and edible. But Vincent fancies one of the victims, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and asks Ida to help her heal from the accident he caused. His kid brother Bruce (Paul Linke) is the local sheriff, and is as clueless as we expect local sheriffs to be, but he soon develops a crush on Terry. But she develops a crush on Vincent, so we know that (murder and cannibalism aside) there’s going to be trouble.

In a scene that perfectly parodies slasher movies, two little girls sneak into the smoking room, and with the requisite spooky backing track, are terrified by the scenes of carnage they see there – a lot of dead pigs. Only pigs, we might chuckle but, for Vincent, pigs and people are just the same: dumb animals good for nothing except slaughter and smoking for profit.

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

Terry is pretty upset about losing her boyfriend (to whom she was not married, the religious Vincent notes), but he convinces her that being with them is “preordained”

vlcsnap-00014.jpg
“Ah, the ways of the Lord are mysterious!”

Vincent’s methods of harvesting meat animals are not too particular: the local meat inspector who gets too nosy, a bus full of hippie musicians, even a pair of swingers whom he has lured with an ad – all get buried up their necks in the garden, unable to make any intelligible sound.

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

He explains to Ida how important his various traps are, because “they give me a chance to be a free agent” and his work will remain special and important. Yep, Vincent is a classic neo-lib. As Ida pulls the latest victims out of the truck toward the holes he has dug, he tells her “plant ‘em!”. As they reflect on the strangeness of the hippies, they chant their motto:

It takes all kinds of critters
To make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

As Vincent and Ida settle down to “plant” their critters and pull out the scalpels to cut their vocal chords, are they really behaving differently to the farmer who ties down a bull or hog to castrate him or to burn off his horns, or a sheep farmer who cuts hunks of skin off the backside of a lamb because it’s an easy way to avoid fly-strike (and saves money on insecticides)? They cleverly portray the hard work and care of farmers who really can see nothing wrong in the suffering they inflict for the sake of profit. He checks out one victim, smiling “not quite – tomorrow he’ll be ready to become famous.”

Terry asks how Vincent got started in the meat business and he tells her of the days when they couldn’t afford an icebox, and Granny would smoke anything she could catch – chickens, rabbits, frogs. One day, she asked Vincent to do something about an annoying dog who was barking, and that dog ended up smoked too. Did Granny know she was eating a dog, asks Terry, now repulsed, although she has just been enjoying Vincent’s smoked “ham”. Vincent replies:

Why Granny never put any distinctions on any of God’s creatures. She always used to say [Ida and Bruce join in the chant] MEAT’S MEAT, AND A MAN’S GOTTA EAT!

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

Ida doesn’t like the wheezing and hissing noises the captives make as they try to talk without vocal chords. Vincent replies “They’re good animals! Not like taking care of chickens, or hogs.” Ida asks: “Vincent, do you think in the years to come people will appreciate us for what we’re doing here?” She goes on “Somebody’s gotta take a little responsibility for the planet!” Vincent and Ida are also ecologists, performing a valuable service by combating the scourge of human overpopulation.

The action is interspersed with the seemingly continuous telecast of a televangelist on the TV. Also with cannibal puns: as the swingers get ready for what they expect will be a wild evening (it will, but not quite as they hoped), Ida tells them “you look good enough to eat”. And the final credits roll to the Kregg Nance song “You’re eating out my heart and soul”.

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

People certainly don’t like the idea of cannibalism, but they usually find it hard to articulate what is wrong with it, compared to eating other “critters”. For most, it is enough to say it is taboo, but that really begs the question. The genius of this film is that Vincent is not the usual psychotic serial killer type of cannibal. He is good humoured, kind, and has a strong sense of morality, seen in his choice of religious programs, as well as his shock when Terry comes on to him – he recoils, saying “we should be married first”.

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

Well, they are going to get married, by none other than the local pastor, played by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a gravelly voiced DJ of the golden age of Rock.

vlcsnap-00020.jpg

Ida drugs Terry, so that she and Vincent can go prepare the meat for the wedding feast. Vincent insists on offering his victims a humane death – he believes that “no animal should ever suffer any unnecessary pain”. Well, we nearly all believe that! Just a question of semantics – define ‘animal’. Define ‘pain’. And define ‘unnecessary’.

Anyway, Bruce is royally pissed off and starts looking for evidence against Vincent, and the “animals” start digging themselves out and staggering about in a scene reminiscent of just about every zombie movie.

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

Terry finds out the truth, but it’s her version (what else could it be?) As far as Vincent is concerned, he is just preparing the wedding feast. He says:

Haven’t you ever cleaned a fish? There’s nothing cruel in what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed them chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favour.

Terry ask him what right he has to play God. Vincent denies that is what he is doing.

I’m just helping out. There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. This takes care of both problems at the same time.

And that’s Vincent’s truth. And there is some truth in it.

The climax is the two brothers battling it out with chainsaws (a Texas Chain Saw reference) while Vincent wears a pig’s head on his head, which would not help his visual acuity much, but takes us to all sorts of interesting tropes, such as Animal Farm. The shock ending: as Vincent dies, he admits to his whole life being a lie, to being the biggest hypocrite of them all. Why?

My meat. I used – preservatives!

The film received a respectable 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews range from “a rather well-executed dark comedy” to “tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.” I liked it because it ticked all the boxes in my quest to understand cannibalism’s undermining of anthropocentrism. And Rory Calhoun is terrific – or as Montgomery Burns would say:

Excellent.jpg

Meating the future: “DELICATESSEN” (Caro & Jeunet, 1991)

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

Delicatessen is a classic French black comedy set in a post-apocalyptic village where seeds and grains are the exchange currency. The butcher advertises for handy-men in a journal called Hard Times and then slaughters the applicants and sells their meat to his weird tenants, who have surrealistic activities: a man who lives in a flooded room full of frogs and snails, a woman who constantly fails at suicide attempts so involved they would be worthy of Wile E Coyote, and two brothers who manufacture mooing machines for no apparent reason.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

The trailer for Delicatessen is a scene from the early part of the film, where the butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is having sex with a woman (Karin Viard) who seems to be as much captive as partner.

vlcsnap-00008.jpg

As his lustful tempo, played out on the squeaky bedsprings, increases in speed, so do the activities of all the tenants: the butcher sets the pace in this world (and by implication in our world too).

Into this house of horrors comes a gentle (vegetarian) clown, Louison (Dominique Pinon), who has left the circus after his partner, Doctor Livingstone, was eaten.

vlcsnap-00006.jpg

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

Livingstone, it turns out, was a chimp, but his sorrow is no less real for that.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

The butcher’s daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with him and tries to warn him of his likely fate.

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

Julie dreams about the upcoming butchery of Louison, and decides to save him. To do this, she has to seek the help of the Troglodistes, an underground group who are vegetarian and hate the “surfacers”, who hunt them. Their motivation is the 30 bags of corn in her father’s house. Her motivation: love. Her father’s: meat. Can there be a more French theme? She returns to find:

vlcsnap-00017.jpg

But he’s a clown – this is a new act he is rehearsing.

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

Since Louison did not appear on the steps last night, where the killings are done, the butcher is instead selling bits of the mother of one of the tenants. As the tenant leaves the butcher, a neat packet of her mother’s flesh under her arm, she says:

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

“We’ll do that now” her husband assures her.

Look, none of it makes any sense, but that’s to be expected. All we can conclude is that voracious appetite (of which cannibalism is the highest form) doesn’t pay.

vlcsnap-00030.jpg

And love always triumphs…

vlcsnap-00028.jpg

… even if it’s underwater.

The director Marc Caro’s cameo (in goggles).

vlcsnap-00024.jpg

Rotten Tomatoes currently gives Delicatessen an impressive 89% “fresh”. The Washington Post called Delicatessen “a tasteless variation on Sweeney Todd set geographically near the border of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” while Unsung Films said it was “reminiscent of Amélie – and …much braver”. Amélie was the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 masterpiece.

Empire summed up Delicatessen as “simply essential viewing for vegetarians”.

Cannibalism films often have that effect.

 

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.

Not sweet sorrow: “Savoureux” HANNIBAL Season 1, episode 13

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

The finale of season one is named after what is usually the last course on a French menu – no, it’s not sweet, it’s ‘savoureux’ meaning savoury, and is defined as “a dish of pungent taste, such as anchovies on toast or pickled fruit”. If you didn’t know that (I didn’t), we can be confident that Hannibal did.

This is a final course, and with ratings being king in the TV industry, it was never certain that the show would be renewed (it was, tragically, cancelled after season 3) so this is a final of sorts, and not a sweet one.

It starts with Will trying to shoot a stag, chasing the bleeding animal through the undergrowth in thick night, only to come face to face with the stag-man, who we (but not yet Will) know represents Hannibal. He wakes up covered in sweat and panting (which seems, from all evidence, to be the only way Will ever wakes up), and finds his feet covered in mud. Will’s fevered imagination is starting to control his reality. Reality doesn’t get any better though, as Will throws up in the sink and finds, not last night’s beer and prawns, but a human ear.

vlcsnap-2019-02-22-12h17m14s662.png

He calls the only person he can trust, the only person he shouldn’t – Hannibal Lecter. Jack arrives and arrests him. It’s all downhill from here, Will. The ear is Abigail’s, and so is the blood under his fingernails. Will even believes it himself; according to the evidence:

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

Alana is furious at Jack for leaving Will out there when everyone could see he was breaking, but Jack replies that every decision he made about Will:

vlcsnap-00005.jpg

That would be Hannibal. Whom Alana recommended. Well played. But Hannibal is torn up about Abigail and Will, or at least he tearfully tells his psychiatrist that he is. Hannibal wants a family, with Abigail as the child, replacing the sister who was eaten at a tender age. In framing Will for the murder of Abigail, he has seemingly lost that chance.

vlcsnap-00012.jpg

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

Of course, with Hannibal, nothing is ever that simple. Like a good chess player, he is always several steps ahead of his opponents, but his game is not chess but becoming – he wants his protégés to become like him, or as much like him as possible. But he has real tears in his eyes. To become, they must go through challenges that may kill them. And as a Nietzschean, he knows the theory of amor fati – literally the love of fate. The death that so scarred him as a child, his little sister, will recur, again and again. Hey, no one said being an Übermensch is easy. He really was hoping this family thing would turn out. Maybe he still is.

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

He tells Bedelia his philosophy – and a very Nietzschean, anti-metaphysical one it is.

vlcsnap-00017vlcsnap-00018vlcsnap-00019

But Will has been arrested, and escapes (surprisingly easily) from the ambulance taking him to the asylum for the criminally insane. Who would have thought such a vehicle would need better security than a pair of handcuffs? He runs to – of course – Hannibal, telling him that he would have believed he might have killed Abigail, but no, not all the others. Hannibal plants the seed of doubt back into Will’s head, but Will wants to go to see where Abigail died.

They go back to the scene where Hobbs first tried to kill Abigail, and Hannibal points out that they haven’t found the body – except for the ear. He tells Will that if he was acting as Hobbs, they may never find the body – Hobbs used to eat his victims.

But Will has taken one of his intuitive leaps that made him so sought after in the FBI. He knows he could have killed Abigail, but

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

vlcsnap-00037.jpg

He knows it was Hannibal. And Hannibal knows Will is on the precipice of becoming.

vlcsnap-00041vlcsnap-00042vlcsnap-00043

Will pulls a gun on Hannibal. His greatest anger is not due to his realisation that Hannibal is the murderer, or that Hannibal has framed him. It’s that he realises Hannibal’s motives

vlcsnap-00052.jpg

vlcsnap-00054.jpg

Jack arrives and shoots Will, in the very same corner of the very same kitchen where Will shot Hobbs. And Will mutters the same words Hobbs said to him, with the stag-man looking on.

vlcsnap-00056.jpg

Hannibal sums up, as usual in a way that no one will fully understand.

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

We are all becoming. He visits Bedelia, but not empty handed

vlcsnap-00060.jpg

It’s a veal dish, and Bedelia makes the usual comment that veal draws among those whom Hannibal would consider less than enlightened

vlcsnap-00066vlcsnap-00067vlcsnap-00068

But Bedelia sees more than she lets on.

vlcsnap-00069.jpg

vlcsnap-00071.jpg

But right now, as Hannibal goes to visit Will in the Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane, he has everything just the way he wants it. The background music is the opera from Hannibal (the movie). Will now knows who Hannibal is, and is using his title respectfully.

vlcsnap-00073.jpg

Hannibal’s face at the end of the season is ‘savoureux’.

vlcsnap-00074.jpg

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.

Auto-cannibalism: “In My Skin” (de Van, 2002)

First off, if you don’t like gore (hey, it’s a blog about cannibal films, not necessarily slashers), then you may want to avoid this little French number. If graphic scenes don’t bother you (or if you like them) then this one is quite intriguing and very well made. But –– you’ve been warned.vlcsnap-2019-02-16-15h47m58s843.png

Marina de Van both directed and starred in this film, one in a genre of French movies which became known as New French Extremity films. There’s not a great deal of plot, but there’s a lot to the film in terms of the concepts and questions it raises. The film starts with a series of scenes: traffic, buildings, doors, etc, split screen into the image on one side, and a negative version on the other. So we’re already exploring dualism. The lead character, Esther (played by the director, Marina de Van), is a picture of privilege: she is white, well paid, well off, has a loving boyfriend – she’s on top of her world. Then she has a fall. A real fall, onto some rubbish, and actually injures her leg. But it doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t even notice the abrasions for some time.

Her doctor (played by her real-life brother, Adrian de Van) and her boyfriend (Laurent Lucas) are both concerned about her feeling no pain, but she brushes them off. Then she starts poking her wound, then the cutting starts, then the stabbing, then later the chewing (which qualifies it for my cannibal blog). That’s all I’m saying – no spoilers.

In-My-Skin-e1549986752157.jpg

In the director’s words, the movie asks “does this body really belong to me?” In an interview, she revealed that the story is based on an childhood accident, when she was hit by a car and had her leg broken, and she saw her leg not as part of her, but as a “fascinating, deformed object.”

vlcsnap-2019-02-16-17h17m23s509.png

Here’s the point: we look at each other with love or lust or hatred or fear, but it’s always only skin deep. What is beneath that surface? Derrida tells us that the binary opposition of inside to outside is the “matrix” of all oppositions. We consume the insides (muscle, fat, blood) of other animals but are horrified at our own internals – think of the warning given on the news when showing an accident or terrorist event, often quickly followed by an advert or a kitchen show involving bits of a dead lamb.

vlcsnap-2019-02-16-17h03m14s707.png

Why are we so repelled by what’s under our skin? Judith Halberstam tells us that skin is a “metonym for the human”, and any breach of it reveals a “semiotic of monstrosity” – the uncanniness within the body. Or as Angela Carter put it, “if flesh plus skin equals sensuality, then flesh minus skin equals meat”.

DpUdQUrU0AIX2hr.jpg

This film, and cannibal films generally, remind us that we are not gods or angelic beings – we are animals, and are made of meat, just like the animals we torment and slaughter. When Esther looks into her own being, she feels the same appetite others feel when walking past a roast.

vlcsnap-2019-02-16-17h02m45s986.png

In My Skin received 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one reviewer saying “A spellbinding, forceful film that refuses to be ignored” and another slamming it as “a bloody mess, in more ways than one.” The film received the Best International Film award at the Fantasia Film Festival in 2003. Make up your own mind.

Dans-ma-peau_Marina-De-Van-s-In-My-Skin-2002-movie-6-375x500.jpg

I’m so sorry Jack: “Relevés” HANNIBAL Season 1 episode 12 (Fuller, 2013)

This episode is called “Relevés”, an obscure term in the French menu – it comes sort of after the main course, but is not the Rôti (roasts) of episode 11; this one is joints – big butcher joints, served with heavy accompaniments and garnish. Appropriate for a meaty episode, in which Hannibal takes steps not just to cover his own tracks, but to lay a path of suspicion to Will, who has been behaving very strangely lately, thanks to his encephalitis (which Hannibal has also covered up). The real meat of this episode, though, is its treatment of mental illness – where it starts (physical and/or psychological) and how it develops, and the paucity and inadequacy of treatments.

At the start of the episode, everyone is starting to recover. Georgia Madchen, who killed her friend and witnessed Hannibal killing the doctor who knew about Will’s condition, is in an oxygen tank, awaiting shock treatment which may restore her memory.

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

But she doesn’t want to remember.

Hannibal has brought Will one of his gourmet concoctions: “Silkie chicken in a broth: a black boned bird prized in China for its medicinal value since the seventh century. Wolfberries, ginseng, ginger, red dates and star anise. Will’s bemused response, as though Hannibal was his Jewish mother, making chicken soup to treat a psychic crisis that just seems to get worse:

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

Hannibal also does not want Georgia to recover her memory, because he is vulnerable, even if she was unable to see his face. She wakes up in her oxygen tent and finds a plastic comb, naturally, she starts to comb her hair, and naturally the static creates a spark that ignites the oxygen.

vlcsnap-00017vlcsnap-00020

So that leaves Abigail as apparently the only one who could spill the fava beans on Hannibal. She is busy writing her book with Freddie Lounds, who tells her she knows what killers look like

vlcsnap-00021.jpg

She looks for a specific brand of hostility. She sees it in Will Graham, every time she looks at him. Very convenient for Hannibal. But Will has released himself from hospital, and is starting to realise that the spate of copycat deaths are all the same, but slightly different, to the murders they copied – the copycat killed all of them, including Georgia, who saw his face. Will is furious that Georgia was misdiagnosed and misunderstood her whole life, and doesn’t want the same thing to happen with her death, which Jack is treating as suicide.

Will’s vehement reaction worries Jack, who consults Hannibal, allowing Hannibal to plant the seed of suspicion: does Will suffer from a mental illness that would allow him to do things he doesn’t normally do?

vlcsnap-00024.jpg

That’s true for Will, but even more true for Hannibal, who sees himself as a species apart from the common herd, an Übermensch, who has cast off normative humanism for his own ends, which we are yet to understand.

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

Will is visiting Abigail in hospital. They discuss the nature of killing. Will admits killing her dad was terrifying, but then made him feel powerful. She replies that

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

She wanted to escape, but Will is doubtful

vlcsnap-00027.jpg

Her dad is still out there, in the form of the copycat. Will thinks he can catch him,

vlcsnap-00028.jpg

Jack has been visiting Bedelia, who has covered for Hannibal (as any professional psychiatrist would) and has been asking about a case in which a patient, referred to her by Hannibal, tried to kill her, but luckily died by swallowing his own tongue ( a reference to Multiple Miggs in Silence of the Lambs). Hannibal, Jack points out,

vlcsnap-00029.jpg 30

vlcsnap-00030.jpg

Hannibal asks what she told Jack?

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

She doesn’t know quite what Hannibal is trying to do with Will (it seems to us, the omniscient spectators, that he wants to turn Will into a clone of his own powerful self)

vlcsnap-00031.jpg

vlcsnap-00032.jpg

vlcsnap-00033.jpg

Will is thinking clearly again, he tells Hannibal, and starting to understand the copycat killer that so baffles the FBI. Georgia was killed for seeing the killer, who ended up framing her for it, but

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

vlcsnap-00036.jpg

Now it’s personal. Will realises it could be someone at the FBI or the police. He doesn’t, however, realise what we realise, that he is in the same room with the killer. Like a pantomime, we feel like shouting at the screen: look behind you! But we don’t, because we don’t have interactive TVs (yet), and also because we like Hannibal, and don’t really want to see him unmasked (yet). But Will’s clarity, and Abigail’s book, are both threats to Hannibal. And he has only one episode of Season 1 to neutralise them.

Fortunately for Hannibal, everyone is on the wrong scent. Jack is still convinced Abigail is the killer, while Freddie is still convinced it is Will, and tells Jack so.

Will takes Abigail out of the hospital, back to the crime scene – her home in Minnesota. Jack is furious and goes to see Hannibal, who admits to Will’s confused mental states, where he loses time and doesn’t know what he has done. He plays Jack a selected section of the recording of his discussion with Will about the murder of Melissa Schurr.

vlcsnap-00037vlcsnap-00038vlcsnap-00039

Together with Hannibal’s revelations about Will’s mental state, Jack is starting to suspect Will.

vlcsnap-00040vlcsnap-00041vlcsnap-00042

Will had told Hannibal, who hadn’t told Jack, that he was getting so close to Hobbs that

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

Now he has Hobb’s daughter, who Hobbs intended to kill. Jack fears the worst. As for Hannibal:

vlcsnap-00047.jpg

Hannibal is sorry, but not, as Jack thinks, for hiding the “truth” about Will’s mental state. He is truly sad and sorry, for losing his friend, his only friend, feeding him into the jaws of the justice system.

Why does Hannibal do these things? Abigail asks him, and he tells her the truth, at last. He called the house to warn Hobbs they were on their way. Why? she demands. And this is crucial to an understanding of Hannibal:

vlcsnap-00052.jpg

He killed Marissa, hoping that Abigail would kill the victim’s brother. Abigail is another of his projects

vlcsnap-00058vlcsnap-00059vlcsnap-00060

Hannibal believes, as Dolarhyde says in Manhunter, that the people who are killed in these becomings are not real: “You alone know the people I use to help me in these things are only elements undergoing change to fuel the radiance of what I am Becoming. Just as the source of light is burning.” Abigail’s Becoming is far more important than Nick Boyle. But Abigail is scared of Hannibal now: he tells her that he has killed far more people than her father.

vlcsnap-00063vlcsnap-00065

Will he or won’t he?

Next episode – the season finale.

 

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.