The vampire of Sacramento: “RAMPAGE” (Friedkin, 1987)

Rampage is a 1987 film from William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). It is based on the case of RICHARD CHASE, an American serial killer who murdered six people in the span of a month in December/January 1977-78. He was nicknamed “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he drank his victims’ blood and cannibalized their remains. In this version, the victims have been altered, as has the killer, who is now named Charlie Reece (Alex McArthur). Charlie is presented as the nice, helpful boy-next door. He’d mow your lawn, or bring in your shopping.

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Then maybe kill you and drink your blood.

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The film wastes no time on showing Charlie getting hungry, killing three people who appear to be chosen at random, and then revealing his self-perception, as a caged tiger.

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The film is mostly about the keen young prosecutor, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn). Fraser is caring, empathetic, liberal, an opponent of capital punishment, until he comes across this case.

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“The women’s bodies were cut open to get at the organs… Some of the organs were removed.”

There’s also a glass that has been filled with blood, and drained.

Another family are burying their dog. They know Charlie poisoned the dog, and report him to the police. Then Charlie comes visiting. The mother is cut up like the others and sexually assaulted, the child has vanished.

Charlie is quickly arrested, and we see his cellar, full of body parts, weapons and Nazi regalia. His mother tells his lawyer about how Charlie had to witness domestic violence at a very young age. Charlie tells his psychiatrist about hearing Satan on the radio, telling him to kill people, and taking his blood from him when he disobeys. He describes shooting the little boy so he could suck his blood, then putting him in a trash can.

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All the pieces are there for an insanity plea. The psychiatrists agree to say he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed his blood was poisoned and his heart failing.

At the trial, we hear how normal Charlie was – his friends talk of his reasoned non-violence, his scout master says he was a good boy, his steady girl tells how thoughtful he was. Then a nurse tells of finding his diary, listing all the dogs, cats and rabbits he had killed. The prosecution’s psychiatrist is asked “did he know he was killing living human beings?”

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That was the point. That was why he did it. He claims he has a belief that his body is failing and infected and he’s convinced himself that someone else’s blood will repair him. He had to kill them to get the blood.

In other words, he was psychotic, but he knew what he was doing at all times, and is therefore legally sane.

As the movie bogs irretrievably down in legal and psychiatric argument, Charlie livens it up as he escapes (something Chase did not do), kills the guards and then invades a church, killing the priest and drinking his blood.

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Back in court, the defence’s psychiatrist says Charlie was driven by his sickness and had no free will. He asks

What makes a respectable young man turn into a killer?

After he is found guilty, the judge orders a PET scan, a new technology that scans the brain.

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“We’re looking at a computer enhanced image of the chemistry of the brain. And what we’re seeing is a picture of madness.”

But it’s too late; in the original version of the film at least, Charlie’s mom has smuggled him pills, and he kills himself.

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Rampage was completed in 1987, just in time for DEG, the production company, to go bankrupt. It was not released in the US for the next five years, and was finally released, with a different ending, in 1992 by the Weinstein company. In that version, he is sent to a state mental hospital, and writes to a man whose wife and child he has killed, asking him to visit. A final title card reveals that Reece is scheduled for a parole hearing in six months. He will probably kill again. While the original version quibbled with the idea of capital punishment, the revised version reinforced the necessity of putting him down. European versions usually show the original ending, in which Charlie commits suicide, and the DA regrets fighting for the death penalty.

Basically, this movie is like a long episode of CSI or SVU, and in fact there is an episode of CSI called “Justice Is Served” which is also based on Chase’s murders. The director, Friedkin, called it “among the lowest points in my career.” The film scored what could charitably be called a modest 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. With only nine reviews, you might call it ignored rather than despised. The script is clunky and some of the acting is wooden, although Alex McArthur as the killer is great, looking a bit like a (more) demented John Travolta. The soundtrack is by the wonderful Sergio Leone, who wrote over 400 movie scores, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Roger Ebert, the doyen of movie critics, wrote, “This is not a movie about murder so much as a movie about insanity”.

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The real Richard Chase

Well, yes – Chase was, by the age of ten, exhibiting evidence of all three parts of the Macdonald triad: bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals, considered as indicators of future violent tendencies.

Rampage is a classic psychogenic cannibalism story. Like Jeffrey Dahmer or Albert Fish, we can hate what Charlie did and yet not quite blame him for it – he is driven by what we consider wrong beliefs, which cause him to ignore the sanctity of human life. Yet how sacred is human life, in a world in which thousands of children die of malnutrition every day while their government exports grain to the West to feed pigs and chickens? Charlie believes he needs blood due to an imaginary illness, just as so many people are convinced they need to eat animal flesh. He starts on dogs, cats and rabbits and graduates to humans. To the cannibal, we are just one more species on the shopping list: if it’s OK to eat Fido, it must be OK to eat the neighbours. There is a logic there, which the meat industry would much rather you ignore.

 

Next week = some light cannibal relief with the new comedy CORPORATE ANIMALS

The First and Last Hannibal movie: HANNIBAL RISING (Webber, 2007)

Well, it’s the first Hannibal movie, because it starts with him as a child, and it’s chronologically the last one released. Unless #BryanFuller makes a movie, instead of Season 4 of the TV show. Or Sir Anthony Hopkins comes back as an octogenarian Hannibal, with his wife (Clarice – Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore would both be fine) running the meat business. Martha De Laurentiis @neoprod – I have a script treatment ready!

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This is the Hannibal film everyone loves to hate. We are treated to a sweet young Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) having to watch his beloved little sister Mischa being eaten by Nazi collaborators and deserters, and then discovering that he himself unwittingly joined the feast.

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From this, we deduce, came his hunger for human flesh. Like the desperate young crash survivors carving meat from the corpses of their dead teammates in Alive, his subsequent actions may not be acceptable, but become at least partially understandable. Psychopathy founded in trauma.

Hannibal of course would have hated this – remember that he told Clarice in Silence of the Lambs

“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism… Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Or as the 21st century Hannibal said:

when it comes to nature versus nurture I choose neither. We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.

There are two streams of thought on the subject of evil: one, from Rousseau to Arendt, is adamant that morality requires an explanation for evil, while an alternative stream from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that it be left unaccountable. Clarice Starling and Dino De Laurentiis would seem to favour the side of Rousseau, while Harris and Hannibal, and many critics of the film, seem more aligned with Voltaire. Harris apparently faced the awful choice of accepting large sums of money to divulge the origin story, or else see it betrayed by another writer.

The opening image of a film, they tell you in film studies, sets the mood and the theme. This one opens with a spider-web.

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People are afraid of spiders, for reasons that I have never quite understood. Beware, this one seems to be saying, and we hear childish Hannibal in the background, telling Mischa to run and hide! But it’s just a game. Until the Nazis appear, with their Hiwis, or Lithuanian collaborators, led by the irredeemably despicable Grutas (Rhys Ifans), bandits who are all too willing to assist the SS, for their own profit.

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Hannibal’s parents are killed, and the Hiwis take over the lodge, desperate for food, and finding none.

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Except for the children.

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We do not witness the cannibal acts then, but in nightmare flashbacks eight years later. Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is now a teenager, still mute from PTSD, in an orphanage which uses the former Lecter Castle. He is accused of not honouring “the human pecking order”

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Yes, he hates discourtesy. He won’t swallow bullying. Yet.

He escapes the orphanage, crosses Lithuania, Poland, East Germany (hops over the Wall, easy as anything) and arrives in his uncle’s home in Paris. Uncle is dead, and he moves in with his beautiful young Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, who is Chinese, but, ah well). Will there be romance as she helps him recover his voice?

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She teaches him about the Samurai code, in front of the armour of her ancestors, strangely evocative of a later Hannibal.

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She teaches him the art of fighting. And the treatment of enemies.

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A butcher in the marketplace insults Murasaki, and Hannibal is enraged. The butcher (a Nazi collaborator) becomes Hannibal’s first kill, and then his first human meat, after the chef explains the delights of eating cheeks.

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Hannibal presents Murasaki with the butcher’s head. When she objects that he did not need to do that for her, he replies

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Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to Hannibal. Ah, so young, and already eating the rude. And already seeing cannibalism everywhere – looking at a fresco of Abraham on the mount, about to sacrifice his son, he asks

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So much about older Hannibal is revealed – the police inspector (Dominic West from The Wire) gives him a lie detector test – but he responds to nothing.

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Hannibal is also brilliant – the youngest student ever admitted into medical school. But he is still obsessed with Mischa and the men who took her from him. He can draw their faces from memory, but cannot remember their names. A dose of sodium thiopental, truth serum, with the Goldberg Variations (another Silence of the Lambs reference) playing in the background, gives him his mental break. Or maybe breaks something in him, depending on your propensity for behaviourism. He remembers that there was a bag of dog-tags left in the lodge, returns to the Soviet Union (no problem crossing the Iron Curtain for Hannibal apparently) and finds all the names. And Mischa’s teddy bear, and her bones. And one of the Hiwis, whom he dispatches, much as Will later dreams of dispatching Hannibal.

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He licks the blood off his glove, with some gusto, and prepares the cheeks for a fresh-air feast.

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Hannibal spends the rest of the movie tracking down the rest of the gang, who are now into respectable industries like human trafficking and drowning ortolans for lunch.

Along the way, there are interesting discussions of our topic – cannibalism. One of the gang tell Hannibal, as he is about to be killed:

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Survival cannibalism. Common in the days of sail, and in various famines. But the Inspector knows what happened, back in the USSR.

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Cannibalism happened on the Eastern Front, says the Inspector. This is not news to Hannibal. He is determined to find the gang leader, Grutas. The Inspector tells him (us) what a lovely guy Grutas is. He sawed off the head of the Rabbi at Kaunas.

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He walked away from his war crime trial because a witness got acid poured down her throat. So really, whatever Hannibal does, well, it’s OK with us. But the Inspector has decided Hannibal is insane.

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Murasaki tries to persuade him to give the gang up to the police. She can be quite persuasive.

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But Hannibal cannot make that promise. He has already promised Mischa – revenge.

At his first encounter with the villain, Grutas, he has an interesting outlook on cannibalism too.

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There you have it. Cannibalism is about love.

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Then the big reveal. Lady Murasaki is a captured by Grutas, Hannibal comes to the rescue and has Grutas at his mercy. Mercy is not a word Hannibal uses much, and when Murasaki asks him to stop, he says

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Grutas replies:

So did you. You ate her too. So why don’t you kill yourself? Pot Watcher fed her to you in a broth. You have to kill everyone who knows it, don’t you? You ate her, half conscious…

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Hannibal snaps, and carves M for Mischa on Grutas’ chest.

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Murasaki gives up, despite Hannibal’s protestations of love.

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Instead of following her, Hannibal stops for a quick snack on Grutas’ cheeks.

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Trivia time: Hannibal is not only a brilliant doctor, musician and cook, but he is also apparently ambidextrous. Check him out writing left-handed in this movie, whereas he is right-handed in all the others, and in the TV series.

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The film got a measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most criticism centres on the fact that it is not particularly scary, but that rather misses the point, IMHO. The question the film asks is: how do people overcome the social conditioning of their childhoods to become what they are – killers, cannibals, rapists, politicians? It may be genetic, as Hannibal tells Clarice: “nothing happened. I happened”. Or maybe the childhood itself offers a clue to how, as Clarice asked “you got that way”. The film offers a view of the latter – a gentle, loving little boy with, clearly, a brilliant mind, but so traumatised that he can think of nothing but revenge. His target – rude people and bullies. No one minds seeing them get their comeuppance. But you take a bite out of their cheeks, and suddenly everyone is convinced you’re a monster.

But here’s why I like this film:

  • The book and the screenplay are both written by the brilliant Thomas Harris, who of course created Hannibal. This is the only film in the series for which Harris wrote the screenplay
  • The Director is Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
  • There are two Hannibals in this movie (a 100% increase on all the other movies)! One at age eight, and the other a young man
  • It only takes Hannibal’s story up to his arrival in North America, leaving a nice narrative gap between that and his eventual capture and captivity by Will Graham in Red Dragon, which was perfectly filled by Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (even if time shifted by a few decades)
  • It shows the humanity of Hannibal, his devotion to his sister, and his determination to hunt down her killers. If you don’t want your Hannibal to show humanity, then this can be a problem
  • It was a prequel. Every great character gets a prequel – Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Vito Corleone, Mr Spock, Zorro, Batman – even Jesus has scored a few. Why not Hannibal?

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“There must be a bit of your husband, too” – WEEKEND (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

Godard’s Weekend came out in 1967, and has maintained its rage against bourgeois society for over fifty years. From the perspective of Cannibal Studies, it has everything. Cannibal movies are about appetite and power and what, if anything, can counter those fundamental forces of nature. Weekend is about appetite (rampant consumerism), class struggle, and of course the revolution. All are treated as deadly serious and hilariously funny.

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Godard’s previous movie in 1967, La Chinoise, was explicitly Marxist, but Weekend is more anarchist in tone; no one escapes unskewered from Godard’s piercing insight into the absurdity of social interactions. There are no heroes or even sympathetic characters – humanity is depicted as greedy, corrupt and narcissistic.

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Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne) are in the car, heading to Corinne’s mother’s home, where they intend to either cheat her or kill her. The road is lined with gridlocked traffic and horrendous car accidents filled with corpses, all of which they ignore.

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Both are also planning to cheat on each other, once they get the money. Greed, corruption, influence are their only motivations, and the other motorists are beneath their notice, except when they need clothes, which they shamelessly loot from the wrecks. Anyone who stops them is liable to feel their teeth.

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Only when their own car crashes does Corinne express any emotion.

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They spend days on the road with only the clothes they wear and an apparently bottomless packet of cigarettes, and come across a range of characters, including the Jacobin leader Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Emily Bronte, whom they set alight, enraged that she is just an imaginary character.

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After killing the mother and getting the fortune, they are kidnapped by group of revolutionaries called the Seine-et-Oise Liberation Front, who enthusiastically rape and eat their captives.

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Godard’s vision of the modern guerilla army skirmishing in the outskirts of the cities was a perceptive prophesy of what would a few years later appear as the Red Brigade and the Weathermen. But this group are also cannibals, which allowed me the pleasure of re-watching, for this blog, a movie that still perturbs me some fifty years after I first saw it. The cannibalism of course points backwards to the history of revolutionary betrayal – the Terror of the French Revolution that gobbled up everyone from Danton to Robespierre, the swallowing up of the Bolsheviks by Stalin, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in which cannibalism was used as a political weapon. Capitalism is about consumption, but so, too often, are the alternatives.

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In Godard’s absurdist world, we’re either being eaten by the cannibals, or joining them.

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Next week: Hannibal Lecter putting aside childish things, in Hannibal Rising.

“I wanted to surprise you” HANNIBAL Season 2 Finale, “MIZUMONO” (Fuller, 2014)

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Mizumono is usually translated from Japanese as a “matter of chance”, which is already surprising for a narrative where we have constantly been told that Hannibal, the cannibalistic mastermind, is completely in control and manipulating the other characters, including the entire FBI. But it is so, as we shall see. Even Hannibal is surprised, and not in a good way.

The episode begins with Hannibal’s handwritten note, an artwork in itself, a calligraphic masterpiece (what – Hannibal’s going to write like a spider crawling out of an inkwell, like me?) He is inviting Jack to dinner.

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We all know it’s going to be a showdown, orchestrated by Will, who has told Jack they are trapping Hannibal, and has told Hannibal they are killing Jack, preparatory to escaping together. Whose side are you on, Will?

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Hannibal sums up the carnage to come, with a line used against him in the book Hannibal

When a fox hears a rabbit scream, he comes running. But not to help.
When you hear Jack scream, why will you come running?

In a lovely piece of screen juxtapositioning, both ask Will “When the moment comes…”

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But what exactly needs to be done? Will sees the spectre of Garret Jacob Hobbs, the first serial killer he blew away, back in Season 1, sitting on his front deck, disturbing his dogs. Will picks up a hunting rifle and prepares to kill a stag. Hobbs says the same word he said to Will as he died, a triumphant question confirming the male need for carnivorous sacrifice in order to reinforce identity.

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You might remember that in Episode 4 of this season, Hannibal thwarted the attempted suicide of Jack’s wife, Bella  – he revived her (after first tossing a coin).

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He saved her for Jack. Now as the cancer takes her, she asks

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Well, that’s awkward. Will wants him to kill Jack, now Bella wants him to save Jack. Sometimes the hinges of human sympathies get a bit squeaky.

But he’s leaving town anyway, leaving the FBI and his patients behind, taking Will, for whom he has prepared a nice surprise, involving time reversals (remember the broken cup?)

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They’re burning all Hannibal’s patient records, including the one that shows the demented clock Will drew when he was suffering from encephalitis. But even over the smoke of his flaming life, Hannibal retains that keen sense of smell

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Yes, he smells on Will the scent of Freddie Lounds, whom Will had claimed was the main course of their recent dinner. Hannibal is surprised! Shocked. Disappointed. Angry. Sad. And you have to give it to Mads Mikkelsen, it takes a hell of an actor to express all that without a word of dialogue.

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Of course, the Jack/Will plot is falling apart, since they are not the hunters/fishers/conspirators that they think they are. Jack’s boss puts him on “forced compassionate leave” and he hands in his gun and badge.

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If they are going to take Hannibal down, it will be without the authority or firepower of the FBI. It’s just revulsion and animosity now. And Will never seems completely sure whose side he is on. But he has been goaded – by Hannibal who framed him, by Jack who is driven by humiliation at being constantly deceived, and probably fed a fair amount of human flesh by Hannibal, and Will is intent on seeing where this goes, which is a very Hannibal approach.

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Hannibal has outdone even himself with his presentation of the Last Supper (of this life) for himself and Will. He asks Will if he understands the concept of the IMAGO.

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It is the last stage of metamorphosis in insects, and also in humans turning into Übermenschen, I guess. But in what Hannibal calls “the dead religion of psychoanalysis” (a phrase he first used in Silence of the Lambs) it also means an ideal

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It’s the concept of an ideal person, often one (Clarice’s Dad for example) that we hold on to all our lives and try to live up to. Hannibal and Will have concepts of each other, but they are “too curious about too many things for any ideals”.

NOW IT’S TIME FOR OUR SURPRISE

Hannibal asks Will:

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Hannibal is asking Will for permission to show MERCY! Do you remember what he said last episode? “Pity has no place at the table”

Yet now he puts to Will a new plan.

We could disappear now. Tonight. Feed your dogs. Leave a note for Alana and never see her or Jack again.

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Hannibal points out that he served lamb, an animal that is so quintessentially gentle and harmless that it is repeatedly used in the most brutal religious ceremonies. Will sees the significance – lamb is sacrificial. Hannibal has sacrificed a lamb to appease the wrath of the new Übermensch, Will Graham. Is it enough?

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Well yes, Will does, he sees it as the triumph of the Will. He needs to see one of his mentors defeated, another victorious. He needs to see and even taste the sacrifice.

Jacques Derrida in an interview entitled ‘Eating Well,’or the Calculation of the Subject states:

The virile strength of the adult male… belongs to the schema that dominates the concept of subject. The subject does not want just to master and possess nature actively. In our cultures, he accepts sacrifice and eats flesh.

They have eaten the flesh of the gentle lamb. Now they need to sacrifice a warrior. They discuss forgiveness. Hannibal offers to forgive Will – would Jack do the same? Will replies

Jack isn’t offering forgiveness. He wants – justice. He wants to see you. See who you are.

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Will’s imago will be born in blood.

The FBI put out a warrant for Will (on somewhat shaky legal grounds according to some Internet commentators) and Alana phones to warn him. He then calls Hannibal, and uses the same words Hannibal used in the very first episode when he warned Hobbs:

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Hannibal is carving meat for their not-going-to-happen dinner when Jack appears, beautifully framed in the carver.

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This is ceremonial warfare like jousting or bushido or martial arts: it starts with courtesy and appreciation of the enemy.

Jack: I want to thank you for your friendship, Hannibal.

Hannibal: The most beautiful quality of a true friendship is to understand and be understood with absolute clarity.

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Jack reaches for his gun, Hannibal tosses a carving knife, and it’s on. Alana arrives with her little gun, and Hannibal offers to let her leave alive

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Pretty much what he said to Clarice at the end of Silence of the Lambs. She decides to shoot, of course; Hannibal has taken her bullets, of course. Then comes the shocking climax, where we find that Hannibal has actually reversed time, made the cup gather itself up again.

Have you seen this episode? If not, do so now. In case you haven’t, no more spoilers. It’s sensational.

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You did.

“Every family has a secret recipe” – WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Somos lo que hay), Grau, 2010.

This Mexican film (in Spanish) has it all when it comes to Cannibal Studies. When we discuss cannibalism, we think of sacrificial rituals, or people starving, or maybe just psychogenic appetites – some inner appetite that can only be satiated with human flesh. In most cannibal films, the cannibals are minor personalities, indistinct threats to the protagonist, not the main characters.

Welcome to We Are What We Are. A family of cannibals survive on human flesh, which is harvested by the father in bloody ritual ceremonies. When Dad dies, how are they to carry on? This is a family much like the one in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: poor, disenfranchised, living on the edge of a consumer society from which they seem excluded.

Shot in Mexico city, the film reflects the struggle for survival in what some call a dog-eat-dog world, which of course is far more accurately a human-eat-human world, since we are often far nicer to dogs than to each other.

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Yep, and the boys, Alfredo and his younger, vicious brother Julián, have been evicted from their market stall because Dad didn’t pay the rent. He was a watchmaker by trade, and also a procurer of human flesh. Kept the family fed. No more though. The boys have to take over.

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Meanwhile, the coroner calls in the police. He has found something interesting in Dad’s stomach.

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The police are not interested though. They don’t bother with cold cases. Or hot ones either, apparently. The coroner tells them

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“In the reports, they blame the rats, but what about the two-legged kind?”

The boys head to the bridge, where the homeless children live. Self-service and easy to carry. This is not too far-fetched – there are many reports of death squads picking up kids and turning them over to drug cartels. But these boys have a different purpose, and they are not very good at it – the kids fight them off.

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A cannibal fail. Their mother is furious because they put the family at risk. “Next we start trembling, because we’re going to die.”

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Luckily, Sabina, the sister, has an idea.

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Mexico City is presented as corrupt, steamy and full of predators. No cannibal need go hungry, with the streets full of homeless children and prostitutes. But these aren’t any old hungry or depraved cannibals (although they’re getting there fast) – they have a ritual, and prostitutes apparently just won’t do, so Mum beats her to death with a shovel.

The poor and desperate usually stalk their own. The family has tried the outcast children under the bridge, then the vulnerable prostitutes; now Alfredo follows a group of young gays to an underground club and picks up a young man, who tells him, without irony,

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Alfredo is devastated by his first gay kiss. Well, we knew, he is so sensitive, while Julián is the one filled with carnivorous virility, and is quite straight, although incestuously drawn to his sister.

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All taboos are out on the table here, just like the prostitute’s corpse.

Mother and Julián take the prostitute’s body back to the street where they found her, and Mum abuses the girls for wanting to fuck her sons.

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On the hierarchy of monsters, she seems to consider cannibals rather higher than whores.

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Alfredo brings his new boyfriend home, for dinner, as it were. But Julián is not impressed. Nor is Mum, prompting Alfredo to ask why she hates him,

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Is he talking gay or cannibal? Maybe the status of outcast is enough. You are considered less than human, and so can be hunted, killed, eaten.

Mum has brought another bloke home, and they kill him after a struggle. But Alfredo’s boyfriend, Gustavo has escaped, and found the police:

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Meanwhile, the prostitutes are finding ways to motivate the cops to look into the murder of their colleague.

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Everyone is eating everyone in this world. Mum and sister are starting “the ritual” with the corpse, which involves candles, meat hooks and sharp knives. Juicy crunching sounds, as they pull the carcass apart. Look, if this troubles you, don’t ever go into a butcher shop – the actions and sounds are the same. Except for the munching on raw flesh bit maybe.

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OK, enough spoilers. It is a horror movie, so the rules say the monster must die, with the opportunity for resurrection (in case of a sequel). And in cannibal movies, there is the Wendigo factor: the bite of the cannibal turns the victim into a cannibal, much like the vampire legends.

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Except there really are cannibals in our world, and they are not always eating flesh. There are many ways of eating the outcast.

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The critics gave it 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the viewers were less generous.

The Los Angeles Times said it was

An unexpectedly rich exploration of family bonds, blood rituals and the oftentimes zombie-like desire to assume the roles proscribed to each of us.

The New York Post was similarly insightful

Grau’s script is intelligent, and it has something to say about family and social dysfunction. You just might want to skip meat for a few days.

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Next week: the season finale of HANNIBAL SEASON 2. “Everybody’s settling in for dinner”.

“Hiding and revealing identity” – HANNIBAL Season 2, Episode 12 “Tome-wan”, (Fuller, 2014)

The penultimate episode of any season is often the most tense, since it is preparing us for the shock of the climax. Masks are torn off, loves and hatreds revealed, disguises discarded and armour strapped on. “Tome-wan” is a course of a Japanese meal in which a lidded dish is prepared and then opened to present the soup inside. So it is for Hannibal Season 2 in this episode, which will be followed, we know, by the titanic battle between Jack Crawford and Hannibal, as already partially revealed in Episode 1.

This episode is about hiding and revealing identities.

It’s just as well Hannibal is a psychiatrist, because he can explain to us, the mystified audience, what is going on in the heads of those he is manipulating. At the start of the episode, Will Graham is in therapy, asking Hannibal if he can “explain my actions? Posit my intentions?” Of course he can. Hannibal says “I have an understanding of your state of mind. You understand mine.”

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Mads Mikkelsen has said that he plays Hannibal as the devil, while Anthony Hopkins said he played the role as the “Trickster” archetype. Their portrayals have one thing at least in common – they are cultured, civilised men who hate rudeness. He uses terms from the original books and movies:

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What does one do with the rude, the crude, the uncivilised? Refine them of course, just as we refine our raw materials by processing them – in the case of food, by cooking them. So let it be with Mason Verger. Will asks if Hannibal is thinking of eating Mason.

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Barney, a guard who got on well with Hannibal at the asylum, came up with these aphorisms in the book Hannibal, even though, in this Lecter universe, the asylum is still a long way off for Hannibal.

Will agrees that Mason is “a pig” (apologies to any pigs who are listening – they are delightful animals) and that he should be someone’s bacon. He is willing to join Hannibal at the cannibal table.

But wait. Will has taken the Trickster role that this Hannibal has discarded. We know that he is conspiring with Jack to manipulate Hannibal into committing a murder, hoping to then arrest him. He claims to be doing what he accused Hannibal of doing: setting people at each other’s throats just because

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Hannibal asks Will to close his eyes and visualise what he would like to happen. Will sees Hannibal, strung up over Mason’s killer-pig pen, and Will is slashing his throat. When Hannibal asks what Will saw, they just smile at each other. The masks are coming off.

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But Hannibal has recruited Mason as a patient, and must listen to his ravings. Mason really is the freest range rude one can imagine – he puts his feet on Hannibal’s desk, then sticks his father’s knife into one of Hannibal’s fine antique chairs. Folks – don’t try this at home. It is very rude. You know it will end in tears.

Hannibal is holding forth on God again, an entity with whom he has a tortured relationship.

“God’s choices in inflicting suffering are not satisfactory to us. Nor are they understandable. Unless innocence offends him.”

Hannibal does not claim to be God. He finds Mason offensive, and must make him suffer. He would prefer Will as the chosen murderer – this would both cement their relationship, advance Will’s path of becoming, and provide an inexpensive dinner. But Margot will do – she is seeking revenge for the way Mason abused her, but she doesn’t want to lose her inheritance, which will happen if he dies.

Jack is pressuring Will to catch Hannibal, but Hannibal has demonstrated nothing for which he can be arrested.

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Hannibal will kill Mason, Will tells the confused Jack, because Mason is rude. Using a Clarice line from Silence of the Lambs, Will says

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The FBI have found Bedelia, Hannibal’s psychiatrist, who tells them how Hannibal influenced her to kill a patient of theirs. He will influence you to kill too, she warns Will.

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Will wants to know Hannibal’s weakness. How would Bedelia catch him?

“Hannibal can get lost in self-congratulation at his own exquisite taste and cunning.”

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That’s how Hannibal will be caught, which is exactly what Clarice told the Game Warden in the book Hannibal.

Will is playing a dangerous game, pretending that he is coming over to Hannibal’s side, although a part of him is certainly longing to do so. He tells Hannibal that it is all starting to feel like a dream. Dreams, Hannibal tells him, prepare us for waking life.

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Hannibal is taking off his mask, something he rarely does, and inviting Will into his inner sanctum of extreme carnivorous virility, and into a relationship that will be new for both of them.

“There are extraordinary circumstances here, Will. And unusual opportunities. Mason Verger is a problem. And problem solving is hunting.”

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Will is not so sure he is on top of this manipulation. He is confused and tempted by Hannibal’s offer to be the cannibal’s apprentice. He concludes:

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“Every moment of cogent thought under your psychiatric care is a personal victory. We are just alike. You’re as alone as I am.”

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It’s love, captain, but not as we know it. It’s a form of love that only two adversaries can feel. Both are sincere, yet both are trying to manipulate, master the other.

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Jack is maintaining his mask as well – the admiring friend, who enjoys Hannibal’s exquisite gourmet dinners, and is not even a bit suspicious. Hannibal can see right through this, as he sees through the main course – Kholodets, a dish in which fish are mounted in clear calves foot jelly, positioned as if pursuing each other. Jack admits that he doesn’t understand who is pursuing whom at the moment. Well, says Hannibal, whoever is pursuing whom in this very moment

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Well, if Will is to manipulate Hannibal into an arrestable offence, he’ll have to hurry, because the patient (Mason) has captured Hannibal, bound him in a straitjacket and suspended him over the carnivorous pigpen, just like Will’s fantasy. And hey – Will is there, to help feed those hungry piggies! Here’s his chance to get rid of the Chesapeake Ripper and revenge himself for his false arrest. All he has to do is take the knife Mason hands him and cut Hannibal a bit, make his blood drip into the pen, to excite the pigs’ appetite.

Instead, he joins Hannibal’s army. He cuts the straitjacket and frees Hannibal. In the fight that follows, he is rendered unconscious.

Some time later, Hannibal has Mason tied to a chair, and is prescribing drugs – a cocktail of psychedelics.

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It’s all happening in Will’s house, and when he arrives, Mason is kindly feeding Will’s adopted dog family. Ever suspicious, Will asks “What are you feeding my dogs?”

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He is chopping off bits of his face and feeding them to the dogs. As he feeds and praises the dogs, he tells a story that might explain Hannibal’s wrath.

“I adopted some dogs from the shelter. Two dogs that were friends. I had them in a cage together with no food and fresh water. One of them died hungry. The other had a warm meal.”

Hannibal has nothing against human cannibalism, but dog cannibalism is beyond the pale. Rude.

Now it’s time for the apprentice to step up.

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Will replies:

“There is no mercy. We make mercy. Manufacture it in the parts that have overgrown our basic reptile brain.”

Then, says Hannibal, there is no murder – we manufacture that as well. Will has all the elements to make murder. Maybe mercy too, but murder is what he knows best. This is a fascinating piece of Thomas Harris’ philosophical musing from the very last page of the book Red Dragon. In this scene, Will is at the scene of the battle of Shiloh, one of the fiercest battles of the American Civil War, at a pond which mythology later named, for obvious reasons, “Bloody Pond”. He has a realisation.

“Shiloh was not sinister; it was indifferent. Beautiful Shiloh could witness anything. Its unforgivable beauty simply underscored the indifference of nature, the Green Machine….

He wondered if, in the great body of humankind, in the minds of men set on civilisation, the vicious urges we control in ourselves and the dark instinctive knowledge of those urges function like the crippled virus the body arms against.

He wondered if old, awful urges are the virus that makes vaccine.”

Mason interrupts to tell them he is hungry, and Hannibal recommends auto-cannibalism.

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He does.

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That shifted the conversation – now we can talk about taste! Who knew we humans tasted like chickens? Hannibal uses some more lines from the book and movie Hannibal.

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Hannibal asks Will to kill Mason, but he refuses. “He’s your patient, Doctor”

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Mason is now faceless and quadriplegic. Jack visits him, hoping to gather an accusation against Hannibal, but now Mason is wearing a mask. Quite literally. From behind his mask, he tells Jack that he has benefitted greatly from Hannibal’s therapy and

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You bet he does.

Will visits Hannibal, who is drawing an image from the Iliad

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Hannibal sees himself as Achilles, the invincible warrior, and Will as Patroclus, his only love, who was killed outside Troy while dressed in Achilles’ armour. Patroclus, like Will, was known for his empathy. A constant theme of Greek epics, Hannibal says is

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Also battle-tested friendships. Hannibal tells Will that Achilles wanted all the Greeks to die, so that he and Patroclus could conquer Troy alone.

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Will has moved far beyond entrapping Hannibal now. He is at the very least an accomplice to the mutilation and crippling of Mason Verger. He plays his last ace: he tells Hannibal that they are going to get caught, that Jack suspects, that Hannibal should give Jack the Ripper. “Allow him closure. Reveal yourself. You’ve taunted him for long enough.” Is he hoping Hannibal will repent and confess?

Hannibal seems to agree. “Jack has become my friend. I suppose I owe him the truth”.

The truth can hurt, as we will find out in the next episode, the Season 2 finale, the blog of which I will post in two weeks, on 8th September. Everyone will reveal their identity, and it will get brutal.

Who was the tiger? LIFE OF PI (Ang Lee, 2012)

This is the 2012 film of the 2001 Yann Martel novel of the same name, directed by Ang Lee, who also made Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Brokeback Mountain. It is the story of a young man named “Pi” Patel, who recounts his life story to a writer. At 16, Pi and his family sail for Canada on board a freighter, carrying the animals from their zoo. They are Hindu vegetarians and have trouble with the French cook, who tells them that the cow and pig he serves up to them were vegetarian (where have we heard that joke before?) The ship encounters a massive storm and sinks. Pi survives the shipwreck and is adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat, with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

WTF sort of name is Richard Parker?

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Well, the name comes from an English court case about cannibalism (yes, you are in the right blog).

Here’s the thing. It’s not easy to survive in a lifeboat at sea. There’s the sun beating down, the risk of being swamped by big waves, danger from sharks and whales, and most difficult of all – no food or water. Drinking water that is. As Coleridge said:

“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

The “custom of the sea”, as British sailors used to call it, was that while it was not exactly encouraged, it was acceptable to eat whatever you could find in that situation, including your shipmates, preferably after they had died. But – not always.

In 1884, a small ship called the Mignonette was being sailed to Australia when it hit a big storm and sank. The four crew members survived in a lifeboat, not unlike the one in Life of Pi, for a couple of weeks on two tins of turnips and a turtle they managed to catch. When the 17 year old cabin boy fell into a coma, probably from drinking too much salt water, they slit his throat, drank his blood and ate him. His name was Richard Parker.

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Simpson, A. W. B. (1984), Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29911792

The captain and first mate were tried after their rescue and sentenced to be hanged, but their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment, and the men ended up serving only six months. The case itself, Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, became an important precedent for the “defence of necessity”.

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It was judged that, while cannibalism might be necessary under the custom of the sea, killing the boy to eat him was still murder, even if it saved the lives of three other men. Monty Python wrote a sketch based on the case:

The tiger, Richard Parker, is clearly named after this cabin boy. By some amazing coincidence, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a novel (his only one) almost fifty years earlier in 1838 called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in which a character named Richard Parker becomes a victim of cannibalism by the ship’s remaining survivors after a shipwreck.

In the film (I knew we’d get there eventually), Pi escapes onto the lifeboat with a zebra, who breaks his leg in the fall, and an orang-utan. When the tiger, Richard Parker, jumps on the lifeboat, Pi leaps off, and witnesses the ship, with his family, sinking.

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A spotted hyena emerges from under a tarpaulin covering half of the lifeboat and threatens Pi, forcing him to retreat to the end of the boat. The hyena kills the zebra and later the orang-utan. Richard Parker (the tiger) emerges from under the tarpaulin and kills the hyena. It’s the circle of life.

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Pi takes refuge on a raft and comes to an uneasy truce with the tiger, feeding him fish that he manages to catch, overcoming his vegetarian ethics to save a fellow mammal. He answers the question so wearisomely put to most vegans: would you eat meat if you were starving?

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After sailing for some weeks, Pi and the tiger come across a floating island, filled with meerkats, who are very cute and assuage Richard Parker’s hunger. But the island turns out to be carnivorous, with the water turning to acid at night and consuming any animal on the ground. Some critics have interpreted this as mother earth turning against us as we fill the air with greenhouse emissions. At what point will we turn to cannibalism? As Pi finds out:

“Hunger can change everything you ever thought you knew about yourself”.

Reaching the coast of Mexico, Pi is disappointed to see Richard Parker disappear into the jungle without any farewell. Pi is rescued and brought to a hospital, where he tells the story to an insurance agent. The agent does not believe his story, and asks what really happened. Pi then tells an alternative story, in which his mother is the orang-utan, a sailor is the zebra, and the ship’s brutish French cook (played by Gerard Depardieu) the hyena. In this version, the cook kills the sailor and eats his flesh. He also kills Pi’s mother, but then Pi kills him with a knife, and uses his corpse as the cook used the sailor: as food and fish bait. The question of whether vegetarians would be carnivores in extremis is answered: yes they would, and they could be cannibals too.

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The writer recognises the parallels between the two stories, noting that in the second version Pi is actually Richard Parker, unleashing the carnivore/cannibal within each of us. Pi says that it doesn’t matter which story is true, because his family still died either way. He then asks which story the author prefers, and the author chooses the first, to which Pi replies,

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The Los Angeles Times called the film “a masterpiece”. It has grossed over $600 million at the box office, and has a “fresh” score of 87% on the Rotten Tomatoes site. The visuals, particularly the computer graphics, are astounding.

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Pi describes Richard Parker as

“my savage partner who kept me alive”

And the moral of the story, as they used to say in children’s books, is that, depending on the circumstances, we can be the tiger, or we can be the cabin boy. There is a tiger and a cannibal hiding inside each of us, just under the thin tarpaulin of civilisation.

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Taming the tiger, as Pi finds, is quite a trick.