“Truly living with nature” – CANNIBAL TOURS (O’Rourke, 1988)

Cannibal Tours is a documentary by Australian director and cinematographer Dennis O’Rourke. The scenes in it are presented without comment, but its irony and disquiet at the nature of ‘cannibal tourism’ is blindingly obvious.

The soundtrack of the film is a mixture of music, sounds of nature, and a symphony of camera shutters.

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The film follows European and American tourists as they travel the middle Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Most of the villages in the film are inhabited by the Iatmul people. The tourists enjoy bargaining for local handcrafts such as woodcarvings and baskets, snap endless photos of the colourful savages, hand out cigarettes, watch dance performances, and offer naive comments about native people and how they live in harmony with nature.

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It intersperses the scenes of the tourists with black-and-white photographs from the era of German colonialism of New Guinea.

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The pervasive ethnocentrism of the tourists casts them as the savages, as they dehumanise and exoticise Sepik River life.

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Some of the tourists’ observations are reproduced below without comment, just as O’Rourke does on camera.

German tourist: I heard that German colonists were very popular!
Where have they killed the people? Here?
Local: At those stones we would dance and cut off heads.
German tourist: Now I need a photograph!

An Italian tourist observes:

They are truly primitive. I wonder though if their way of life is better than ours. Truly living with nature. Not really living, more like vegetating. The experts assure us they are satisfied. Happy and well fed. Nature provides them with the necessities of life. And they don’t have to worry about thinking of tomorrow.

Local: The previous generation saw the Germans arrive by boat and thought their dead ancestors had returned. Now, when we see tourists, we say about them ‘the dead have returned!’

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There are lengthy scenes of tourists bargaining for carvings and masks.

Native woman – tourists come and look but never buy. You white men have all the money! We village people have no money!

Talking about the Spirit House, one local person recalls:

The Germans, the English and Australians took all the sacred objects. The missionaries destroyed all the most powerful symbols kept in the spirit house. The missionaries threw them out saying “It’s the devil! Get rid of it!”

 

German tourist [into his tape recorder]: Now we see the remains of a house where, in the past, cannibalism was practised.

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…for reasons of survival. And custom too, I think. It was symbolic. I think cannibalism was a cultural practice, not a necessity. Because wildlife must have been plentiful.

Local: We sit here confused while they take pictures of everything. We don’t understand why these foreigners take photographs.

Italian: we must try to help them advance in the world, bringing to them some values and convictions. Naturally, this will involve going into their villages as the missionaries do to teach them. To educate and stimulate them to behave differently.

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… living in a world completely overwhelmed by nature. They are also human.

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even though our evolution could still be disputed by some.

There is much hilarity when the tourists find a phallus for sale.

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Back on their boat, the tourists wear native warpaint and play at being savages.

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Maggie Kilgour wrote that

“the figure of the cannibal was created to support the cultural cannibalism of colonialism, through the projection of western imperialist appetites onto the cultures they then subsumed “.

The imperialists now have cameras rather than guns. The film really asks – who are the cannibals?

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The film is available (at time of writing) on YouTube:

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“No eat man, wrong!” ROBINSON CRUSOE (Buñuel 1954)

Although film directors have revisited colonial era stories of cannibalism with gusto, they have generally done so with modern perspectives. Cannibals in most films, therefore, are not the inhuman savages of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Edgar Wallace. The ‘savages’ in even the earliest films are often presented with humour, for example Lupino Lane’s Be my King (1928), Crosby and Hope in Road to Zanzibar (Schertzinger 1941) or The Wrong Box (Forbes 1966) in which amorous cousins Michael and Julia are reassured that she is not a blood relation: she was adopted after her missionary parents were “eaten by his bible class”. In more serious depictions, the ‘savage’ is either a noble one, or at least is offered some humanity, and often his characterisation (we rarely see female savages) is given an ironic edge to criticise modern, “civilised” society. However, a positive image can be as degrading as a negative one.

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The example here of the cannibal as colonised savage is Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954). Crusoe is, according to James Joyce “the true prototype of the British colonist… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity”.

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Buñuel opens his film of the eighteenth-century novel with a shot of Defoe’s book sitting on an ancient map, a nod to the importance to film makers of classic literature. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy, who was nominated for Best Actor at the 1955 Oscars) tells us he was on a voyage

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when his father’s warnings of disaster came true; we next see him struggling ashore amid the debris of his lost ship. The island, or at least a severely constrained and isolated space, was considered a prerequisite for cannibalism in the eighteenth century. All his shipmates, or at least the human ones, have been consumed by the sea. Barefoot and hungry, he cracks an egg he finds in a nest, but his European sensibilities do not allow him to eat the baby bird inside.

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Unlike the savages he is yet to meet, he has little hope of surviving in the wild, but is saved by finding and plundering the wreck of his ship, salvaging building supplies, guns and flint to make fire (more important, he realises, than the gold in the drawer below). His whole focus is to secure himself against the wild world: beasts and savages. Although this is a long way from his early surrealist movies, this is still classic Buñuel, particularly the fever dream, reminiscent of his later films The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie and Belle De Jour in which his giggling father pours water on a pig, while the delirious Crusoe begs for a mouthful.

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On the island, European civilised life is represented by Crusoe and his weaponry, and Rex, a dog who has also swum ashore. He finds in a ship’s chest a cure for

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tobacco and the Bible.

Buñuel seems to have felt Crusoe’s pain – he had been exiled from his native Spain for 14 years when he made the film, and was living in Mexico, having lost his job in MOMA after being denounced as a Communist. His longing for home while surrounded by “the other” is obvious in his character’s affection for the dog, while he is quite prepared to shoot birds and stamp on rats and spiders. He domesticates native goats and parrots, but is devastated by the death of Rex, feeling “now truly alone”. Sinking into eccentricity, he talks to two insects, “my little friends” and feeds them an ant.

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But his difficulties on deciding which species of insects are friends soon escalates as Crusoe has to decide which humans deserve to be saved, and which sacrificed. The difference is their status: as cannibals or victims. His reunification with humans after 18 years comes as we follow his footsteps along the beach, only to be confronted with another distinctly human footprint. His abjection is immediate.

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“Men-eaters! From that very land I had once thought to sail to. Revolted, horrified, all that night I watched the cannibals at their ghastly entertainment”.

Their guilt is assumed, but only confirmed after they leave and he comes across their fire-pit which is surrounded by human heads and bones: Typically, cannibal literature paints a “primal scene”, the proof of cannibalism, which is usually not the act of eating human flesh, but the aftermath.

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Crusoe plots a technology-based massacre, including another dream sequence, this time of planting a bomb under their fire-pit, but realises

“I had no heaven-sent right to be judge and executioner on these people, who had done me no injury. I would leave them to God’s justice”.

This resolve is short-lived; seeing Friday (Jaime Fernández, who won a Silver Ariel award – the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) escape from the cannibals, he steps in to kill the pursuers and rescue the boy. Friday bows to him in a homo-erotic scene in which Crusoe puts his foot on the boy’s head.

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He explains that the boy will be called Friday, while Crusoe’s name is “Master” and that they are “friends”. The boy spits out Crusoe’s carefully harvested and baked bread, indicating that he would rather dig up the pursuers whom they buried earlier.

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Crusoe sits up all night in fear of this new “friend”: “if the cannibals fail to come at me before morning, he might”. He won’t let Friday handle weapons; he shoots birds out the sky to frighten him and puts a strong door on his cave so he can sleep securely. He is reassured to watch Friday eat the flesh of animals, “knowing that the only source of that other meat he so relished”

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He comes to appreciate once more having a servant. The balance of alterities, man to animal, civilised man to cannibal, master to servant, has been restored, yet his fear of the primitive cannibal increases. When Friday sneaks into his room hoping to try his pipe, Crusoe decides to put leg-irons on him, remembering how he had intended those instruments to be used on the savages he planned to carry off to slavery. But Friday is misjudged: “Friday love Master always.” He seizes Crusoe’s gun, but it’s a suicide plan – “kill Friday – no send Friday away.”

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In a moment that crystallises the dreams of empire, Friday has become the good savage, brought to civilisation by the white man, even feminised when he finds a dress in Crusoe’s chest. The primitive cannibal has submitted to our will, but lovingly, in gratitude rather than through force. In the next scene, Friday is armed and helping hunt wild pigs, with Crusoe’s admission that Friday was “as loyal a friend as any man could want.”

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But if Friday is to take on Crusoe’s civilisation, he must also accept his morality. Friday finds Crusoe’s gold coins and thinks them a gift from God. “From the devil”, Crusoe mumbles, but Friday goes off to make a necklace with these baubles, which in this closed circle are of value only to the savage. While they shave each other and share a pipe, Crusoe tries to explain the devil and his works – he also has evolved, or converted, from conquistador to missionary. Yet he is baffled by Friday’s broken epistemic posing of the problem of evil – why doesn’t God just kill the devil? Why is God mad when we sin, if he lets the devil tempt us? Friday, the innocent, the savage, baffles Crusoe, the colonialist, expressing Buñuel’s overt anticlericalism.

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They are set upon by the cannibals and Crusoe is saved by Friday’s gun, just as Crusoe’s gun saved Friday years before. The civilised savage fights the cannibal savages for the life of the Englishman. His gunpowder exhausted, Friday kills the third cannibal in hand-to-hand combat, but the beach is swarming with others. Their preparations for a last stand are interrupted by gunfire; to their amazement the beach is now full of white men who are slaughtering the fleeing cannibals. Like Friday’s foes, these white men have prisoners tied up – their ship’s captain and bosun, against whom they have mutinied.

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Friday and Crusoe free the prisoners, who agree to take Crusoe and “my man” to England if he helps them recover the ship, which of course they do in due course, tempting the ‘civilised’ mutineers, like the devil, with Friday’s gold necklace.

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Dressed like an Englishman again, Crusoe makes a melancholy farewell to his kingdom. He has defeated the evil of the savages and the mutineers, whom he leaves to rule his kingdom.

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Friday has witnessed the violence and oppression of the “civilised” white men, but avers that he is not afraid to go back to civilisation “if master is not”. He is already dressed as a servant. The cannibal can become tame, can learn to eat what he is told, but clearly he can never become “your own kind.”

 

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The Young cannibal: PIGSTY (Italian: PORCILE), Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969

Pasolini’s films were usually brilliant, but rarely easy to watch. They were not designed as entertainment, but to make a point, usually political, and even then don’t ever go straight to it, but leave it up to the viewer to interpret. Some of his films were extremely graphic – his final film, Salo, was based on de Sade and was particularly difficult to watch. He was murdered soon after that one was released, so who knows what might have come next?

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The opening credits roll over some very cute pigs in a sty, although they are not a major part of the rest of the movie, until the end. I guess for Pasolini they represent the European bourgeoisie, which I think is appallingly offensive. To the pigs.

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Two separate stories are being told, interwoven. Segments of one are followed by the other, or sometimes the same one again. One story is set in 1967 and is about a German industrialist who looks a lot like Hitler, his son Julian, described by his mother as a “Mannerist San Sebastian”, and his radical fiancée Ida who joins protests to piss on the Berlin wall.

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Julian will not go with her to the wall, nor even kiss her – he becomes catatonic after telling her that he has another love. Turns out to be the pigs in the porcile (sty). He prefers them to the hedonistic existence of his father who makes an alliance with an old rival, Herr Herdhitzel, even though he knows of that rival’s involvement in the Holocaust, and could destroy him.

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The locals arrive to tell of Julian’s fate, eaten by the pigs. Like Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, Julian is eaten by those he loved, or lusted after, or ate.

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But the industrialist doesn’t want to spoil the celebrations, and tells the locals:

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The other is set sometime in the middle ages (judging by the weapons and armour) and in a volcanic waste-land. A young man, called only “the young cannibal”, wanders around catching and eating whatever he can find, including lone soldiers.

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He joins up with other brigands who wander the smoking hills catching, killing and eating, throwing their victims heads into the volcano. When he is caught and prepares to be executed, tied down to four wooden stakes and left for the wild dogs to tear to pieces, he utters the words for which the film is most famous:

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The young cannibal is a mirror image of Christ, killing his father instead of being killed, tied to the ground instead of raised on a cross, quivering with joy instead of asking why he has been forsaken. For Nietzsche, God is dead. For Pasolini, we have eaten him.

Cannibalism is usually defined as the eating of human flesh by humans. There are a lot of grey areas (and pink ones when pigs are involved). We eat them, they eat us, we eat each other. It’s about greed and power, and is the same whoever is eating or being eaten. Julian’s father sums it up:

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Loving and biting: “TROUBLE EVERY DAY” (Denis, 2001)

Trouble Every Day (its real title, not a translation from French) is a love letter from director Claire Denis to Paris, the ‘city of love’. It opens with some serious French kissing and there is a lot of oral action during the film – kissing, licking, biting, eating – they are all variations on the theme of seeking pleasure through oral connection.

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Variety described the film as “”over-long, under-written and needlessly obscure” but that is not uncommon in American reviews of French films. It lingers on images, particularly Paris, sometimes beautiful, sometimes grey and seedy, sometimes both, the grunge lit by the sunset.

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Like any big city, Paris is a place to seek love, make love, hide, sometimes get killed (and sometimes even eaten). Certainly the city (not just Paris) is famous for eating up and spitting out its residents, at least on a metaphoric level. And sex, particularly in Paris it seems, tends to be a mixture of tenderness and extreme violence.

The plot is simple and immune to spoilers – people are obviously going to get eaten (it happens a lot, particularly on movies reviewed on this cannibal blog) and that action starts pretty much right away. Coré (Béatrice Dalle) lures men with the promise of sex, then tears them to pieces and eats them. Léo (Alex Descas) loves her, protects her, buries the bodies, cleans her up, kisses her and then locks her in her room when he goes to work. But she always escapes (helps that she has keys and electric saws hidden strategically around the room).

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When a couple of neighbours take his absence as an opportunity to break in, well, you can guess the rest.

Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) arrive in Paris for their honeymoon, but Shane has other images filling his mind, and we glimpse some of them even as he sits, desolate, in the plane’s toilet, not even bothering to have a wee (come on – you know how hard it is to get a turn in one of those?)

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Shane is seriously creepy and, as he stares down at June in their Paris hotel, we find that his loving is also not without teeth.

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Turns out he knew Leo and Coré, worked with them on bioprospection research, looking for plants that would cure nervous diseases, mental diseases and problems of libido. Think there is any money in that lot? But Leo was impatient with their caution, wanted to test it on humans. And of course, that experiment backfired. Some plants heal mental diseases and libido, others turn you into cannibals. C’est la vie.

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But the plot is not so important. Denis is telling us that love, or at least sex, is about touch, communion, intimacy. And what is more intimate than not just kissing and biting your partner, but swallowing, incorporating them? The definition of marriage in the Bible is “they shall become one flesh”. Cannibalism is the ultimate expression of that – once the blood is wiped off, the lovers have indeed become one flesh.

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The movie got 50% on Rotten Tomatoes website, so no one can quite make up their mind. I liked (although disagreed with) the review in the Seattle Times:

“I’m not sure these words have ever been together in the same sentence: This erotic cannibal movie is boring.”

The film is probably a lot more disturbing on the big screen, as Denis glories in extreme close-ups, particularly of touching, kissing, licking, bleeding, as well as lingering on areas of the body that usually don’t make it into Hollywood films (but usually do in French films). Luckily, having sat through a guy having his tongue ripped out and a hotel maid being raped and killed, there is at least, at the end, a puppy.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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“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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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”

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“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.

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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!

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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”.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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